2014 Winners

Thunder Bay | Aboriginal Leadership

Chief Georjann Morriseau

Georjann Morriseau

Georjann Morriseau's first year as chief of Fort William First Nation sorely tested her leadership abilities.

Elected last year at the age of 28, one of the youngest female chiefs in Canada was faced with a series of crises.

Only weeks after taking office, she was forced to declare a state of emergency following a spring flood on the reserve on the outskirts of Thunder Bay. She was then injected into the tense negotiations concerning ongoing land claims and consultation issues in conjunction with the contentious Horizon Wind turbine project.

And last October, an act of arson badly damaged the James Street swing bridge, the community's direct link with the City of Thunder Bay, which has created some severe socio-economic fallout for members and reserve businesses.

Some ensuing racist comments made about the fire through social media sparked outrage between the two communities.

Through it all, said her award nominators, Morriseau remained a "calming influence" in carrying forward the frustration of residents through negotiations between Canadian National Railway and the City of Thunder Bay.

"It would be a difficult political situation for a seasoned politician," said one of her nominators, "yet she has displayed more professionalism, diplomacy, and leadership than many might."

Her nominators paint a picture of a visionary leader with strong convictions; a positive, can-do attitude with "wisdom beyond her years."

She is said to often come to the table, not just with blue sky ideas, but a road map on how to get there and the plan to make it happen.

"You get the sense that no matter what is thrown at her, she will ensure she reaches that vision to better all the people around her," said one nominator.

Highly regarded on the Confederation College campus, Morriseau received a diploma in Aboriginal Law and Advocacy, and her volunteer endeavours have led to a number of awards and other recognition.

Getting an education and jumping into politics was a way of creating positive social change for her community as well as honouring her ancestors.

Her grandfather was the longest-serving chief for Fort William First Nation in the Robinson-Superior Treaty area.

At 25, she was asked to sit on the Ontario Trillium Foundation board of directors helping to allocate about $125 million annually. At that time, she ran for, and was elected to Fort William council for one term before she ran for chief.

Before entering politics, Morriseau was known as a caring and giving member of her community in effecting change in many advocacy roles.

She organized and landed funding for a provincial conference on good governance aimed at youth that attracted community leaders from across Ontario, including Grand Chiefs.

Morriseau was also instrumental in formalizing an organization called the Governance Development Network, which assists First Nation communities with governance strategy planning, policy development and related themes.

She has contributed to advocacy through volunteer work with Thunder Bay Shelter House, St. Anne's Parish and Confederation College.

As the second woman elected to the community's highest position, Morriseau is out to create a strong economic future with the launching of an economic development corporation to generate revenue for the community and train and employ members. Other community improvements include an Elders Centre and Youth Centre which are either underway or in the development stage.

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