A royal representative
NWT commissioner proud to serve her territory

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 03/97) - It's a five-year appointment filled with many pleasures -- and responsibilities.

The commissioner of the NWT, Helen Maksagak, opens each session of the legislature, gives final approval to new territorial bills, travels throughout the North and recognizes brave citizens and long-service award recipients.

"I like travelling. I get to meet a lot of people and see a lot of old friends," said Maksagak at her home in Yellowknife last Wednesday morning.

Maksagak, born in Berhard Harbour, west of Kugluktuk, grew up around Bathurst Inlet, moving to Tuktoyaktuk and later Aklavik to attend school.

After completing Grade 8 she was forced to leave school to make room for other students entering school.

"You were allowed to stay in school until you were 16 and that was it," she said.

So Maksagak moved back to Tuktoyaktuk and later Cambridge Bay in 1961.

There she got involved with the local housing board, fostering children, and on the weekends working with RCMP as a jail guard.

In 1992 she was approached by the federal government in Cambridge Bay and asked if she was interested in becoming the deputy commissioner of the NWT.

Knowing little about the post, Maksagak accepted in March of that year. After serving three of the four years she was asked to accept the NWT commissioner title, which she at first declined.

In September of 1995 she was called by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and told her name was in the hat for the appointment.

She found out in December she had the title.

"In a way, I'm glad I took it," Maksagak said. "I enjoy travelling and meeting people."

Maksagak doesn't spend a lot of time at her office. She usually drops by only in the afternoons to sign documents, if any.

"When there's no papers to be signed I just go out and do my own thing or stay at home and sew," she said.

The commissioner's office is funded by DIAND and made up of Maksagak, deputy commissioner Dan Marion of Rae, an executive assistant position that has been vacant for seven months and Maksagak's secretary.

"It's not easy at times," she said. "Sometimes it's very slack, other times it gets very hectic."

Two months ago might have been one of her busier times when her office was called on to order a public inquiry into the Keewatin Regional Health Board.

Kivallivik MLA Kevin O'Brien and the Kivalliq Inuit Association both called for inquiries but their requests were declined by Maksagak.

"I know they weren't pleased about it, but it wasn't in my hands," she said.

Maksagak said she had a meeting with the premier and he told her she didn't have the funds in her budget to do an inquiry.

"The premier thought it would be best to say no, so I said no," she said. "I didn't have the funds anyway and I didn't know how to go about it. No other commissioner had to do one."

Maksagak said she's proud to be representing the North when she travels.

"It's nice to go to different places and see how the country is and see all the cultures of other people."