As Premier of the Northwest Territories since 1991, Nellie Cournoyea is guiding northerners through what might well prove to be the most significant period of change in the history of the north. She has played an important role in economic development, land claims, national constitutional discussions, and broadcasting in the north.
Ms. Cournoyea was born in Aklavik, Northwest Territories. Her early professional experience provided her with a wide range of expertise that has contributed to her success in her current role as a leader in the Northwest Territories. She has worked at CBC Inuvik for nine years, as an announcer and station manager, served as a land claims fieldworker for the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, and was a founding member, and later administrator and land rights worker, for the Committee for Original Peoples’ Entitlement (COPE).
In 1976, COPE, under Ms. Cournoyea’s leadership, entered into direct negotiations with the Government of Canada for a land claims settlement. During the eight year period of negotiations, Cournoyea worked with dedication to achieve the land claims agreement. A total of 27,000 interviews were conducted to document the Inuvialuit’s goals and aspirations in respect to the claim. In 1984, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement placed 35,000 square miles of land and $170 million in the control of the Inuvialuit people.
As a legislative representative since 1979, Ms. Cournoyea has encouraged and stimulated the economic and social evolution of the Northwest Territories and has held numerous portfolios including Health, Public Works, Culture and Communications, Renewable Resources, Public Works and Energy, and Mines and Petroleum Resources.
She has served on the boards of the Inuvialuit Petroleum Corporation, and the Inuvialuit Development Corporation. As a volunteer, she has served as the director of the Ingamo Hall Friendship Centre in Inuvik, and was a founding member of the Northern Games Association.
Ms. Cournoyea has the unique ability to blend contemporary issues into the rich cultural heritage that has been handed down by Inuit elders, thus ensuring a balanced and equitable perspective in shaping the development of northern Canada.