Longtime northern educator and advocate Sharon Allen says she will apply Dene principles to achieve progress in consensus government at the next assembly.
“My biggest thing is to carry the Dene values and principles, which is listening, respect, be kind, listening to our people, learning from the Elders, and continuing on with those traditions,” said Allen. “It’s what’s going to guide my way through this.”
Allen says she would like to hear directly from communities and Indigenous governments when working on solutions for education, job opportunities, industry and housing.
“The GNWT needs to step back and allow Indigenous government to be self-governing,” said Allen. “They know their own people the best and how to live in their community, work in their community.”
This interview was recorded on October 25, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Simona Rosenfield: To start, why did you decide to run?
Sharon Allen: I decided to run because I’m an educator and a northerner, born and raised.
There are a lot of issues that have happened since the natural disasters of the flood in our community and Jean Marie as well. It just really made me think about the things that we have to deal with as smaller communities.
A lot of the issues that we face are on my platform: education, healthcare, poverty, disparities in the communities with housing.
What are your plans for education, if elected?
There’s zero accountability at the government level to evaluate teachers and school administrators on their progress, on whether they’re meeting the needs or not meeting the needs of the education system.
As a former student from the education system here in the North, and holder of a University of Saskatchewan Bachelor of Education degree and a teacher of 10 years, I can honestly say there is a lot of work that needs to be done for education.
I’ve also said in front of the Minister of Education and my superintendent that education has failed us, and I say that with my experience and other people’s experience.
My plan is to go to the constituents and see what kind of solutions they have for their children. Lots of times we’re dealing with the reconciliation efforts that education has been saying and putting forward, but we’re not seeing it at the ground level, even as a teacher or even as a student.
We have to remind them that our people are in their healing journey, and that they need to be culturally sensitive and use cultural safety while educating.
The northern graduate program developed by Education, Culture, and Employment fails to live up to its mandate as well. A lot of people are graduating from their respective degrees but they’re not always able to find jobs.
That makes it really difficult to allow people to go back home into the communities. They have to leave and that affects our economy. We need to do better.
You just mentioned the economy in the North. Once someone is educated, how would you create the jobs that would bring people North and strengthen local economies?
I’m being really honest, I do not have a plan. But I will poll my constituents to determine what they consider would be the best option to move forward. Not all problems can be solved at the Government of the Northwest Territories alone.
We need to work with First Nations governments, we need to look at industry and say, “Are you meeting the environmental needs of our area?” Because, as you know, for our region, we’re still in negotiations. That needs to move forward in a really respectful way so that we can bring about jobs that are environmentally sound.
What is your plan for healthcare?
The healthcare crisis is a worldwide crisis. No matter where you look, everyone needs professionals. The government needs to look at long-term recruitment and long-term training to fill the gap. There’s no overnight solution.
For example, what if we train our own doctors and our own nurses and teachers, which is what Aurora College used to do – and then that social program got pulled. The education program got pulled.
I’m a graduate of the teacher education program that Aurora College had that was affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan. It was really well done because it had the Indigenous perspectives in there that really help with Indigenizing education.
Now that we’re moving into the BC curriculum, we have to also change the way that the curriculum is adapted to where we live. We went from Alberta, and now we’re going to into BC’s curriculum. So, we’re just moving from one curriculum to the next.
I don’t understand why the NWT doesn’t have its own curriculum, even though Education, Culture and Employment claim that they have the experts in the fields, because they could do it there.
A lot of times, teachers who have graduated have said they’ve had to travel away from home to go back to school. I myself, I was thankfully able to go to Fort Smith with my five children.
At the time, I was fostering my niece and nephew, and I had my boys with me. So, you have to put into consideration that if people, older adults, decide to go back to school, that it can be accommodating for families – because Aurora College was very accommodating to our family.
It’s important to keep people in the North to educate and also to work.
You mention there’s an issue with poverty in smaller communities. How would you address this at the next assembly?
All parties need to meet and discuss the issues that are pressing for our region. All government sectors need to work together. The GNWT needs to step back and allow Indigenous government to be self-governing.
They know their own people the best and how to live in their community, work in their community. I went to Jean Marie and I remember growing up we had a sawmill, we had ways to transport lumber, we had ways to transport different goods and services to other larger communities by barge.
So, we do have the ability to stimulate our own economy. They need to assist the communities to find ways to build economy. Also, the government needs to exercise caution when working with the people. In other words, the cultural safety, the cultural sensitivity really needs to be in place.
Having people do these online modules, to me? It’s not reconciliation. It’s a step to reconciliation, but we need in-community workshops, so that we can work with non-Indigenous immigrants, other members of our community to build relationships so that we can move forward together.
This is an elected position. So I serve my riding and I must listen and take into consideration all that has been done and work for what could be done together moving forward.
How would your experience in education and advocacy help you represent your constituents’ interests in government?
My biggest thing is to carry the Dene values and principles, which is listening, respect, be kind, listening to our people, learning from the Elders – and continuing on with those traditions is really important to me, because it’s what’s going to guide my way through this.
I know that there’s going to be a lot of debate, a lot of issues that we’re going to be looking at, and my biggest thing is I want to advocate for our people. I want to advocate for change, and change is: “Why are we dealing with a healthcare crisis? Why are we dealing with an addiction crisis?” People are going out for treatment to get better, and they come back, and there’s no supports in place.
To me, that’s not a good way for people to go out and get healthy and come back and not have the supports. And the other part that I noticed, going door-to-door, is housing. We need to make sure that people who are living in public housing, their houses are up to par. There’s lots of concerns.
Elders are talking about the fuel subsidy and there’s also the food subsidy and security. That seems to be a huge concern for communities: our food and the way we live.
Why are we always the last on the list for funding? And the other part, too, is after the flood, community members are trying to put their communities back together. And with very little resources, it’s really hard to put back your community the way it was. A lot of people incurred a lot of debt, trying to put things back together the way that it was. It’ll never be the way that it was, but they’re doing their very best.
You just mentioned the floods. What would you advocate for at the assembly, on behalf of constituents affected by the floods and fires? How would you help insulate communities against the impacts of climate change?
For climate change, climate has always been changing, ever since I was little.
Right now, we’re having the kind of weather that I remember having a long, long time ago. We used to have freezing before we had snow. So this is very normal for me.
But with the wildfires, it has been a very hot summer and we didn’t have a lot of rain. And the flooding, we had large dumps of snow prior to the floods.
I think we need to work with communities. Like I said, we need to all band together and come up with a community plan or come up with a committee to have more professionals in the field, to give us guidelines to follow so that this doesn’t happen again, so that we have prior planning.
The poor planning – or lack of planning, is what a lot of people said – really put us in some dangerous situations.
That’s my plan. We need to all work together, because working in silos is something that Indigenous people didn’t do. We had to work together, which is why consensus government is supposed to work. We’re supposed to work together. And even though we disagree, at the end of the day, we need to come up with a plan and not continuously do some infighting and some things that should not happen. We need to work together.
That’s my biggest thing, is to work together.
Last question. Why should voters support you on election day?
People should vote for me because I am honest, I like to listen to what others have to say, I’m open to new ideas, I’m willing to work with others as a team, and I love being in the North.
I’ve been here my whole life, and this is where my ancestors have lived, my grandparents. It’s home.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, major debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.