North

Helen Maksagak, Nunavut's first commissioner, dies at 77

Helen Mamayaok Maksagak, who served as Nunavut's first symbolic head of state, died on Friday. She was 77 years old.

Helen Mamayaok Maksagak, who served as Nunavut's first symbolic head of state, died on Friday. She was 77 years old.

Maksagak was appointed in March 1999 as commissioner of the newly formed territory, holding that post until March 2000.

Previously, Maksagak served as deputy commissioner of the Northwest Territories from 1992 until she was promoted to commissioner in 1995, making her the first Inuk and the first woman to hold that position.

"The thing that was very different about her was that she was Inuk, a lady who spoke both languages [English and Inuktitut], plus the fact that she was [a] Christian lady, and she wanted to pray before any meetings took place," former N.W.T. MLA Titus Alooloo told CBC News on Monday.

Maksagak was a long-time resident of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, where she lived with her husband John and raised their six children.

"On behalf of Cambridge Bay and all of Nunavut, I would like to take this opportunity to extend sincere condolences to Helen's family," Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson told the Nunavut legislative assembly Monday afternoon.

"Helen's accomplishments and gifts to Nunavut will never be forgotten."

Born on April 15, 1931 in Bernard Harbour, Maksagak spent her early years in Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., but had lived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, since 1961.

Maksagak was active as a director with the Kitikmeot region's drug and alcohol board and the N.W.T. Roundtable on the Environment.

In honour of her public service, she was was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada in 2002. She also received an honourary law degree from Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia.