From the archives: Mary Cousins (Herstory 1974)

Mary Cousins, via the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society.

Mary Cousins, via the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society.

Featured in the 1974 issue of Herstory, Mary Cousins (Feb. 22, 1938-April 22, 2007) was a nurse, teacher, journalist, ambassador for the North, and an Inuit rights activist. The entry in Herstory is short, and of course, only lists her accomplishments up to 1974. Luckily, the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society has a thorough account of her life.

In 1953, Mary – née Panigusiq – moved to Hamilton, Ont., for schooling at the behest of her father. There, she lived with the McAndrews family, and often visited a local hospital to comfort the many Inuit patients there recovering from tuberculosis. (AMMSA)

She took teaching courses in school, but it was her nursing experience that opened a door for her: from 1958-1962, she spent her summers working as an interpreter on the medical ship C.D. Howe, which visited Inuit communities to conduct tuberculosis screenings.

During the same period of time, she worked for the Department of Northern Affairs, and edited and contributed to the first Inuit-language magazine Inukitut. “Through her work on the magazine, she played a large role in bringing information to isolated Inuit communities in the North.” (AMMSA)

In 1969, she started working for the Vanier Institute of the Family, a non-profit organization committed to promoting the well-being of Canadian families, and soon after became politically active in Inuit issues, helping to found the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a group that represents and promotes the interests of Inuit on a national level.

“She taught the language at Gordon Robertson Education Centre in Iqaluit for almost a decade before returning to school herself and earning a teaching certificate from the Eastern Arctic Teacher Education program. She then resumed teaching, this time at Nakasuk school in Iqaluit, while continuing her own studies through McGill University in Montreal. In 1992, she earned her bachelor of education degree at the age of 54.” (AMMSA)

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