Cournoyea attended residential school as a child. She was first elected to the
territorial legislature in 1979, she served as MLA for Western Arctic MLA for Western Arctic (1979-1983)
and MLA for Nunakput (1983-1995). Cournoyea was chosen as premier under the consensus
government system from 1991 to 1995, where then she chose not to stand for re-election. In 2008,
Cournoyea was made an Officer to the Order of Canada and introduced into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame.