Lila Fraser Erasmus is campaigning to become Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh’s next MLA.
Her platform is centred around families, unity, communities, and relationships. She advocates strongly that communities need to be allowed to make their own decisions because they know which solutions are needed.
She values land-based healing; sustainable economies; implementing treaty and Métis rights; and building alliances between government, communities, Indigenous Peoples, and industry – while infusing traditional knowledge into everything that is done.
Her resume includes studies in political science, Native studies, and dispute resolution. In her professional life she has worked for government and Indigenous organizations, owned multiple businesses, and sat on numerous boards.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Her interview air date is September 17.
More information: Lila Fraser Erasmus’ campaign website
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 10, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: Tell us why you decided to run.
Lila Fraser Erasmus: My name is Lila Fraser Erasmus. I was raised up in the Sahtu region. I was actually born in the Yukon, in Whitehorse. My mother is from Mayo, my First Nations is from Na-Cho Nyäk Dun. But I was raised up in the Sahtu, I spent most of my time in the Northwest Territories so people know me as from here. My grandfather is from Fort Good Hope. My grandmother was born in Fort Reliance. And so I have strong ties here and I’ve lived in many different places in the Northwest Territories. I’ve lived in Fort Resolution, I’ve lived in Pine Point, I’ve even lived up in Taloyoak. I have a lot of strong ties to the smaller communities. And I feel very strongly that the smaller communities need to have a strong voice.
My father, the late Peter Fraser, he passed away in 2000 but was a very strong advocate for the smaller communities and a very strong voice. I was raised listening to that voice, I was raised listening to him talk about politics all the time. He was an MLA in the early 80s. And so when he was an MLA, we used to travel around to the assemblies with him in the Sahtu region and he was an MLA for the Great Bear Region. And so I was always around it, and I was always familiar with it, and familiar with the people and the issues, even though I didn’t pay much attention as a child.
And so I’ve always been raised with a really strong sense of community and a really strong sense that the smaller communities have the the power to make the decisions for themselves. Many times in government, we have people making decisions for us that have never stepped foot in our communities and think they know what’s best for us, and that I find very frustrating. I think that it’s really important that the Indigenous communities, smaller communities, have a strong voice, and somebody that can stand up and say that we need change. We need to do it differently. And we need to start listening to the communities because they know what they want. They know what the solutions are if we just ask them.
You’ve started campaigning and you’re going around talking to people in the communities. What kinds of things have you heard from them about what they would like to see in the next four years?
We have a lot of issues that we need dealt with. We hear it all over, we read it in the news: the social issues are huge; economic development; the land claims and settling the land claim self-government agreements are huge, we need to get those settled; the economy, we’re getting at the tail end of the mines now and so we really need to start thinking about what we’re going to do next.
And I really believe strongly that the communities are the ones that are going to come up with those solutions if we create these alliances and start working with the Indigenous governments and industry and government. Many times we’ve seen, in the past, we’re dissecting Indigenous governments and dissecting our departments, and so they’re not working together. And so we’ve seen that shift and we see a shift now where we’re starting to work together now, which is great. That’s really nice to see. And so we need to start moving more in this direction of working together and bringing the communities together so that we can find these solutions, because the communities know what they want. And the communities know what the solutions are, we just need to ask them.
And we need to respect their ties to the land, to the environment, and to their communities. We need to respect the cultural foundations that they stand on and stop trying to change that, stop trying to make them do things differently. As government, we just need to stop – and start to make that space for Indigenous communities to make the change, and start to listen to the communities and start to shift our governments to think more in that way.
There’s a lot that Indigenous communities have to offer and I think that we will all benefit from that. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together will all benefit from the knowledge and from the traditions and from the way that we’ve done it before. I think that it’s really important that we start to move towards that direction.
I’ve heard from a few people now that they would like to see a restructuring of the government or a shift in the mindset of the government. That’s a big thing, to change how people think all across the territory. How do you propose we start that process? How do we get people to change the way things have been done for so many years?
We need to come out of our comfort zones. So many times it’s just convenient for us to do it the same old way. And I think that that’s wrong, we need to start moving away from this convenience. The language itself, our young people need to learn the language, we need to learn the language. My dad spoke different languages and there’s 10 of us in the family, not one of us speak even one Indigenous language, which I think is crazy. I’ve seen Dad go into the communities and speak with people in the community. So he knew the language, but never taught us. And so now we hear about how important the language is, but it’s convenient for us to fall back on the English language.
Even in the communities, we need to see more of that. We need to see more signage in the language. And I’ll say this, the NWT Chamber of Commerce is having a forum in Yellowknife here for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh candidates. And I sent them an email and I asked them, “I’m curious why you’re not having it in one of the communities.” Because of my four communities – Deninu K’ue, Łutselk’e, Dettah, and Ndilo – two of them are very accessible to Yellowknife. And so it’s easy enough if it’s in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh riding. Why aren’t we having it in one of these communities? Dettah and Ndilo are right here.
They said, logistically, it’s easier for them to have it in Yellowknife. And so myself, I’m taking a stand and I’m choosing not to go. So I’m choosing not to attend the commerce forum. I will answer the questions for their website and for my website, but I’m choosing not to attend. Because the convenience of that, I don’t agree with. I don’t agree that, just because it’s convenient for them, have it in Yellowknife, even though the riding is right here, 10 minutes away.
This is the thing about the convenience of it all: it’s always convenient for us to fall back on the old ways and just the way that we’ve done it before. And I think we should start moving away from that and moving out of our comfort zones and and start to accommodate our communities, start to accommodate the Indigenous community, because it’s the Indigenous communities that are the ones that are struggling.
