George Hickes: Manitoba’s first Inuk speaker

The new speaker of Manitoba’s legislature is an Inuk from a well-known Kivalliq family.


MONTREAL — The newly-elected speaker of Manitoba’s legislature, George Hickes, has already racked up a string of “firsts” during his nine years in provincial politics.

“I was the first Inuk ever elected to a provincial legislative assembly,” Hickes told Nunatsiaq News. “And I am the first [to be] elected speaker of the house in Manitoba.”

Hickes was also the first to cast a ballot last Thursday, when the 57 members of Manitoba’s newly-elected legislature voted to select a new speaker.

Hickes won this election, as well, on the first ballot, obtaining the required majority of at least 29 votes.

Hickes defeated three other candidates to win the prestigious position.

With Manitoba’s legislature split between 32 New Democratic Party members, 24 Progressive Conservatives and one Liberal, Hickes said he was particularly pleased with the show of support he received.

“That’s a solid endorsement,” Hickes said.

After his win was announced in the House, Hickes thanked the MLAs — in Inuktitut. His 82-year old mother, Jenny Tootoo, watched the proceedings and later gave him a hug.

Hickes said that he’s received many congratulatory calls from Nunavut since his election.

Hickes still has many friends and relatives in Nunavut, including his brother, John Hickes, a former mayor of Rankin Inlet, and his nephew, Hunter Tootoo, the MLA for Iqaluit Centre.

Hickes, 53, was one of a family of12 children born on the tundra north of Rankin Inlet. After growing up and attending school in Churchill, Manitoba, Hickes became an adult educator and was executive director of training for the Limestone Training and Employment Agency in northern Manitoba.

Hickes moved to Winnipeg in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he decided to run for the NDP and was elected to represent the riding of Point Douglas in North Winnipeg.

Since then, Hickes has been re-elected twice, in 1995 and again in 1999. For the last nine years, he was the NDP’s party whip — a job that involves co-ordinating and sometimes disciplining other members.

As speaker, Hickes will now have to steer clear of party functions, including caucus meetings.

While he hasn’t been back to the Kivalliq region in years, Hickes said that he would like to attend the next session of the Nunavut legislature when it sits in Rankin Inlet in February.

“And, in fact, I’ve already been invited,” Hickes said.

Last week, shortly after his election, Hickes met with Nunavut speaker Levi Barnabas, Premier Paul Okalik, Arviat MLA Kevin O’Brien and Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo while they were in Winnipeg.

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