Joseph Russell Diabo, born on December 25th 1955, is a son of a Kahnawake Mohawk Iron Worker, and is a member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake. Married for 30 years to Joanna Anaquod (Mother Cree/Saulteaux, Father (Delaware/Saulteaux) Treaty #4, Sask.) they have 5 children between them. His wife Joanna has 3 children from a previous marriage, known widely as the Podemski sisters of film; music; television and theatre. Russell’s son Nahum Diabo is the grandson of Mike McKenzie, one of the founding Chiefs of the Indians of Quebec Association. Nahum’s wife Naomi Sarazin, is the granddaughter of Clive Linklater, a strong advocate teacher and political advocate of native rights for six decades. His daughter Monique works at the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) and formally a longtime dancer and cultural educator with the Kehewin (Cultural) Dance Troop based out of Alberta. Russell and Joanna are the proud grandparents of six grandchildren, ages 4 to 16, with Stryder Diabo-Tailfeathers (Kainai First Nation-Blood Tribe, Alberta) being the oldest.
Russ did not grow up in Kahnawake, but from childhood to adulthood he always maintained his connection to his family and community, including working for a time as Museum Development Coordinator at the Kanien'kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center in Kahnawake, and as an advisor to the Kahnawake Tobacco Association. In 1990, he was there with his community when the government sent in the Surete du Quebec (SQ) and the Canadian Army. He escorted Jean Chretien from Kahnawake by boat, then to Kanehsatake (Oka) while both communities were under siege by the SQ and later the armed forces. It would be Kahnawake that the Army would attempt to fly in Army Troopers during the Oka Crisis, only to be met with defiant Mohawk men and woman on the ground waiting for them and they had to make a very hasty retreat. Chretien was the newly elected Leader of the Liberal Party and the Official Leader of the Opposition at that time. Grand Chief Joe Norton of Kahnawake was (and is presently) Chief during the Oka Crisis.
Since Russ was a teenager he has been active in Indigenous politics. He was at the 1972 BIA takeover in Washington DC, and the 1973 Wounded Knee stand off.
After his experience of getting shot at in Wounded Knee, his quest for knowledge would lead him to the top Native Studies programs offered in North America. He began with Manitou College (Native run College in Quebec) for a semester then transferred to Navajo (Dine) Community College, then several other Native Studies programs including U.C. Berkeley then Trent University. Russell received his B.A. in Native Studies from Laurentian University.
Russ also took graduate studies in American Indian Policy Studies at the University of Arizona with the famous lawyer and writer the late Vine Deloria Jr. where he gained clear insight into Indian Policy and its impact on Indigenous Peoples’.
Russ worked at the National Indian Brotherhood in the Parliamentary Liaison Unit to learn the workings of Parliament and to help keep report cards on M.P.’s and Senators regarding their record on status Indian issues.
He worked at AFN in the Bilateral Directorate under Neskonlith Chief Bobby Manuel, as a Special Projects Coordinator in the mid-1980’s. The Bilateral Directorate was mandated to develop a structure and process to maintain the historic treaty relationship. It was a separate process from the constitutional talks of the 1980’s. Russell also attended all but one of the Constitutional Talks, mandated by Section 37 of the new repatriated constitution. Whereby the federal government was to hold constitutional conferences with all the leaders to define aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982.
Russ was one of the founding executive members (Vice-President of Policy) of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada established in 1990 until 1994. He also helped work on the Liberal Aboriginal Platform in the 1993 Federal election.
1996: Chief Ovide Mercredi of the Assembly of First Nations burns a copy of the Liberal Red Book, a book of promises made by the ruling Liberal Party during 1993 federal election, to protest the goverment's broken promises, outside the Liberal Party Convention in Ottawa. AFP Photo Dave Chan
Russ has publicly stated that “once in power, Prime Minister Jean Chretien either broke, manipulated or ignored the Liberal promises and I along with two other founding executive members of the Aboriginal Commission held a national press conference with AFN National Chief Ovide Mercredi denouncing Prime Minster Jean Chretien. Following the press conference AFN National Chief Ovide Mercredi burned the Liberal Red Book outside of the Liberal 1996 Biennial Convention. I’ve had nothing to do with political parties following that experience, but the experience gave me insight into white political culture at the highest levels in Canada.”
Russ was AFN Indian Act Amendments Coordinator from 1996 to 1997, under the leadership of then National Chief Ovide Mercredi.
In 1997, Russ worked in B.C. as the Research Director for a Traditional Use Study conducted by the Secwepemc communities of Neskonlith and Adams Lake. Following the completion of that project he became Executive Liaison between the Interior Alliance of Indigenous Nations, led by Chief Arthur Manuel and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, led by Grand Chief Stuart Phillip, until 2001.
Most of Russ’s decades of experience has been at the community level assisting in policy analysis, community planning and negotiations support to Chiefs and Councils. Starting in 1987, Russell became involved in taking Environmental and Indigenous issues to the United Nations in Geneva and New York. With the most recent UN trip with several nations including Chief Judy Wilson from Neskonlith to the the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2018 at New York City, where Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Dr. Carolyn Bennett also attended.
Seizing key recommendations made in the Brundtland Report 1986, Russell continued his commitment to the protection of the environment, networking with Indigenous communities from North America and around the world. His assessment of environmental groups at the time was they needed “Indigenization of their platforms and policies” as many groups had not taken the true Rights and Title Holders into account.
In 2008, Russ and Arthur Manuel helped organize the founding of the Defenders of the Land Network in Winnipeg. The Defenders of the Land is a Network of Indigenous communities defending their lands from non-consensual resource extraction and non-Indigenous allies and supporters across Canada.
Since 2002, Russ started an on-line newsletter on First Nations political and legal issues, which is called the “First Nations Strategic Bulletin”. It is archived at Library and Archives Canada. In addition, Russ has released several educational videos on-line.