Gamètì's Doreen Arrowmaker recognized with Wise Woman Award

Doreen Arrowmaker is a force in her community of Gamètì, where she has run for office, volunteers, spends time with Elders and runs a housing authority. She is the recipient of this year's Wise Woman Award for the Tłı̨chǫ region.

'I'm a full-time student, full-time parent, full-time worker, full-time, everything.'

Doreen Arrowmaker accepts her Wise Woman Award for her contributions to the Tłı̨chǫ region. (Submitted by Status of Women Council of the NWT.)

Gamètì's Doreen Arrowmaker is being recognized for her commitment to the Tłı̨chǫ region with the Wise Woman Award from the Status of Women Council of the NWT.

"I'm very happy, very excited and just filled with joy," she said. "Women just are just as important as everybody else, and they have a voice and they matter … at the end of the day, I just want to inspire my kids to set goals for themselves and to just strive forward."

Arrowmaker is one of six recipients of the award, which honours women who advance the equality of women in the North.

Born and raised in Gamètì, Arrowmaker is a well-known presence within her community. She manages the Gamètì Housing Authority and is an avid volunteer, hosting Bingo and sitting on a recreation committee. 

"I'm a full-time student, full-time parent, full-time worker, full-time everything," she said.

"There's so many things I want to do in life. I wish there was 10 of me, and then I can send them all off into the world, and everybody will be taking care of something. I've got a lot of stuff on the go," she said. 

Arrowmaker is a lifelong learner, has her masters in global management from Royal Roads University, just finished her post-graduate diploma in innovation and design thinking from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is pursuing a second master's degree with the goal of one day pursuing a PhD in Indigenous economics. 

She has run for office, runs a sewing group in her community and is a role model for youth.

"When people volunteer … you're giving back to the community," she said. "That's that thing that makes me proud and the thing I'm really passionate about."

Doreen Arrowmaker won the Tłı̨chǫ region's Wise Woman Award from the Status of Women Council of the NWT. (Submitted by Status of Women Council of the NWT)

'The glass ceiling is very real'

In 2017, she ran for chief of Gamètì, making her the first woman to run. She lost by a narrow margin.

As society advances, she said, we're seeing more women in office and "breaking barriers."

"I see the changes that could be a possibility for our region and for the community. I see so many young people being placed at a disadvantage," she said. 

For women in Gamètì, "the glass ceiling is very real," Arrowmaker said.

"One of the main reasons I ran was because I thought I could make a difference."

Arrowmaker didn't initially see herself entering the political world — she always thought of herself as a business person because of her education.

"But then, I keep hearing other people talk, listening to people, witnessing things as they unfold in our region," she said.

Arrowmaker said current leadership are trying to do the best they can, but there are opportunities for change.

"We need more qualified educated people to actually roll up their sleeves and to take matters into their own hands and, you know, put their foot down and start taking initiative and saying, 'This is how we want to self-govern.' But that's not what's happening," Arrowmaker said. 

"There are so many good people that are out there, rolling up their sleeves working behind the scenes and you know, most people don't get recognized."

Charlie Charlo, Alec Charlo, Alphonse Eronchie, Ernie Camsell, and Chief Jimmy Bruneau in Yellowknife during signing agreement for Chief Jimmy Bruneau School. (NWT Archives/Native Communications Society fonds - Native Press photograph collection/N-2018-010: 0261)

Respect for Tłı̨chǫ elders, leaders who laid foundation

She also respects prominent Tłı̨chǫ leaders, like "Monfwi and Chief Jimmy Bruneau [who were] instrumental in paving the way for the younger generation," she said.  

Chief Jimmy Bruneau had the school in Edzo built, which opened in 1971 thanks to his perseverance, she said. 

"He said we are supposed to be strong and like two people. And to me, it means you have to be very knowledgeable in the western education system. Yes, you still hold down holding on to your roots," she said.

Arrowmaker likes to spend time with her mother in the community and tan hides in the summer. 

"My mother is an elder, and she has a wealth of knowledge. And I just sit with her and bask in her knowledge as much as I can."

Written by Avery Zingel based on interviews by Wanda McLeod.