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First-Ever Aboriginal Judge Sworn in as Northwest Territories Supreme Court Justice

The Northwest Territories has sworn in its first-ever aboriginal justice to its Supreme Court, making the entire five-judge panel female in the process.
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An aboriginal woman has been appointed to the Northwest Territories (NWT) Supreme Court for the first time.

With her swearing-in on Friday January 13, Shannon Smallwood became the first Dene to hold the post, and completes an all-woman, five-judge panel.

“I think it's significant. It shows the progress we've made in the Northwest Territories,” Smallwood told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). “Back when I was growing up in Fort Good Hope you didn't see people thinking about going to university or becoming a doctor or a lawyer. And today they're going to university, they've been becoming doctors, they're becoming lawyers, and now, a judge.”

Born in Inuvik, she grew up in Fort Good Hope and dreamed of being a lawyer before knowing what one was, she told APTN.

“As I grew older and thought about and realized the impact that law has on everybody’s lives, I began to become interested in the law and wanted to pursue that career path.”

Her hard-working parents and grandparents inspired her, she said.

Smallwood was also sworn in as a justice for the Supreme Courts of Nunavut and Yukon, plus the courts of appeal for all three territories, CBC News reported, and is the first aboriginal to sit on any of those courts.

Except for Justice Edward Richard, who is retired but subs in when the other NWT Supreme Court judges aren’t available, the panel is all-female, CBC News said.

Marilyn Napier, president of the NWT Native Women's Association, called Smallwood a role model, telling CBC News, “It's really wonderful to see an aboriginal woman in a career like that.”