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A passion for people

Mary Ann Ross takes on her first political role

Erin Fletcher
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 25/03) - Politics runs in the blood of Inuvik resident Mary Ann Ross. Her father, Peter Ross, is the chief of Tsiigehtchic and two of her aunts served in the position she now occupies -- vice-president of the Giwich'in Tribal Council.

Ross, 39, is the mother of six children and an avid volunteer who is passionate about making life better for all Northern people.

News/North: Where are you from?

Mary Ann Ross: I'm originally from Tsiigehtchic. My family history comes from Tsiigehtchic. I was raised in Inuvik from the age of four and a half.

The memories I have of Tsiigehtchic are of how pristine it was and it still is pristine and beautiful. But if you put yourself back 34 years ago you're looking at a place where there was no electricity. There was no running water. You had to live by gas lamp and brought fire wood in to heat yourself up. You carried water or went and got blocks of ice and you brought it into your house.

I sometimes think about it and how amazing it is to come from such a background and then come to this community. It was totally traditional when I was young and then coming to Inuvik the traditions are gone. And then you grow up in this fast-growing community.

My mother was a single parent and she raised us the best way she could. There were a lot of really tough times. You see a lot of things when you live in poverty.

I lived in Grollier Hall (residential school) from the age of nine to 13. A lot of people look at Grollier Hall as a bad experience but it was a good experience because it gave me a good foundation. It gave me the strength, determination, religion, education and a safe haven.

N/N: What kind of education do you have?

MAR: I started my family when I was very young. I have a daughter who is going to be 23 on August 18.

When you start your family you leave school. I left school in Grade 9 so I actually never graduated from high school. I took the other route and went back to school to get some upgrading (later on).

Regardless of when you start your family you can still do the things you want to do.

There are a lot of women out there who are doing the same thing I'm doing. Who started their families early and decided to raise their children. Then when they felt it was a good time they went back to school.

I've been in computer classes were I've met some women who have no idea what they're doing. They ask you for help and you help them.

You have to start somewhere and you have to be determined. You also have to have an idea of what you want to do.

N/N: What were the advantages of having your family earlier and going for a career afterwards?

MAR: I'm down to two children at home. I have six kids. They range in age from almost 23, 21, 20, 18, 15 and 12. The last two are at home.

I have much more freedom. I can phone up and say I'm running late. There's no need to get a babysitter any more and there's no diapers to change.

There's so much more freedom than when I was younger. I don't recommend that all young women out there have their children young. I think it was meant to happen to me but it's not meant to happen to other people. I talk to my girls and let them know they have to be really prepared to have a family.

N/N: What attracted you to politics?

MAR: I've always been interested in business and politics. I think business is my real passion and I want to find more out about it.

Politics is something that I've grown up around. My father is Chief Peter Ross.

We both share the same birthdays and we are both similar in many ways. We both have a compassion for our people and we both love tradition. And we're both bleeding hearts. We are sensitive to a lot of things. We will want to help our people. And not only our people but other people if we can.

N/N: What motivated you to run in the GTC election?

MAR: As I said before, I've always been interested in two things -- business and politics.

My father is in politics and whenever we got together we would talk about politics. As silly as this sounds, I've even watched politics on TV. I find it fascinating and interesting. You can be in a position to help people and make a difference.

There are a few people who inspire me too. There's Grace Blake, she's my godmother who is a chief in Tsiigehtchic. There's Glenna Hansen (commissioner of the NWT), (elder) Bertha Allen, (MP) Ethel Blondin-Andrew and Nellie Cournoyea (Inuvialuit Development Corporation). Women who have paved the way for us to be in politics. And to give us confidence in ourselves to believe we can contribute to the governing of our own people.

N/N: What challenges do women face in politics?

MAR: Sometimes we're not taken seriously. Women sometimes don't feel they can do the job.

Women are very strong. If they can raise a family and keep their life together and go back to school and juggle a family and part time work then I think they can do this job.

There are so many women who have been towers of strength for their families. My own grandmother had 17 children.

It was just incredible how those women worked on the land, had a dog team, had a house, had their children and had to provide for these kids.

So there's another inspiration around us. Just talk to your elders.

Women are not only pillars of strength but they are also becoming educated. They are educated and if they're not then they are certainly becoming educated. You can attend an Aurora College ceremony and you will see the results.

It's incredible.

N/N: What was your first day as the new vice-president like?

MAR: It was a social day. There wasn't much time to sit down.

The first day was a social day. People coming in congratulating you, congratulating Fred and then they wanted to sit down and have coffee with you. There was a lot of women coming in that day. The one thing they said was that they were really happy to see a woman get in to this position.

I was really happy to hear the results that the women out there are behind me. They now have somewhere to channel and have their voices heard.