Nellie Cournoyea is a Canadian politician, the first woman to serve as premier of a Canadian territory and the second woman – and first Indigenous woman – to lead a Canadian province or territory. Of Norwegian and Inupiaq heritage, she was born in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, and was forced to attend residential school as a child. She was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories in 1979. In 1991, Cournoyea was chosen premier under the territory’s consensus government system. She served until 1995, when she chose not to stand for re-election. In 2016, she stepped down after 20 years as Chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. She has received numerous awards, including the Order of Canada and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and several honorary doctorates.
“The readiness – or the learning or the knowledge – came way back before government. I’ve always been, from the time I was a kid, always involved with community activities, always involved with people, and the different organization that were formed for the community.”