Support from northerners like you keeps our journalism alive. Sign up here.



NWT Election 2023: Steven Vandell’s Dehcho interview

Steven Vandell with one of his signs. Photo: Submitted
Steven Vandell with one of his signs. Photo: Submitted

After 25 years spent working up the ladder on the Norman Wells pipeline project, Steven Vandell says he wants to apply his experience to represent the Dehcho district.

Vandell says he would prioritize education, employment, housing, and mental health support if elected to the Legislative Assembly.

Vandell also wants to promote education and employment opportunities that reflect the needs of northern communities, to encourage youth and support them when they return north.

He says he’d like to see youth “know that when they graduate, when they come back to the community, there’ll be something there waiting for them.”

Ron Bonnetrouge, Richard C Lafferty and Sheryl Yakeleya are also vying for the seat.



NWT Election 2023: Back to Cabin Radio’s election homepage

This interview was recorded on October 26, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Steven Vandell: Over the last few years, I had an opportunity to be involved in different levels of industry, private industry and government.



So, with all the experience that I have now, I want to bring those forward and share some of my experiences to make the areas better.

For example, I used to be with the pipeline, at the time I was Aboriginal Affairs. Some of the issues are the same here in this area. I have a little bit of background on how to enhance moving forward. Things right now are not moving. That’s part of the economy and whatnot, but there’s going to be something that we can do in this area to create employment, better education, housing. I definitely want to bring my experiences and utilize them to make things better.

Education. Education is a big one. Now, there’s a couple of parties involved in education. Education starts at home. They have to have the security, the support at home.

And once they go through all the different levels of education… I’ve got an example. I had a couple of young students from this area go to school. Got the support, got the funding, went down south, spent four years getting an education. Coming back, I’ll use a nurse for example, the jobs weren’t there. They support all of them through all the stages but, when they come back up north, there’s no security for employment.

It makes it a real struggle. They get frustrated and then they go seek another type of training for other jobs. But we have to support them when they come back. The finances were given to support them going to get their education. When they come back, there’s nothing for them. So they get frustrated.

Housing is a big one. Each community struggles to provide housing even for the nurses, and some of the government employees. There’s another issue: housing, affordable housing.



If you’re going to support them financially and get them through the education, some kind of system should be in place where it will support you, if you go through the jobs that the community needs – nurses, healthcare workers, stuff like that.

Have something in place where they come back to have an opportunity to utilize their education and they know that when they graduate, when they come back to the community, there’ll be something there waiting for them. I’m not saying a permanent job, but an opportunity to get in the field that they went to school for.

Nursing is a good one because there’s a big struggle for nurses, and all our nurses have a system where they come into a community for six weeks and they move on, or some stay. But if we have something in place indicating you put the time in, we’ll have a position for you somewhere in the community. Not necessarily the community they came from, but in the whole north.

That’s a good one because you hear homeless. Homeless need homes. So, X amount of dollars, some units are available in the communities.

Now, to maintain is a priority. If you get a dwelling or housing, you have to maintain it. That indicates that you’re going to have to have some kind of income to pay for the power or the fuel because it’s not going to be given to you. You have to meet us somewhere.

Employment, to be able to maintain the house, because everybody knows fuel, lights, taxes, and all that kind of stuff involved in owning a home. But there again, some of them are not able to, so what do we do with that little group?

I’m still throwing questions around how we can help them. They do need assistance, they do need help. It’s just a matter of finding a formula where they’re comfortable, and where they can maintain.



If you give them a room, it’s their responsibility to maintain that, keep it clean, to help out in the structure where you put them. So, make them understand that there’s a cost, and there’s an input that they have to do to maintain that, to call their own. Because housing, it’s got a lot of sides to it.

Fast-track. I’ve been hearing stories, some people are still in apartments or motels for two years now, from the first tragic floods and now the fires. We have to fast-track because when an individual is going to put a claim in, it’s a slow process, because there’s so many of them.

