New stamps pay tribute to Indigenous leaders Nellie Cournoyea, George Manuel and Thelma Chalifoux

June 11, 2023
6 minute read

Canada Post is honouring Indigenous leaders on three new commemorative stamps, recognizing their dedication in advocating for the rights of their communities.

The stamp set is the second in Canada Post’s Indigenous Leaders stamp series, launched in 2022. The series highlights modern-day Inuit, First Nations and Métis leaders who dedicated their lives to preserving their culture and improving the quality of life of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Nellie Cournoyea: A passionate voice for her people

Long-time legislator and circumpolar Indigenous rights advocate Nellie Cournoyea is recognized for her unwavering vision, work ethic and heart that have guided her fight for Indigenous self-determination and Inuit empowerment. Born on March 4, 1940, in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, she grew up living a traditional lifestyle, completing most of her education through correspondence courses sent to her family’s bush camp. Her father was a trapper and immigrant from Norway, her mother an Inuvialuit (or Inupiaq) woman from Herschel Island, Yukon.

While raising her two children, she worked for CBC Inuvik as an announcer and station manager for nine years and sought to acquire funds for Indigenous programming. In the early 1970s, she was a land claim fieldworker for the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (now Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), which was founded in 1971 to “serve as a national voice protecting and advancing the rights and interests of Inuit in Canada.” Co-founder of the Committee for Original Peoples’ Entitlement, she helped negotiate the ground-breaking Inuvialuit Final Agreement, which included a land settlement of more than 90,000 square kilometres.

Elected to the legislature of the Northwest Territories in 1979, Cournoyea held several ministerial portfolios, including Minister of Health and Social Services and Minister of Renewable Resources. She was selected as Premier in 1991 – becoming the first Indigenous woman to head a provincial or territorial government in Canada. During her term, she played a key role in the discussions leading to the creation of Nunavut. After leaving office in 1995, she served for 20 years as chair and chief executive officer of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.

Cournoyea has earned many recognitions for her achievements over the years. She won the Woman of the Year Award from the NWT Native Women’s Association in 1982; the Wallace Goose Award in 1986 (recognizing individuals for their contribution to Inuvialuit culture and language); and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire Award) in 1994. In 2008, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada and received the Governor General’s Northern Medal. She was also inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame and has been awarded six honorary doctorates in law.

In 2013, an Arctic research facility at the University of Manitoba named after Cournoyea was opened. Now in her 80s, Cournoyea remains active as chair of the Nutrition North Canada Advisory Board and vice-chair of the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation.

George Manuel: Steadfast champion for Indigenous rights

A strong-willed political leader and a champion of his people, George Manuel worked tirelessly to improve the social, economic and political conditions of First Nations people in Canada. He is credited by many with inspiring the modern Indigenous movement in Canada. Born on February 17, 1921, on the Neskonlith Reserve near Chase, British Columbia, Manuel attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. He became involved in politics in the early 1950s and went on to hold many influential roles during his four-decade career.

From 1959 to 1963, he served as President of the North American Indian Brotherhood of BC (NAIB) and, from 1960 to 1966, he was Chief of the (Shuswap) Neskonlith Indian Band. As a representative of the NAIB – and while working as a community development officer for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for three years – he promoted community development on reserves across British Columbia and pressed for reforms in federal and provincial policies affecting First Nations people.

In 1970, Manuel became president of the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations), following the federal government’s release of the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (also known as the White Paper) in 1969, which included a proposal to repeal the Indian Act and eliminate “Indian” legal status. Manuel vehemently opposed the imposition of the White Paper and urged its reversal with other leaders by organizing meetings across the country. Their efforts were a success as it was later withdrawn by the government.

Manuel was determined to unite Indigenous Peoples around the world at the local, regional, national and international levels. In the 1970s, he visited many countries, including Tanzania and New Zealand, where he met other Indigenous Peoples and learned of their similar experiences and history of colonialism. In 1974, he co-authored the influential book, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality.

He also founded and became the first president of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) and helped in the development of the WCIP’s Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1977.

His steadfast commitment to fighting the Canadian government’s policies of assimilation led to perhaps his most important contribution: organizing the Constitution Express. The movement brought supporters from the west to Ottawa and the United Nations headquarters in New York by train in 1980 – and to Europe in 1981 – to lobby for the inclusion of Indigenous rights in the patriated Canadian Constitution. His efforts contributed to the recognition and affirmation of existing Indigenous and treaty rights in the Constitution Act, 1982.

Manuel was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize and received many recognitions for his work, including appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada. He passed away on November 15, 1989, in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Thelma Chalifoux: Trailblazer and tireless advocate for social justice

Métis activist Thelma Chalifoux was a powerful force for social justice and women’s and Indigenous rights. A fierce politician, land claim negotiator and broadcaster, she spent her life amplifying the voice of her people and fighting against discrimination. She was born on February 8, 1929, in Calgary, Alberta. Known for her kind heart and boundless energy, Chalifoux volunteered in soup kitchens during the Second World War. She also joined the military reserve force and worked in a Salvation Army canteen.

After leaving an abusive husband and fighting to regain custody of her children – who, like many other Indigenous children, were forced into the child welfare system during the Sixties Scoop – Chalifoux went back to school and was hired as a fieldworker with the Métis Association of Alberta (now the Métis Nation of Alberta). She established the organization’s welfare and land departments and fought for more affordable food and shelter and increased financial support for Métis families in need. Later working for the Association in Slave Lake, Alberta, she co-founded the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, which provides a range of programs and services to urban Indigenous people. She also ran the community’s first safe house for women fleeing from domestic violence.

A land claim negotiator from 1979 to 1982 (and again from 1996 to 1998), Chalifoux was involved in constitutional talks in the early 1980s as part of a Métis delegation to Ottawa that helped to get First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples recognized as separate and distinct nations. She also helped introduce the teaching of the Cree language in northern schools and promoted Métis culture and history as the first full-time Métis woman staff announcer, producer and host of a weekly radio show – making her the first Métis woman to broadcast on private radio.

Chalifoux served on various organizations, including the Métis Women’s Council, the University of Alberta Senate, and appeal panels for Alberta Family and Social Service. She was vice-president of the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation, co-chair of the Métis Nation of Alberta, and chair of the National Métis Senate Constitutional Commission. She also ran her own education and economic development consulting firm, and craft and floral design business. In 1994, she became the first Métis woman to receive a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire Award).

Channelling the strength she gained from her own personal challenges, she fought tirelessly to improve the welfare of her people, particularly Métis women. Her passion led to the development of many provincial programs for Indigenous Peoples in the areas of housing, education and social assistance. In 1997, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Chalifoux to the Senate, making her the first Indigenous woman to become a senator..

After retiring in 2004, Chalifoux went on to help found the Michif Cultural Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections) and the St. Albert’s Meadowview Centre for Women’s Health and Wellness, both in St. Albert, Alberta. She also served as an Elder at the Nechi Institute: Centre of Indigenous Learning and was Métis Elder in Residence at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. She passed away surrounded by her family on September 22, 2017, at age 88.

Stamps pay tribute to Indigenous leaders Nellie Cournoyea, George Manuel and Thelma Chalifoux

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