Nellie Cournoyea

Premier of the Northwest Territories • November 1991 to November 1995

Cournoyea was the first – and to date, only – women to become premier of the Northwest Territories. After Johnston, she was the second women in Canada to become premier.

Few Canadians hold the personal and professional achievements of Nellie Cournoyea.

“Mother of Confederation,” for her role in the Charlottetown accord.

A member of the Order of Canada, and the Order of the Northwest Territories.

Recipient of several honorary law degrees, and awards.

On top of that, Cournoyea was the first – and to date, only – women to become premier of the Northwest Territories. After Johnston, she was the second women in Canada to become premier.

Cournoyea lives in Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuvialuit Hamlet in the northern Northwest Territories. Her home backs onto the Arctic Ocean, where her own fishing nets are cast out back.

When asked to host a visit and participate in an interview for the No Second Chances project, Cournoyea’s response was, “well it depends if the fish are biting that day.”

Cournoyea was born in Aklavik, Northwest Territories in 1940. She was elected to the Territorial Legislative Assembly in 1979, holding a variety of cabinet positions. She was very active in the negotiation of land claims. She once famously vowed to wear a dress if the Inuvialuit agreement was ever signed. Federal and territorial negotiators held her to her word, as pictured here in 1984 at the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.

In 1991, Cournoyea was selected by her colleagues (under the consensus government model) to become premier. She served until 1995 when she chose not to stand for re-election.

When reflecting on her experience in politics, Cournoyea offered words of encouragement for young women thinking about getting involved in politics.

“It’s important to find a meaning – a real meaning. That will give you strength. I’ve learned a lot by being a part of this great country we live in. I know we’re trying to make our country better. The value that women bring to the table is so important at this time.”

Hear more about the Canadian women who have served as a First Minister by checking out our No Second Chances Podcast.