“This time around, I am hoping we get people willing to roll their sleeves up and get the job done … We’re rumbling right along and want to get things done.”
Like the rest of us, Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian has spent the week watching and digesting the results of the territorial election.
Indigenous leaders like Norwegian collectively told Cabin Radio the incoming 19 MLAs need to address larger issues like land claim settlement, housing, trauma aftercare and Indigenous relations.
This time around, with the majority of those elected having prior legislative experience, Norwegian hopes re-elected candidates can bring a better understanding of communities’ needs and help rookie MLAs “fit on those new shoes.”
To build better relationships, he hopes new ministers strengthen consultation with Indigenous leaderships before taking actions like the transfer of leased land.
“Within their little devolution policy, they’re slowly just washing those kinds of rights away. That’s scary and that has got to stop. They need to listen to what First Nations are saying on that front,” he said.
Northwest Territory Métis Nation president Garry Bailey said having new MLAs is good for the North. However, it is also beneficial to work with a few incumbents so Indigenous leaders don’t have to familiarize everyone with the system.
Bailey said settling land claims has been the Métis Nation’s biggest priority since 1996. Over the years, while many MLAs have come into office promising movement on that front, he said little progress has been made.
“In the last legislative assembly, as Aboriginal people, we worked with them – but we didn’t get a lot of our things met,” Bailey said.
The challenges he lists are the NWT’s slow economy, a lack of adequate housing, healthcare issues, and the territory’s recent flood and wildfire crisis.
Indigenous governments meet MLAs twice a year, Bailey said, but he wants more follow-ups.
“Things must come out of those meetings,” he said. “We give the GNWT our views and we expect things to be done a certain way. We expect to be fully involved.”
The previous government made “good attempts” but there were still disagreements, Bailey said. He hopes the settling of land claims, at last, might allow Indigenous governments to handle broader issues of housing and drug addiction in communities throughout the North.
“There is a need to create treatment centres here in the NWT. I think they should consider putting aftercare in every region, in every community,” he added.
Selection priorities for incoming MLAs, Chief Kele Antoine of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation said a “huge education problem” exists in the Dehcho. He said the region’s students and teachers need more support from the territorial government.
He wants the Education Act to be reviewed to address absenteeism in schools. “A lot of our students that move on to post-secondary have to upgrade. To me, that’s a serious issue,” he said, raising an issue many territorial election candidates from smaller communities had themselves homed in on.
Antoine said recent summers of floods and wildfires had placed “great strain” on evacuees, and smaller Indigenous organizations – which, he said, don’t have adequate funding to prepare for those kinds of disaster – took the “heat of that.”
As a start, he believes the NWT should change the sum it provides residents faced with an immediate emergency to match Alberta, which has a policy of providing $1,250 to displaced adults plus an additional $500 for any dependents under 18.
‘Making ties stronger’
Sahtu Dene Council Grand Chief Wilbert Kochon says MLAs will form stronger bonds if they circle toward Indigenous people and work with them on the same level.
“Hopefully we see that with the new government,” he said.
“It will be nice to work with the leadership, the Indigenous governments and the chiefs. Really start working together and making the ties stronger. To work together, not against each other.”
Antoine said Indigenous governments must be active participants in all decision-making affecting “our people, our land, and our water and food sources.”
Better methods of consultation are the way to ensure Indigenous voices are heard, he said.
“We need better communication. We need capacity to be able to properly engage with the GNWT and have our concerns be heard, to follow through on some of the promises.
“We should not be the last ones at the discussion table.”