Six NWT women are being celebrated as community leaders and for improving the the lives of those around them with the annual Wise Women awards on Oct. 25.
All from different regions of the territory, these women received their accolades in the same week that saw a record number of women MLAs, executive council and premier getting sworn in, all in women’s history month.
The winners are Eunice Nasogaluak from the Beaufort Delta, Vicky Orlias from the Sahtu, Bertha Rabesca Zoe from the Tlicho region, Betty Harnum from the North Slave, Tina McNeill from South Slave and Lois Philipp from the Dehcho.
The awards first began in 1992 and have since honoured 119 women.
Nasogaluak is a community elder in Tultoyaktuk volunteering her time teaching he language in schools along with traditional culture. She teaches sewing, drum dancing and the preparation of traditional foods.
She is also an active singer and dancer, often performing at community events and helping out with the summer music festival. She also plays bass guitar.
“I think of this is a very prestigious award,” said Nasogaluak. “I was thinking, maybe I’m not such a wise woman but I do a lot of volunteering so I thought I better come down to Yellowknife and honour their nomination.”
Orlias is an active elder in Fort Good Hope, tirelessly advocating for women, youth and the homeless population. She bakes bread for the elderly and regularly cooks meals for those without family support.
She often provides her support to young mothers or anyone comes her way seeking advice. Orlias sits on the elder’s council and teaches youth about traditional crafts and medicines on the land. She is also a two-time cancer survivor.
Bertha Rabesca Zoe
Zoe is a fluent Tlicho speaker, a lawyer and an advocate in her community. Prior to becoming a lawyer she was involved in community development work.
She sat on the Mackenzie Delta Environmental Impact review Board from 1997 to 2003.
She currently provides legal counsel to the Tlicho government, having provided assistance to the negotiations to the Tlicho agreement/implementation plan and served as lead counsel on the land and resources devolution agreement on behalf of the Tlicho.
She also has been working with other Indigenous governments and the federal government on collaborative drafting of fiscal policy.
“I feel very humbled an honoured today,” said Zoe. “We do what we need to do as women. We multi-task. We still need to get laundry done and dishes clean and make sure we have food in the fridge no matter what we do professionally or what volunteer work that gets done.”
Accepting her award, she also praised elected female MLAs for “shattering the glass ceiling again.”
Lesa Semmler, Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA who was in attendance with several other newly elected women MLAs, presented the award to Harnum, a linguist and NWT’s first language commissioner in the ’90s.
Since Harnum moved to the North, she has advocated for and supported women in maintaining their culture and traditional knowledge through language. She has spent her time learning many Indigenous languages and taught them across the North.
She is currently the CBC’s Indigenous languages archive project leader with a team of 17 people across the country working to archive on 75,000 hours worth of recorded Indigenous stories in eight languages.
Harnum dedicated her award the mother of a friend of hers, Lucy Squirrel, an artisan who recently passed away who Harnum says “should be getting this award.” She also thanked all the women she’s worked with over the years in the communities she’s visited.
McNeill is an active member of the Fort Smith community who dedicates her time to children, youth and women.
She has been involved in on the land programs, youth drum circles and matriarchal healing gatherings while being involved with the friendship centre movement which has taken root over the last 40 years.
“McNeill is also a champion for inclusion and accessibility,” said an announcer.
Receiving the award, McNeill said she was “blown away” to be invited to accept the award before thanking the sponsors and nominees.
Philipp is Dene and from Fort Providence, an educator and an entrepreneur. Active in participating in traditional culture and knowledge, she works to ensure the preservation of local culture and way of life in her community.
She works with youth in on-the-land programs and encouraged the positive development of youth, including mentoring them to complete post-secondary school.
Philipp also has run her own consulting business while working at the Deh Gah school in Fort Providence.