Born and raised in Fort Providence and with much of her life spent in the North, Sheryl Yakeleya says she would “be a voice for the people” if elected to represent the Dehcho.
Yakeleya says she will prioritize healthcare, education and housing if elected to the 20th Legislative Assembly because she wants to see people “healthy and happy.”
Yakeleya says she wants to see homegrown solutions prioritized at the assembly. As the majority of people living in the Dehcho district are Indigenous, Yakeleya says they are best-positioned to find solutions – and so the work must begin by hearing from communities directly.
Yakeleya said on-the-land programs and language strengthening are examples of Indigenous-led solutions she would support.
Ronald Bonnetrouge, Richard C Lafferty, and Steven Vandell are also running in the district.
This interview was recorded on October 24, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Simona Rosenfield: Why did you decide to run in the territorial election?
Sheryl Yakeleya: I decided to run because I care about the people in the Dehcho, and I want to see people healthy and happy. To get there, you have to have adequate housing, adequate education, healthcare and all that stuff.
We have a high rate of addictions. If we have that, then we’re going to have a lack of – not a lack of services, there’s a lot of services, it’s just that somehow people are falling through the cracks. So it’s not to say that it’s the healthcare people, it’s people needing to step up and get the help that they need.
How would you address healthcare so that it reaches people in need?
A lot of our community members, the majority of people are Indigenous. Doing on-the-land stuff, that would help them reconnect to their culture and identity.
We don’t have a treatment centre in the Northwest Territories. I realize that it’s probably costing the healthcare a lot of money to send people south. We know what we need in our communities. Let’s look at homegrown solutions for health, especially for mental health.
Is a treatment centre something you would prioritize?
Yes, definitely. We need a facility somewhere in the North that will help our people. That would help all the people of the Northwest Territories, not just in the Dehcho.
A place where people can go and get some healing work done and rehabilitate themselves. And then it’s really important for them to have aftercare support as well in the communities. So, working on getting people trained in addictions, counselling or different types of therapies.
How would you facilitate this work, bringing healthcare, addiction services, wellness services to communities directly? How do you imagine that?
First of all, we’ve got to change some policies. We have to work at that at the Legislative Assembly. Make it so the policies fit with the communities.
We’ve got to go to the communities and ask them what they need. They know what they need. So, we’ll ask them what they need. We go back, we figure it all out, and then implement things that the communities need.
It’s not that easy. It takes a long time to change things, but at least we’re starting from somewhere. My dream was to see the treatment centre in the North running fully with northerners, people from the North.
People that have addictions, it’s good to have somebody that you can relate to. So, a lot of times, it’s our own people that know, that have the resources in the community.
What is your vision for investment in the Dehcho when it comes to housing?
I looked at the community profiles and I see that we have housing issues in all of the communities.
Fort Providence says you have 26 percent of houses that have problems. Enterprise, it’s probably more now that there’s hardly any houses there.
We need to work at training people in carpentry, plumbing and electrical, get trained people in our region, so that when we need infrastructure built, we have the resources.
First of all, it’s training the people and working at assisting the communities. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, but housing is an issue, and there’s a lot of homeless people in the communities that I will represent, should I become elected.
I heard from some people in one of the communities. There’s no housing for single people or people that don’t have children, there’s no housing for them. So, they wanted me to look at that.
Regarding Enterprise, the hamlet lost the majority of homes and businesses in the wildfires this summer. Residents of Kátł’odeeche First Nation also lost homes. What kind of support would you offer to those who lost their homes in the fires?
I will speak for them. Their concerns and everything, I’ll bring those to the Legislative Assembly, and I will push for their concerns. So, I will really speak for them.
Moving on to education. What are your ideas for supporting education?
It depends on the community. Right now, in Enterprise, the children go to school in Hay River – as well as some of the reserves, too. So, just working with them to make sure that they get the grades that they need so that when they go to university or post-secondary school, they won’t have to take upgrading.
Right now, that’s what’s happening. A lot of the students that are graduating, because of social passing, they graduate and then they end up going south and have to do upgrading before they actually take their courses.
Also, working with the schools and talking to the teachers and seeing what needs to happen, so things are working for them and the students.
You mentioned on-the-land initiatives before, does that integrate at all in your education plan or is that separate?
It could be integrated into the education, and it already is at some level in schools. So, kids doing things with Elders out on the land, learning about the culture, learning about the people.
Moving on to energy. Regarding the hydro system, the line connecting to Fort Providence and Kakisa to the South Slave grid was delayed until 2026. What progress do you hope to see on this front at the next assembly?
I hope to see it connected and in operation for the people, so we save money on power.
How would you facilitate this, and keep it on task at the assembly?
I will bring it up, and bring it up, and bring it up.
Is there anything else on your platform you will address at the next assembly, if elected?
I’m telling the electors that I will work for them.
If they come to me with whatever concerns and whatever they need to be expressed or said in the House, that’s what I will do.
There are many, many issues, and I can’t just focus on one of them. There’s so many of them. But I will be glad and happy to speak for them, because that’s what I’m going to be doing. I’m going to speak for them. I’ll be a voice for the people.
On my little pamphlet it says Dene Gha Gohseh – “I’m going to speak for them.” That’s what that means, a voice for the people.
Language is very important too. Whatever language people speak, language is important, especially to a lot of people in the region here. So, that’s why I have that one little part Dene Zhatié on my brochure.
Why are you the best candidate for the position?
That’s a heavy question.
Why am I the best candidate? Because I’m from here. I’m from Fort Providence. I was born and raised here. I grew up, the majority of my young life, on the land with my parents. I moved away when I went to school, came back, and I understand where people are coming from, especially in the small communities.
I know the price of things is going up and I know how people are living. I know how we live over here.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.