Mint Literary Agency

Senator Nick Sibbeston

Nick Sibbeston began his life as the only child of a single mother in a small Aboriginal community in the Northwest Territories. He survived eleven years of residential school—where he was emotionally and sexually abused—to go on to gain a university degree and eventually become the first northern-born Aboriginal lawyer. Senator Sibbeston served sixteen years in the NWT legislative assembly, including six years in Cabinet and, in the mid-1980s, two years as Premier of the NWT. In 1999, he was appointed to the Senate representing the North and working on behalf of Aboriginal people across Canada, while continuing—and finally winning—his lifelong battle against depression.

You Will Wear a White Shirt: From the Northern Bush to the Halls of Power

Rights Sold
World Rights, Douglas & McIntyre 2014

Torn from his idyllic childhood when he was placed in residential school at the age of five, young Walkie Sibbeston wanted nothing more than to return to his Dene grandmother and their simple life in Fort Simpson. But life would never be the same. After years in the schools whose purpose was to “educate the Indian out of the child”, the half-white/half-Dene boy would struggle through first his adolescence and then his young adult years, emerging on the far side as a flamboyant young politician in the government of the Northwest Territories. Outwardly successful, Nick Sibbeston went from being a councillor to serving in Cabinet and eventually becoming Premier. He fell in love with a beautiful Albertan girl, and they married and raised a family of six children.

It was an exciting time in the history of the vast territory, as power devolved from the federal government and the territory was split in two, creating Nunavut. Nick Sibbeston became known as the outspoken politician who fought for the rights of Northerners in the legislature and in constitutional talks, Aboriginal land claims and northern development. Eventually, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada, where he continues to represent the people of Canada’s North, not least in advocating for the generations affected by residential school policies.

But inside, Nick Sibbeston never stopped suffering from the personal demons sired by the years in residential school and the lack of a father: insecurity, depression, infidelity and alcoholism. It was only in later life that healing began to take place, spiritually and emotionally, as he battled his demons openly, supported not just by the medical community but also by his strong faith and the love of his wife and family.