So we hire a company to fast-track things, speed it up, because some of them have been two years and they still haven’t seen any development as far as homes. Some of them were lucky to have insurance and have good support so they can redevelop. But how about the ones that don’t? They’re just struggling, and now they’re still stuck in a hotel. So fast-track things, speed things up.

Get a subcontractor to be involved to work with the government, because the government is overwhelmed right now trying to find funds, find money and personnel to go interview people, see how they can speed things up.

Winter is already here and again, some of them are still in the motels. They lost everything.

I’d have to do a little bit of research. That’s something that I missed, as far as energy. But, there again – delayed, delayed, delayed, because of certain things, weather, money, cooperation, all plays a role. But as far as that, that’s something I’m gonna have to do a little bit more research on.



Housing is a big one. Education, the youth, mental health. Everybody needs support in mental health from all ages. Right from the young to the elderly. Mental health is a big one because stress – everybody’s dealing with day-to-day issues. Stress, even the young ones get stressed, and that affects their ability to learn, to develop, to move forward.

Mental health should be offered. I imagine it is, but it’s not really visible right now. Say we have group sessions and whatnot for mental health. Because everybody approaches it differently. Some don’t want to admit that they need help mentally, some do.

So that’s a real tough one, how to support the issue of mental health, because like I said, all ages need it, right from youth to the elderly.

Going over the approach the government has, obviously it’s not fully promoted 100-percent, really only if you ask for it, you might get support.

We have to create more facilities to offer the mental health sessions and follow-ups. An individual who comes in, you hear his issues, then you file them and there’s no follow-up. There has to be their support.

And the community should support those individuals, because everybody knows each other in these small communities. Everybody knows what they’re going through. You just need a little more help.



Make it visible that the help is there and get some local people involved, because if you bring in somebody from halfway across the world, you set them up as a mental health provider, they feel uncomfortable trying to explain what they’re going through. And they don’t know the environment of the community.

These small communities, the youth have no place to go. There’s no drop-in centres, somewhere they go hang out with their friends, communicate – somewhere safe. Somewhere safe to go, counselling, support, of course.

That’s a key subject that I’m going to have to come back to.

You all know Yellowknife, the diamonds industry and up in the Sahtu and Inuvik area, there was oil and gas at one time.

So, in this area, I’ll use Providence for example – what can we do to create jobs? We’re in between Yellowknife and Hay River. We’re central. So, one of the things of a successful company is location, location, location, which we are in. So, it’s a matter of finding something or some industry where we can promote and create job opportunities. Because people go by Providence and they don’t even come off the main road, so we have to draw them into the community to show that we are here. We’ve got to find something that we can promote to create jobs, give the young ones an opportunity to seek what career they want to do.

We’ve got a lot of on-the-land programs, which I’m very proud to say in Providence. I hear other communities say that Providence has one of the on-the-land healing camps. We get people from all over the place — Simpson, Ontario. They come here for a couple of weeks and enjoy it.



We’re on the river, we promote traditional values, and we go through the spirituality with them, and we have Elders involved. So that portion we like to thrive on. And as far as the oil and gas, because unfortunately where we’re located, it’s not here.

I was born and raised here in Providence, in the NWT. I had an opportunity to be involved in some of the big projects like the pipeline, because I was Aboriginal and 10 percent of the workforce had to be northerners or Aboriginal, and I fell in that category.

Because of my background with my parents, entrepreneurs, I had some experience. So I excelled in that project, the Norman Wells pipeline. Went from a labourer, when I was done after 24 or 26 years, I was in Aboriginal Affairs with a big oil company. I went through all the steps – labour, truck driver, I got my B pressure welder, and my Class One.

So I was grateful at the time when that project was going on, because it gave me an opportunity to touch and to experience a lot of different things. And I was grateful. There’s a few of us that went through that.

But these days, we’ll probably never see a project like that again. So we’ve got to focus on where we can create jobs, support for our youth coming up, because they’re growing quick and there’s still not too much opportunity.

Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.