They’re the ones that are struggling with lack of graduation rates, with increased inmates in jails, with the child welfare. So we need to start moving our resources towards this sector of our society. And I think very strongly that once we start to do that, and once we start putting our resources there, and once we start valuing them, once they start feeling that the communities are valuing them, then absolutely we’re all going to benefit from that. We’re all going to benefit: that’s going to decrease the health and social child welfare rates. Right now child welfare is at staggering rates, child welfare rates right now are higher than they were at the height of residential schools. That’s crazy. Eighty-five percent of our children are not graduating at rates of the rest of Canada, and the majority of those are Indigenous children. And so why aren’t we looking at alternative ways of educating?
I did some research on how Indigenous people learn, and how we understand, and how we interpret. And it’s much different than Western society. But yet we still are trying to push this Western society education system at the Indigenous population, and it’s not working. And we’re not understanding why it’s not working. And the reason it’s not working is because we’re not understanding the Indigenous population.
They understand, they interpret, they see a world that’s different. They understand visually, they learn visually. They learn in a different ways. And there’s tons of research out there, and people within the education system that understand this fundamentally. We need to start utilizing these people within the system, to start to make that shift for the rest of us that are not necessarily understanding it just yet.
What else is on your platform?
What I chose to focus on was families, unity, communities, and relationships.
When I talk about family, we’re talking about land-based healing programs. Because personally, I think that every single community in the NWT should have a land-based healing camp outside of their community where they can go. Where the kids are away from Wi-Fi, where the kids are away from being plugged in, and where the Elders and the youth can come together and start to learn from each other. The youth are in a very different place today and the Elders come from a very, very different place. And so we need for them to understand each other, and we need for them to learn from each other. The youth need to understand what it was traditionally for us, and how can we use that today, moving forward?
And then we talk about community, and so looking at alliances with government agencies, different non-profits, so that we can build and create these solutions together. The communities need to come together and the communities need to benefit from these alliances. Alliances that respect the cultural ties, that respect where the Indigenous communities are coming from, are going to be really strong so that we can create those solutions together.
And then we talk about relationships, the treaties, and the ties to the land. The Dene and the Métis have never given up their ties to the land, they have never given up their right to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest on the land. They’ve never given up that right. And so we need to settle the land claims, and we need to settle the treaties and understand the treaties as they were from the time our ancestors handed them down to us. The government really needs to understand that part of the treaty. We’re moving forward and it’s important that we all understand those agreements, and what we’re trying to do with those agreements, and how important it is for us to take over the jurisdiction of education, or of health and social services. We talk about how we’re going to work together to implement these rights, and how we’re going to work together to administer the jurisdiction of these rights. I think we just need to continue those talks and I think that we need to do it in a way that’s respectful of the cultural ties to the land.
And then we’ve talked about unification and so looking at strong economies, and so looking at the traditional economies and the wage-earned economies, and so how can we bring those together? We need to earn a wage, that’s inevitable, of course, but we also need to know how to live off of the land. And that’s really important. So the young people need to understand how to hunt and fish and trap in a way that’s respectful. And there’s ways of doing that. There’s ways of doing community monitoring where the community is involved in making sure that their families are being taught in a respectful way. So that when they’re hunting, and they’re fishing, and they’re trapping, they’re not doing it in excess, and they’re not over-hunting, and over-fishing, because we need these lands to be sustainable.
I had read an article not long ago about how we’re killing Mother Earth. And that’s not true at all, what we’re doing is: if we’re not working in a sustainable way, we’re killing ourselves, because Mother Earth will continue without us. Mother Earth will go on and she will cleanse herself and replenish herself without us. And so we’re not killing Mother Earth, we’re killing ourselves. We need to understand that and we need to understand the importance of living sustainably. The Indigenous people have the knowledge of the traditional way of life and have the knowledge of this wage-earned economy and so we need to start bringing that together.
Your constituency covers four communities that are quite spread out. What’s your commitment to the people in those constituencies to stay connected with them and hear their concerns so that you can represent them at the legislature?
We need to visit the communities often and we need to talk to the community members as often as we can. And so being in touch that way, and making sure that I’m at the communities and visiting the communities and talking to the communities in a consistent way will be very important.
Just even in the last couple of weeks talking to the constituents – I haven’t, by any means, gone through as many as I would like to – but the ones that I have talked to, it opened my eyes to how many concerns we have and how we need to be aware, just in the small time that I’ve spent with them.
I can’t imagine, if I get elected, what the next four years are going to be like for me, talking with them and learning about how we can do things differently, and learning about what it is for them and what their solutions are going to look like. It would be great in the next four years if we could work together, learn together, and come up with solutions together. I look forward to that. I look forward to talking to them. And I look forward to coming up with those solutions together. I think it’s going to be great.
What’s your final pitch? Why should people vote for you?
I was raised with a very community-minded foundation. I was raised by a father that spoke strongly in the Legislative Assembly and outside about how communities need to be the decision-makers for their communities, their lands, and for their people. And I think that’s really important and that’s something I was raised with.
I have a bachelor’s degree with two majors in Native studies and political science, and then I also did my master’s research on how the Dene resolve disputes and how we did it in the old ways, how we can use those old ways to create programs and services that are relevant and effective for our people.
I’ve worked in government. I’ve worked as an assistant negotiator for the land claim self-government agreements. I’ve worked as an implementation negotiator. I’ve worked as a manager of community justice and an Indigenous human resource specialist. I’ve also worked for Akaitcho Treaty 8. I’ve worked as the IBA office manager and the negotiations coordinator for the treaty land entitlement back in the day when they were negotiating TLE (treaty land entitlement). And then I also ran a nonprofit organization for three years.
And so I have experience and I have education and I have very strong community roots, and I think that is what is going to benefit the communities for the next four years.