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Meet the NWT’s Wise Women of 2020

Last modified: March 8, 2021 at 1:02pm


The Status of Women Council has chosen its winners for the 2020 Wise Women Awards, which celebrate the contributions of women to their communities across the territory.

Presented each year to a woman from each of the territory’s six regions – the Beaufort Delta, Sahtu, Tłı̨chǫ, North Slave, Dehcho, and South Slave – the awards are meant to celebrate women who are making a difference in the NWT and setting an example for others.

This year’s winners are: youth advocate Tammy Roberts in Yellowknife, community leader Doreen Arrowmaker in Gamètì, educator Jan McNeely in Hay River, Elder Camilla Tutcho in Délı̨nę, artist Lucy Simon in Jean Marie River, and avid volunteer Winnie Gruben in Tuktoyaktuk.

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“This is probably our favorite program because we connect with all these truly amazing women across the territory, and we learn about everything they’ve been doing through their volunteering and through their community work,” said executive director Louise Elder of the Status of Women Council.

“It identifies role models and leaders, and it connects us all for a happy moment. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy that?”

Violet Camsell-Blondin, president of the Status of Women Council. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Violet Camsell-Blondin, the Council’s president, echoed Elder’s sentiment. She described it as a “red carpet event.”

“It’s one time in the lifetime of that individual to get recognized – that’s a big thing,” she said. “Men get a lot of recognition, but not necessarily women … here’s an opportunity for women to showcase their talent, and how they contribute to the community.

“It makes my day, looking at these ladies and saying, ‘Boy, what a valuable person.’”

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The six women awarded this year join a group of 125 women who have received the award since its inception in 1992. Past winners include current Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, former MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew, and Lyda Fuller, former director of YWCA NWT.

Roberts and Arrowmaker received their awards in a small ceremony at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife this Saturday.

Ceremonies will be held in Fort Simpson, Hay River, and Délı̨nę to present the other four awards.

‘They show me what needs to be done’

Tammy Roberts, a long-time Yellowknifer, was chosen as the North Slave award recipient this year.  

She said she was “humbled” to have been nominated.

“I don’t like to take credit for anything because I like being part of a team,” she said.

Roberts has been the executive director of the Foster Family Coalition since 2009. She took over as executive director of the SideDoor Resource Centre last year and continues to hold both positions.

She has fostered over 250 children since 1991 and is currently raising nine children.

Tammy Roberts makes a quick speech after accepting her award. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

“Ideally, it would be fabulous if all youth, even our teens, could have a family … but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen,” Roberts said. “So, we need to find alternative ways to meet their needs.

“I like to try and figure out ways to make sure that we meet the needs of our youth, because there’s so many of them that are in need of support.”

Both the Foster Family Coalition and SideDoor have a busy few months ahead of them, Roberts added. The Coalition is ramping up for its popular summer programming, including Camp Connections, if Covid-19 restrictions allow.

SideDoor is in the process of rebranding after developing a new strategic plan and will be announcing a new name in the next month or so.

When receiving her award, Roberts teared up.

“We cannot do what we do unless we have our family behind us,” she said, “and I’m so thankful to have my kids, my grandkids here, and have them always pushing me … they show me what needs to be done.”

‘Women are just as important’

Meanwhile, Doreen Arrowmaker is the recipient for the Tłı̨chǫ region.

Born and raised in Gamètì, Arrowmaker is a well-known presence within her community. She manages the Gamètì Housing Authority and is an avid volunteer, hosting bingos and sitting on the recreation committee.

In 2017, she ran for chief – making her the first woman to run – and lost by a narrow margin. She’s been encouraged to run again by members of her community.

Arrowmaker also holds a Master’s degree in Global Management from Royal Roads University, and is currently working on her second in Innovation and Design Thinking from MIT. Eventually, she hopes to pursue a PhD.

Doreen Arrowmaker, winner for the Tłı̨chǫ region. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

There’s never a shortage of new challenges for Arrowmaker to tackle.

“I’m a full-time student, full-time parent, full-time worker, full-time, everything,” she said.

“There’s so many things I want to do in life. I wish there was 10 of me, and then I can send them all off into the world, and everybody will be taking care of something.”

On receiving the award, Arrowmaker said: “I’m very happy, very excited and just filled with joy.

“Women just are just as important as everybody else, and they have a voice and they matter … at the end of the day, I just want to inspire my kids to set goals for themselves and to just strive forward.”

More work to be done

Both Camsell-Blondin and Elder pointed out that the work to achieve true gender equality in the NWT is far from over.

In 2018, women in Canada earned 87 cents to every dollar earned by a man, according to Statistics Canada. Last year, a Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum projects that economic gender parity will take nearly 257 years to achieve worldwide.

Family and intimate partner violence is another longstanding issue within the territory, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is ongoing.

Minister responsible for the Status of Women Caroline Wawzonek speaks at Saturday’s award ceremony. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

At Saturday’s award ceremony, Caroline Wawzonek, the minister responsible for the status of women, said she felt “a weight and responsibility with this portfolio” and acknowledged the work that still needs to be done – including recognizing women’s contributions.

“There has been a long period of our history where women weren’t always recognized even while they were busy doing many, many, many things,” she said.

For Elder, it’s about breaking down barriers for future generations of women and girls, too.

“We haven’t achieved gender equality, so we need to identify these women, so that those coming behind them know that it’s possible, there’s a path forward, that we’re making progress.”

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