by Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On December 12, 2018, Margaret Dawn Anderson was appointed as Senator of the Northwest Territories (NWT) making history as the first Indigenous female to be appointed to the role in the NWT. There is a total of one hundred and five Senators in Canada of which only ten are Indigenous.
Senator Anderson is a proud Inuvialuk (Inuit), a member of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region who was born in Inuvik and raised on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk. She is the eldest daughter of Sarah Anderson (nee Nasogaluak). Her Inuit name is Panigyuk after Margaret Cockney, an Elder in the community. The Inuvialuit continue to follow a traditional naming practise of gifting an Inuk name/s to a baby when born. Senator Anderson was also given the endearing nickname of ‘Baby Dawn’ to which some family members still call her.
Growing up in the remote community, Senator Anderson loved to be connected to the land. She would play on the beach under the midnight sun and listen to the wind and waves of the Arctic Ocean. She especially loved Fall storms and when the darkness came back. She also loved spending time with extended family, especially her Nanuk (grandmother) and Daduk (grandfather). Senator Anderson said, “We had to work hard as children. One of my earliest memories is of standing on a case of carnation milk to reach the till in our family store while serving customers. I also started kindergarten at the age of four, so I grew up quickly.”
Senator Anderson became a mother at the early age of eighteen and she has five children. She was not able to complete high school in her home community as the education system only went up to Grade nine. As a young mom, she returned to school at the Native Women’s Centre in Inuvik and upgraded to earn a general education diploma in order to gain acceptance into college. Over a number of years, Senator Anderson travelled with her children to Edmonton, Alberta to first complete a Child & Youth Care Diploma and then to Victoria, British Columbia to graduate with a Child & Youth Care Degree. It was not easy going back to school with a young family to take care of, but Senator Anderson was persistent and committed to obtaining a university education. She said her children were her motivation and she wanted to provide them with a better life.
After graduating from University, Senator Anderson worked as a public servant for the Government of the Northwest Territories for over twenty years. She worked in several communities across the NWT and served in various roles for the departments of Social Services and Justice. In her work, she focused on improving the lives of others. One of her greatest achievements is when she developed, implemented, and facilitated a program called PARTNER (Planning Action Responsibly Toward Non-Violent Empowered Relationships), a northern-based program for people who use violence in their intimate partner relationships. The program is now a mandatory component to the NWT Domestic Violence Options Court and provides an alternative to the criminal justice system. While with the government, Senator Anderson became a two-time recipient of the territorial Premier’s Award for Excellence for her leadership and commitment to improving her community.
Senator Anderson is kind-hearted and giving to anyone that may be in need. At the community celebration for her appointment, an Elder spilled a drink and she got up to wipe the floor. This moment was captured in a picture by Tusaayaksat Magazine applauding her and went viral on Facebook with many comments such as ‘that is how we were brought up’, ‘we all take care of each other’, and ‘when you are at home with family and friends it does not matter what title you have.’
Senator Anderson reflects her upbringing in the community and is a strong advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable. In her four and a half years as Senator, she has been committed to raising the profile of the Arctic, Inuit, and Indigenous matters across Canada to ensure representation that recognizes the uniqueness and diversity of the people, language, culture, and land. She continues to strive for equality and equity for Indigenous people. One of her passions is to collect and reclaim Indigenous photos, historical documents, and books. She uses these materials in her speeches to inform others and show the historical context that continues to impact Indigenous people today. It is important for Senator Anderson to write all her own speeches because she wants to be truly reflective of where she comes from in order to help others better understand how their decisions impact the people of the North. She has another passion for writing poetry and is also now pursuing a Master of Arts in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria.
Senator Anderson said, “It is hard being in Ottawa and away from home. At times, my Indigenous values and beliefs do not necessarily work well with politics and a colonial system. I go back home to Yellowknife and Tuktoyaktuk to ground myself and get strength from my surroundings. As an Indigenous person it is important to trust and believe in yourself no matter what anyone tells you. Indigenous people have strong knowledge and wisdom that needs to be shared, accepted, and understood in order for positive change to take place in Canada.”