Sheila North, leader, activist, journalist (born 1972 in Oxford House, MB, now Bunibonibee Cree Nation). In 2015, Sheila North became the first woman elected as Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. This organization represents 30 First Nations in Northern Manitoba. She coined the hashtag #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) in 2012. It is meant to raise awareness of the national crisis and address violence against Indigenous women. A journalist, North has worked as a correspondent for CBC News and CTV News in Winnipeg.
Early Life and Education
Sheila North grew up in Bunibonibee Cree Nation (formerly Oxford House First Nation), an isolated community in Northern Manitoba. Her mother, Sadie, is from Bunibonibee. Her father, Gilbert, was from Pimicikamak Cree Nation (formerly Cross Lake Band). Together, her parents owned and operated a road construction business. This business focused on the construction and maintenance of winter roads into their community. Additionally, her father served as Chief of Bunibonibee. He was one of the first chiefs in Manitoba to evict the community’s federally appointed Indian Agent.
North moved to Winnipeg at age 15. This move was to take high school courses that weren’t available to her in Northern Manitoba. While North excelled academically in Bunibonibee, she fell behind her classmates in Winnipeg. She states this was a result of the quality of education she received in her home community. North has noted that living with host families in Winnipeg provided little oversight as a young girl in a new city. She experienced culture shock, racism and isolation in her move.
North left school when she was 16. That same year, she gave birth to her first child. Later, she completed an equivalency test to receive her diploma in her 20s. After this, she returned to education. She earned diplomas in Business Accounting and in Rural Development from Assiniboine Community College.
Sheila North has been interested in journalism since childhood. She began pursuing a career in the industry in the early 2000s. At this time, she studied radio and television broadcasting at the Academy of Broadcasting Corporation. After this, she worked for three years as a Cree and English announcer for Native Communications Inc., a Winnipeg-based Indigenous radio station. North continued working there part time while completing the Creative Communications program at Red River College. While in school, North interned with both CBC Winnipeg and CTV Winnipeg. After graduating in 2006, she worked at CBC news for seven years. Following this, she became a correspondent for CTV News Winnipeg. She remained there until her election to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak in 2015. In 2021, she returned to CBC. The following year, she became the host of CBC Winnipeg News Late Night.
As a journalist, North observed the lack of diverse representation in broadcasting. She has pressed for the inclusion of more Indigenous perspectives in newscasts. In 2010, she was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Breaking Reportage, Local.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Sheila North is a vocal advocate for addressing violence against Indigenous women. She has spoken publicly about the violence she has experienced during her life. North states that being a survivor has inspired her activism. In 2012, North was working as the chief communications officer for the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. From this position, she coined the hashtag #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). She created the hashtag to raise global awareness of the ongoing crisis in which thousands of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited persons have been murdered or are missing in Canada. Additionally, she was an early advocate calling for a federal inquiry into the crisis. She voiced her concerns about the process of the inquiry, which launched in 2015. North has spoken about the crisis to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. She co-produced the film 1200+ (2015), a documentary examining the issue and its causes.
Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak
At the suggestion of friends, Sheila North ran for the leadership of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) in 2015. Established in 1981, MKO is a non-profit organization representing First Nations communities in Northern Manitoba. MKO advocates for the rights and interests of its citizens, with a goal of full self-governance for its Nations. North was elected after two rounds of ballots. She became the first woman to serve as Grand Chief of MKO. However, she has spoken openly about the sexism, misogyny and harassment she faced during her time in the role.
A major accomplishment of her three-year tenure was leading MKO in taking back control of First Nations of Northern Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority (often referred to as the Northern Authority). The First Nations of Northern Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority is a provincially administered entity relating to child welfare services in Northern Manitoba. North, along with other leaders and organizations, worked to remove provincial control of this entity and return it to First Nations. She advocated for the recognition of Treaty rights and self-determination of First Nations. During her term, she also worked to address racial profiling and violence against Indigenous women and girls. Additionally, she spoke about the suicide crisis faced by many northern First Nations.
In 2018, North announced that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election for her role as Grand Chief of MKO. Later that year, she ran for National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. She came second to incumbent Perry Bellegarde. In 2021 and 2022, she ran for the position of Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.