Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier

Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, CM, chief (born 15 April 1954 in Regina, SK). Day Walker-Pelletier is the longest-serving elected chief in Canadian history. She was chief of Okanese First Nation, located near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, from 1981 to 2020. During her long career, Day Walker-Pelletier accomplished many goals, including establishing the structure, instruments and policies of governance for Okanese First Nation. She also took part in numerous projects related to wellness, social reform and education, focusing primarily on providing support to vulnerable women and children. Day Walker-Pelletier has been a strong advocate for preserving the language, traditions, and treaty rights of Okanese First Nation.

Early Life and Education

Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier attended a residential school in her youth. She later attended the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now the First Nations University of Canada), where she studied education. She left just a few credits short of earning her degree. However, Day Walker-Pelletier quickly found work as an adult-education field worker with the Saskatchewan Indian Community College (now Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies). There, she worked with various bands to set up adult-education courses.

Career As Chief

Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier became interested in politics while attending a District Chiefs meeting. She volunteered for her local band office before being elected for the first time in 1981 at age 26. She held that position for 39 years, serving for 15 two-year terms and three three-year terms. When she began serving as chief in 1981, she was one of very few women chiefs in Canada. Today, roughly one-third of chiefs are women.

During the early years of her career, she made securing her band’s land entitlements (which amounted to 4,856 hectares) a top priority. In 1989, she oversaw the construction of a $300,000 water treatment plant and nine kilometres of new paved road. She was also on the board of directors for the Touchwood File Hills Qu’Appelle District Chiefs Council and Silver Sage Housing Corporation in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Day Walker-Pelletier founded the Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission and Provincial Partnership Committee on Missing Persons. She is also a leader of the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council Safe Shelters. Day Walker-Pelletier has served as a board member for Wichihik Iskwewak Safe House, File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority and Qu’Appelle Haven. As chief, she helped Okanese First Nation develop independent, Indigenous-led legislation concerning family and child services.

“I think it's not what I accomplished — it's what my community has accomplished with my leadership.” – Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier

In 2001, Day Walker-Pelletier organized a traditional healing and medicine-gathering conference in Fort Qu’Appelle on Treaty 4 grounds. The event was hosted by Okanese First Nation, and its aim was to restore the physical and spiritual health of Indigenous people. She became chair of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (now the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) in 2005.

Day Walker-Pelletier was part of a contingent of Indigenous leaders who met with Pope Francis in 2022 to discuss the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system in Canada and the genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. She presented the Pope with baby moccasins and asked him to return them to the steps of a Saskatchewan residential school upon his planned trip to Canada later that year. When the Pope arrived in July, he returned two pairs of moccasins.

In 2016, the Assembly of First Nations recognized Day Walker-Pelletier’s leadership skills and her long-serving role as chief of Okanese First Nation. One of the driving forces of her career was to rebuild Indigenous community and family life. She has drawn on her own experiences at residential school and sought to rebuild Indigenous communities that were destroyed by the Indian Act, Sixties Scoop and other policies of assimilation. To this end, throughout her career, she constantly sought to balance her professional obligations with her familial ones, making time for her children and grandchildren and asking her colleagues to respect her commitment to family life.

Did You Know?
In 2022, Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier was recognized by Canada Post with a commemorative stamp. She was included in the Indigenous Leaders series, along with Harry Daniels and Jose Kusugak.

Awards and Honours

  • Member, Order of Canada (2018)
  • Saskatchewan Order of Merit (2021)
  • An academic scholarship in Chief Day Walker-Pelletier’s name is issued by File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council.