Given the theme for this issue, SAY Magazine is pleased to highlight the career of Grand Chief Sheila North whose leadership has paved the way for many Indigenous people in Manitoba, Canada. She is one of Manitoba’s (and arguably one of Canada’s) most notable female Indigenous leaders.
Sheila North is a proud member of the Bunibonibee Cree Nation,and has served as the Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) since 2015. In a historic September 2015 vote, North was elected as the first woman Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. Made up of the northern Cree, Oji-Cree and Dene First Nations of Manitoba, the MKO First Nations have a total population of approximately 73,000 citizens.
Named one of Chatelaine’s top 30 women of 2015 and recognized by media personality Ace Burpee from Virgin Radio as one of the most fascinating 100 Manitobans to watch, North’s career in the public eye began long before her role as Grand Chief of MKO.
North worked as a reporter for CBC for over seven years and as a correspondent for CTV News Winnipeg until being elected as Grand Chief. Honoured for her work as a journalist and recognized for her contribution to radio broadcasting, this multiple (Radio Television Digital News Association) award winner and Gemini Award nominee has also worked as a Cree translator, an economic development officer, a radio personality and Chief Communication Officer at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. North is a gifted writer and listener who values the opportunities she’s been given and who brings passion, empathy and commitment to her leadership.
“We all have a role to play in this life, and to make it better in every way. And we all have opportunities to do that every day.”
“Along with my fellow Grand Chiefs from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO), I am proud to be part of a new generation of leaders who are bringing a new approach to advocating for the 63 First Nations of Manitoba.”
As one of her first duties in her new role, Grand Chief North focused on stabilizing and restoring MKO’s operational capacity as one of the largest, most influential First Nations Political Tribal Organizations in the country, resulting in a significant increase in responsibility and resources for the organization. Grand Chief North has leveraged these increased resources to bring a new energy to the MKO, advancing her work in representing the communities of MKO and launching a 10-point MKO Economic Action Plan with the full support and partnership of both provincial and federal governments in 2016.
As Grand Chief, North has been tireless in her work to advocate for the full recognition of Treaty rights and for the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action, through regular media appearances and meetings with federal and provincial ministers. Grand Chief North has advocated at the highest levels for increased self-determination for First Nations peoples, including many meetings with the Ministers of Indigenous Services and Crown- Indigenous Relations, senior federal cabinet ministers and senior provincial ministers. In 2017, she negotiated an agreement with the province of Manitoba over autonomy of First Nations child welfare alongside fellow leaders and had an imposed provincial administration lifted off the Northern Authority, the body that oversees Child and Family Service Agencies in Northern Manitoba. Now she, alongside other leaders, is pushing for full First Nations jurisdictional control over child welfare in Manitoba.
Last year she also spoke against the Third-Party Management System to the Federal House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and has completed community and leadership dialogue and engagement on education transformation across the MKO territory. In March of 2017 and 2018, Grand Chief North was honoured to make a presentation to the United Nations as part of an international women’s delegation on dire issues facing Indigenous women, girls and people.
“It has been a very busy few years, and I remember the guidance from my beautiful mother and late father, telling me to be thankful and grateful for what we have. And I am. They told me to be content and always try my best to help people. I try to balance work, family and taking care of myself, but working for others has sometimes taken priority, because I know there is so much work to do. I’m blessed to say that I am not alone in this work.”
The health and wellbeing of First Nations communities has been a major focus of Grand Chief North’s work with the MKO. In 2016 the Grand Chief negotiated an agreement with Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) to provide regional mobile crisis intervention teams and mental wellness services to serve all First Nations in Manitoba. That same year, she initiated negotiations with the federal government to transform the current delivery of health services in Northern Manitoba, enabling First Nations to begin taking over responsibility for the delivery of healthcare services, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on March 28th, 2018, with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott to signal that transformation.
During her service to MKO, Grand Chief North oversaw the completion of a suicide prevention tour called Live Different that reached more than 15 remote Northern First Nations. In 2017, she highlighted the urgent need to address the Nation suicide crisis in First Nations communities, speaking to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, while unfortunately experiencing her own family loss of a loved one who sadly passed away from the same tragedy at that time.
Over the course of her career, North has been a passionate advocate around the critical issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Grand Chief North has received national recognition for her work to raise awareness around the issue.
In her role as press secretary to the Grand Chief at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, North created the hashtag #MMIW, using the tools of new media to galvanize a national conversation on the issue. Throughout her career, North has worked closely with families, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders to support advancing action to address the issue of violence against Indigenous women. North is producing the documentary “1200+”, a film that highlights some
of the systemic issues that place Indigenous women at greater risk for violence and sexual exploitation.
Grand Chief North has been recognized for her efforts building bridges of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities during her time in media and most recently as the leader of MKO. She is driven by her passion to create greater awareness among Canadians about Indigenous people, their cultures and shared history in Canada to move towards building relationships in the spirit of achieving true reconciliation.
Grand Chief North moved to Winnipeg at age 15 to pursue her education. She holds diplomas in Business Accounting and Rural Development, as well as a certification in Radio and Television Broadcasting from the Creative Communications program at Red River College. Today, North is working towards a degree in Political Science from the University of Winnipeg.
Grand Chief North is supported by her two children Trisha and Sonny, and her immediate and extended family.