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Helen Mamayaok Maksagak

Photograph of Helen Mamayaok Maksagak

C.M., LL.D

First woman Commissioner of the Northwest Territories
First Commissioner of Nunavut

Born in Bernard Harbour, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut) on April 15, 1931
Died in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut January 23, 2009

Helen Mamayaok Maksagak

Honours and Awards: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University College of Cape Breton (2000); Member of the Order of Canada (January 2003).

Born in Bernard Harbour, Helen Maksagak grew up in Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, and the Bathurst Inlet area. After being required to leave school upon completing Grade 8, she became very active at the community level for many years, focusing her efforts on environmental issues and improving services to families. In addition to her work as a civilian employee for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and as the manager of a transient centre, she has also worked with the Northwest Territories Round Table on the Environment and has served on committees ranging from local social appeal and housing committees to the Canada Committee of the International Year of the Family.

In 1992, she was invited to become the deputy commissioner for the Northwest Territories and remained in that position until 1994, when she became acting commissioner. Officially appointed commissioner in December 1994, she became the first woman and the first Inuk to hold these positions. Her term as commissioner for the Northwest Territories ended in 1999 with the creation of the territory of Nunavut and her appointment as the first Commissioner of Nunavut. She took office on March 31, 1999, and held the office until April 1, 2000.

Legislation and policy during Ms. Maksagak's tenure in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut focused on the creation of Nunavut. In its first session, the Nunavut government focused on the fulfillment of the requirements of the Nunavut Land Claims agreement, self-reliance at the individual and territorial level, and the adoption of a single time zone throughout the territory. (Nunavut reverted to three time zones in 2001). Upon Ms. Maksagak's departure from office, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson remarked that Ms. Maksagak had given an "enormous" amount and had indeed made an imprint on the history of the country.

Ms. Maksagak continued to serve the public after leaving politics. She served on the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council from March 2001 to March 2003, and was a Board Elder for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

On November 8, 2005, Ms. Maksagak was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Nunavut.

Ms. Maksagak was the mother of six children and two foster children.


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