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Byelection win takes women to a majority in N.W.T. legislature — a 1st for Canada

Jane Weyallon Armstrong is the first woman to ever hold the Monfwi riding and her victory marks another historical change: the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly now has a majority of MLAs who are women.

Her victory brings the number of women in the N.W.T. legislature to 10 out of 19

Jane Weyallon Armstrong is the president of the Native Women's Association of the NWT and a councillor for her community government in Behchokǫ̀, where she lives. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Jane Weyallon Armstrong will be the next MLA for Monfwi, representing the four Tłı̨chǫ communites of Behchokǫ̀, Whatì, Wekweètì and Gamètì in the N.W.T. Legislature.

Weyallon Armstrong is the first woman to ever hold the Monfwi riding and her victory marks a historic change — the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly now has a majority of MLAs who are women.

The territory already had the highest proportion of women legislators in Canada, when nine out of 19 seats were won by women candidates in October of 2019.

Melanee Thomas, a professor with the University of Calgary's political science department, said the N.W.T. is now the first provincial or territorial legislature to be led by a majority of women. 

"It's huge," Thomas said. "I know people get a little bit tired of framing everything as important firsts, but we do need to mark when the first time something like this happens so we know how long it takes."

Thomas said it's notable that a legislature led by a majority of women first happened in a territory which operates under consensus government, where there are no political parties. That structure, Thomas said, can be inhibiting, and change is heavily dependent on party leaders, who come and go.

"Progress is episodic at best," said Thomas.

The large number of women in N.W.T. territorial politics is a recent phenomenon. 

A 2018 report by the N.W.T. legislative assembly found the territory came last in Canada when it came to women's representation, with just 10.5 per cent of elected representatives being female, or 2 women MLAs. 

However, in 1991, Nellie Cournoyea became just the second woman in Canada, and the first Indigenous woman, to hold the position of Premier, according to the same report. 

Weyallon Armstrong is among several women to rise into political positions in the Tłı̨chǫ region recently — including Doreen Arrowmaker, who was elected as Gamètì's new chief, and Adeline Football, who became the new chief of Wekweètì.

In a live video posted to Facebook, supporters in Behchokǫ̀ lined up to congratulate and hug Weyallon Armstrong as she learned of her victory. They held a drum dance in the community to celebrate.

The Elections NWT web page shows unofficial results as of Wednesday morning:

  • Jane Weyallon - 503 votes.
  • Kelvin Kotchilea - 252 votes.
  • John Gon - 98 votes.
  • James Wah-Shee - 71 votes.

Weyallon Armstrong is the president of the Native Women's Association of the NWT and a councillor for her community government in Behchokǫ̀, where she lives. 

She's been a student support guidance worker at the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency. She's also an advocate for improving the state of housing in her region.

She'll be officially sworn in Aug. 5 at 3 p.m. MT in the legislative assembly. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avery Zingel

Reporter

Avery Zingel is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism and Political Science. Email her at avery.zingel@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @averyzingel.

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