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NCTR announces new Governing Circle members

November 2, 2020 — 

Following a call for nominations from National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) in September 2020, three new members of the Governing Circle have been selected to join the circle.

“Indigenous governance is critical to strengthening the framework of truth and reconciliation in Canada,” says Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, new chair of the Governing Circle. “The NCTR strives to ensure Canada does not forget the voices of Survivors and their stories which were long suppressed by the residential school system. Today we welcome new members to the Governing Circle, each has been shaped and guided by their Indigenous cultures, values, belief systems and protocols, and all are committed to furthering the work of the NCTR.”

The seven-member Governing Circle ensures Indigenous control over the materials held by the NCTR, provides guidance and advice on the centre’s policies, priorities and activities, on ceremonies and protocols, on methods and sources for expanding the centre’s holdings and resources, and on prospective partners. The Governing Circle makes decisions and provides guidance to the NCTR partner’s and the University of Manitoba on matters related to the NCTR.

Three members represent residential school Survivors or their family members (one First Nation, one Inuit, and one Metis), two represent the University of Manitoba, and two represent other NCTR partner organizations.

New members to the Governing Circle are:

Stephen Kakfwi, northern Dene, and residential school Survivor, is a lifelong leader in Indigenous rights, environmental stewardship, and reconciliation. In the 1970’s he identified the danger of Mackenzie Valley pipeline and led the community consultations for the “Berger Inquiry” into a north-south gas pipeline proposal across the Dene homeland. Mr. Kakfwi served as Premier of the Northwest Territories, and as National Chief of the Dene Nation, representing Chiefs of Treaties 8 and 11. He also led and hosted the visit of Pope John Paul II to northern Canada.

Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser is Gwichyà Gwich’in, originally from Inuvik and Dachan Choo Gę̀hnjik in the Northwest Territories. Her PhD research focused on the history of student experiences at Indian Residential Schools in the Inuvik Region between 1959 and 1996. Dr. Fraser’s work makes a strong contribution to how scholars engage with Indigenous research methodologies and theoretical concepts, our understanding of Indigenous histories during the second half of the twentieth century, and how northern Canada was unique in relation to the rest of the settler nation. Dr. Fraser was awarded the 2020 John Bullen Prize by the Canadian Historical Association for her thesis, titled T’aih k’ìighe’ tth’aih zhit dìidìch’ùh or By Strength We Are Still Here. The prize honours the outstanding PhD thesis on a historical topic submitted to a Canadian university.

The Honourable Levinia Brown was born in Dawson Inlet and attended residential schools in the North. In 1978, Ms. Brown received her certification as a Northwest Territories Classroom Assistant and was instrumental in establishing an eastern board program (EATEP) in Iqaluit, and in 1980 she became the first chairperson of the Keewatin Regional Education Authority. After serving as an information officer, chairperson of the local housing authority, and deputy mayor, Ms. Brown became the first woman mayor of Rankin Inlet. A successful career in municipal politics provided a natural step to territorial politics; elected Member for Rankin Inlet South/Whale Cove on February 16, 2004, the she was selected by MLAs to sit on the Executive Council. In 2004, Premier Paul Okalik named Ms. Brown Deputy Premier. The Honourable Levinia Brown is a role model and leader for Nunavut’s youth. Dedicating her life to the development and promotion of community capacity building for health and social services, she projects a positive outlook on life.

The Honorable Levinia Brown states, on joining the Governing Circle, “As one of the 150,000+ Indigenous persons who attended Residential School, I am familiar with being disconnected from my Inuit culture, traditions and languages. Inuit people are finding creative and artistic ways to share our culture and I hope that I can assist with strengthening the connection to Nunavut because there is such rich truth to be found in our story-telling and cultural expression.”

She adds, “I embraced the opportunity to sit with NCTR’s Governing Circle because it aligns with my deeper commitment to creating a brighter and better path to reconciliation for all Canadians and future generations.”

Four members are continuing to serve on the Governing Circle:

  • Dr. Catherine Cook, UM Vice-President (Indigenous);
  • Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Chair for Truth and Reconciliation at Lakehead University;
  • Andrew Carrier, Manitoba Housing and Community Development, Government of Manitoba; and
  • Dr. Digvir Jayas, UM Vice-President (Research and International).

The new chair, Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, served as Vice Provost for Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University for three years, and effective September 2016 was appointed as the 1st Indigenous Chair for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada and continues to develop pathways forward to reconciliation in Canada. She is a Director of the Teach for Canada non-profit which addresses the needs of Indigenous schools in Northern Ontario. She was inducted as a “Honourary Witness” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. She is a member and resident of the Chippewa of Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario and has dedicated her life to building bridges of understanding between peoples. She sees endless merit in bringing people from diverse cultures, ages, and backgrounds together to engage in practical dialogue and applied research initiatives. She remains deeply committed to public education and active youth engagement from all cultures and backgrounds. She co-founded a youth project out of the University of Toronto, the University of Saskatchewan and Lakehead University. Information on the Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE) can be found at:

Stephanie Scott, NCTR acting director, explains: “The decisions made at the governance level determine how the NCTR functions and needs to have the Indigenous guidance with the perspectives of Survivors, inter-generational Survivors and Indigenous leaders.”

Scott continues: “The new Governing Circle members are strong additions to the governance team that will guide the Centre as we move forward in the journey of reconciliation.”

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