AKWESASNE - New St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Beverly Cook received what many said to be the first standing ovation at an inauguration ceremony Friday after speaking at the celebrations that also recognized the election victories of Sub-Chief Shelley Jacobs, Chief Judge Peter J. Herne, and Traffic Court Judges Steven Cook and Lois Terrance.
Its empowering for me, and its a boost of confidence, Ms. Cook said of the resounding applause which followed her speech. Spokesman Benjamin Herne described it as a powerful welcome for the new chief.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council includes three chiefs and thee sub-chiefs, each serving three-year terms. The inauguration ceremony kicked off with speeches from the two current chiefs, Ron LaFrance Jr. and Paul Thompson, followed by comments from the Traffic Court judges, the chief judge and the sub-chief.
Chief Cook spoke for 10 minutes, beginning with thanks to all her supporters and expressing her gratitude for the election process.
In many communities across the world, people arent given even the opportunity to have a voice, to elect people based on their merits and their visions for the community. So, Im glad that we have that process, Ms. Cook said. It can be uncomfortable, and it can be long, and we dont always get the outcome that we think were looking for. But I believe, in the process, the community knows who and what they are looking for.
There is a fluidity, she claimed, to the way the tribal council grows with its people. She echoed a sentiment expressed by many speakers that change is natural and good for a community. While sometimes hard to accept, change ultimately allows for fresh ideas and outlooks.
Incumbent Randy Hart, running as a write in candidate, defeated challenger Ms. Cook for tribal chief in the June 1 election, 436 votes to 376 votes, but the tribes election commission called for a special election and a second vote after reviewing an appeal challenging the results of that vote.
Ms. Cook defeated Mr. Hart in the special election by a 477-451 margin.
Ms. Cooks connection to the Mohawk culture was apparent throughout the speech, especially when talking about long-standing issues like land claims.
Our commitment to the land is who we are, its where we began, its our roots. We have great respect for it and we love it. We are the land. This is our land. The bones and the dust of our mothers and our grandfathers is what we walk upon every day, said Ms. Cook.
So when we speak to others about our desire to get some of our land back, to right an injustice that was done in the past, that can, in turn, repair and foster good relationships with our neighbors in the surrounding communities – thats my vision So my proposition to everyone here is that we put down those old thoughts that we had, those negative ways of thinking. Put them down now. Try to just look at the human being next to you as just that, just the person who just wants to just have a happy life.
Sub-Chief Jacobs spoke of embracing change and facing fear of the unknown.
As I start a new term in office, I look forward to the continuity, and at the same time I embrace change. Change can be difficult, but if you stop and think about it, theres nothing more constant than change. Its happening all around us, every day, all the time, according to Ms. Jacobs. So why do people fear change? Because theres comfort in the known. And when something takes us out of our comfort zone, we feel uncomfortable, because we have to go through this adjustment period. What Ive learned from my various jobs is that theres always something valuable that can be derived out of change. We just have look for it with open minds.
Chief Judge Peter Herne spoke of the growth of the community as compared to the number of qualified candidates for his position. To run for chief judge, a candidate must be a lawyer and pass their bar exams. This year there was a pool of candidates to choose from.
Mr. Herne also spoke of the many people who came out to vote for chief judge.
During this last election cycle we had close to 1,000 of our community members show up to vote for the chief judge position, he said. Clearly thats a confirmation from our community about the direction we want to go in with the involvement of the Tribal Court.
Traffic Court Judge Terrance thanked the community for their vote of confidence, while Mr. Cook brought a little levity to the occasion.
I am now serving my fifth consecutive three-year term in office, Cook said. Thats the equivalent of a 15-year sentence with 12 years served.
The hour and 15 minute ceremony was followed by a traditional lunch and reception line to greet the new chief and re-elected sub-Chief.