Former NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi publishes memoir

Cover art for Stoneface, by Stephen Kakfwi
Cover art for Stoneface, by Stephen Kakfwi.

Stephen Kakfwi, the Northwest Territories’ premier from 2000 to 2003, publishes a memoir of his life on Friday.

Stoneface: A Defiant Dene is described by publisher Caitlin Press as a “candid and deeply personal memoir … shedding light on the traumatic legacy of residential schools and his rise into politics.”

Kakfwi, 72, spent time at the NWT’s Grollier Hall and Grandin College residential schools as well as Akaitcho Hall. He is a former president of the Dene Nation who met Pope John Paul II and helped organize the papal visit to Fort Simpson in the 1980s, according to notes provided by the publisher.

Elected to the NWT legislature as Sahtu MLA in 1987, he served in cabinet for 16 years.



“These are difficult stories to tell, and I had an awful persistent headache throughout the writing of the book,” Kakfwi was quoted as saying in a press release announcing Stoneface’s publication.

Of residential school, he said: “I wanted to answer the question – ‘Why can’t you get over it?’ – that so many residential school survivors are asked, both indirectly and directly.

“This book is my attempt to say, OK, well, I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be traumatized as a child and then find that, at the age of 69, you can’t sleep, that you’re still spooked by nightmares.”

Kakfwi last year denied an allegation that he sexually harassed his mentee in a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarship program. That allegation was first made public in a lawsuit filed against the foundation in May 2021.

Elizabeth Hay, author of Yellowknife-based novel Late Nights on Air, was quoted by the publisher as saying Stoneface “stares down the past, doing equal justice to the evil and the good.”

“The remarkable result is something important and rare: a passionately even-handed memoir packed with great storytelling and hard-won wisdom,” Hay was quoted as saying.