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Hill Life & People

Penikett hunts for the northern character

By Tony Penikett      

In this passionate, deeply personal account of modern developments in the Canadian North, Tony Penikett corrects confused and outdated notions of a region he became fascinated with as a child and for many years called home.

During his time in Ottawa as Member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, Wally Firth used to carry a compass in his pocket. Every so often during a political discussion, he would take it out and stare at it. When challenged to explain what he was doing, Firth would say, “Just checking to see which way is north.” That love of his northern homeland, that deep sense of the North’s distinctiveness, was something Firth never failed to communicate. He understood very well that many of his southern counterparts saw the Arctic as barren and remote and empty. As Firth’s campaign manager for his upset win in 1972 (he was the first Indigenous politician from the North to gain a seat in the House of Commons), I learned much from him. Firth had little formal education, but in his 40 years he had lived through enormous change. In his work as a trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a radio “pronouncer” for the CBC, and as an organizer and pilot for the Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada, he had been a leader in many of those changes.

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