This year’s Tłı̨chǫ elections have unusually high numbers of women on the ballot, a success being hailed as transformative for the region.
The four Tłı̨chǫ communities have chief and council elections scheduled for Monday, June 14. Each of the four communities has one woman running for chief and a number of women standing for council positions.
Violet Blondin-Camsell, a Tłı̨chǫ citizen and president of the Status of Women Council of the NWT, said it’s “very encouraging” to see so many women running this year. She is running for council in Behchokǫ̀.
To her, it signals a changing tide.
“Women were not considered favourable in leadership in the Tłı̨chǫ region,” Blondin-Camsell said.
“That was the way. But if you look at the employment rate of women in the Tłı̨chǫ Government, there’s about 89 percent that have women in management positions. They advise the leaders, they propose plans, they’re in the forefront, and a lot of people see that.
“I’m a bit biased. Being the president [of the Status of Women Council] I like to see women … breaking ground for the Tłı̨chǫ Nation – and why not? Why not this opportunity? Why not this time?”
‘I’m willing to do it for my people’
The four female candidates for chief in this year’s elections are Rosa Mantla in Behchokǫ̀, Doreen Arrowmaker in Gamètì, Adeline Football in Wekweètì, and Mary Ann Jeremick’ca in Whatì.
Tłı̨chǫ Elder Mantla, in Behchokǫ̀, told Cabin Radio she was encouraged to run by young people in her community.
“For years, I’ve been advocating for people,” she explained. “I’ve been sitting on a lot of other boards. They know that I can be vocal.”
Mantla has worked within the NWT to revitalize the Tłı̨chǫ language for decades, being inducted into the NWT Education Hall of Fame in 2018 for her efforts. She assisted with the Covid-19 vaccination rollout in the Tłı̨chǫ region earlier this year, providing interpretation for Elders to help them understand the vaccination process.
Mantla has served on Behchokǫ̀’s council several times and has run for chief in the community before.
If elected, Mantla wants to provide stable government funding to the local warming shelter alongside wellness workshops.
“We have to work together … so that we can make improvements,” she said. “We all have to agree on how we should make a lot of differences in programs and projects – traditionally, culturally, spiritually, even the modern experience combining with how our people survive on the land.
“No one should be left out.”
In Whatì, Jeremick’ca has similar goals: improving government transparency, increasing communication with residents, and providing more assistance to people pursuing education.
“I know there are a lot of people that are finished high school but training and going back to university to get more education … there’s not that much support,” she said.
Jeremick’ca believes better online education is a potential solution.
“Moving from a small community to a bigger place like Yellowknife, that’s a culture shock,” she continued. “So, it would be much more comfortable for them to pursue their education here where they’re at home with support from the family.”
Jeremick’ca has worked in a public service position for most of her life. She began her career as the community layperson, liaising with nurses and doctors and coordinating medevacs, before going back to school to pursue social work.
“My job has always been a public servant to the people in anything that I have done,” she said. “I think I have that ability to serve the people.
“I know, it’s going to be a big job … but I’m willing to do it for my people if they trust me.”
In Gamètì, Arrowmaker is running for chief for a second time. She first ran in 2017, losing by a narrow margin.
“It’s less nerve-wracking,” Arrowmaker said of running again. “I know what to expect from the first time around. I’m a lot wiser, for one.”
Arrowmaker manages the Gamètì Housing Authority. She holds a master’s degree in global management and a graduate degree in innovation and design thinking from MIT, and is pursuing a second master’s this Fall.
In March, she was awarded the 2020 Wise Woman Award for the Tłı̨chǫ region from the NWT’s Status of Women Council.
Arrowmaker’s biggest commitment is to “listen and have empathy for others.”
“I just want people to succeed and do good for themselves,” she said. “Having people working, training and developing, prospering, having people being cared for and provided for.
“The election should not be about us as candidates or about how to advance our own families or our own desires – it’s way beyond that. It should be about how to be a voice for Elders, for families, especially our youth. I have such a deep passion to help my community and my people.”
Cabin Radio did not hear from Football, running for chief in Wekweètì, before publication.
‘Strong, resilient Tłı̨chǫ women’
For Arrowmaker, one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s Tłı̨chǫ elections is seeing other women running alongside her.
“I think it’s a really, really humbling experience to be in a race with three other women in each Tłı̨chǫ community,” Arrowmaker said.
“I’m pretty sure the glass ceiling will come crumbling down this election. When Treaty 11 was signed by Chief Monfwi since 1921, we’ve always had men in leadership, men in dominant roles. Women have always been in administration, behind the scenes.
“The very fact that there’s a woman in each community … I think it’s a fantastic time to be in a race with a bunch of strong, resilient Tłı̨chǫ women.”
The trend is recognizable elsewhere in the NWT.
Nine women were elected to the Legislative Assembly in the last territorial election – an NWT record by a distance, giving the territory the strongest female representation of any jurisdiction in Canada.
There are already women in leadership roles across the territory, Arrowmaker pointed out: Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty, K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel, Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian, and Premier Caroline Cochrane, to name a few.
“Anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Anything is possible. There’re no limitations out there, except the limitation you put on yourself,” Arrowmaker said.
“We see women in leadership, women running businesses,” Mantla said. “Here at the Tłı̨chǫ Government, there’s more women working than men, and more women that are coordinating programs.
Jeremick’ca added: “We need to not be disrespectful for all the past leaders that have done a great job, but we need to also open the doors to women, too, because we can help.
“We have to come together and unify as a Tłı̨chǫ Nation, which means we have to include everybody – including the women.”