Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon is retiring from politics with mixed emotions and feeling good about his tenure.
Solomon is resigning effective today, Oct. 15.
With over a year still left in his term, Solomon, 59, said he is leaving the office to focus on his health and spend more time with his family in his home community of Kashechewan.
After reflecting on his career and speaking with his family, Solomon said he decided to walk away from politics.
“My diabetes really spiked up. So, I thought about my well-being first and foremost. My family wants me to be well and I want to be well,” he said. “I’ve been in politics for many, many years and it’s taking a toll on me.”
He will now be working as a health director in Kashechewan. Solomon said the job is non-political, more private and allows him to stay in his home community.
Solomon said the Council of Chiefs will likely hold a by-election to elect a new leader for the remaining term until the next Mushkegowuk Council election in 2023.
To a new grand chief, Solomon advised to have a good vision, work with communities and staff, have good communication and continue supporting the ongoing work at the Mushkegowuk.
“You got to love what you do. Don’t do it for the sake of getting that title,” he said. “Lead from the heart.”
Solomon has been leading the organization, which represents seven First Nation communities in the James Bay and Hudson Bay, for the past six years. Before that, he was chief of Kashechewan for six years.
He got into politics at the age of 19 when he was elected to council. He first became Kashechewan chief when he was 27.
He also worked as director of education and served as Mushkegowuk deputy chief.
“Although I was a politician, I’m more of a human. I had a heart, I had compassion. I loved what I did,” he said.
During his tenure, Mushkegowuk Council signed a revenue sharing agreement with the Ontario government.
Most recently, the organization signed a memorandum of understanding with Parks Canada regarding a proposed National Marine Conservation Area in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay.
As a chief, Solomon said he championed and lobbied to launch the inquiry into the suicide crisis in the First Nation communities.
Mushkegowuk Council established a People's Inquiry in 2013. The communities raised their own funding to conduct the inquiry, hold public hearings and choose commissioners. The final report with recommendations was released in 2016.
Re-establishing the Mushkegowuk youth department was also one of his priorities as the grand chief.
“I lobbied so hard to get the funding,” Solomon recalled.
When the funding was approved, it was an emotional moment.
“I still remember that day like it was yesterday," he said.
He said he also lobbied to establish the Mushkegowuk health department.
When he was first elected as the grand chief, his first priority was to get the organization “back on feet.” Solomon said he was surrounded by dedicated hardworking people who had the same vision for Mushkegowuk as he did.
“They’re the ones doing most of the work, the technical work. You got to have the right people surround you and to support you, and vice versa,” he said.
Solomon questioned why a sitting grand chief can’t have a satellite office and work from their home community.
He is from Kashechewan, while Mushkegowuk Council’s head office is in Moose Factory.
Spending six years between two communities, away from his family was quite challenging for him, Solomon said adding if he had an office in Kashechewan, he’d finish his term.
“I missed the part where my children were growing up. I was too busy. I missed a lot of parts. The next thing I knew they were starting their own families,” he said. “I want to be there for my grandchildren, I want to see their birthdays, special days. I want to be part of their lives, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”