NWT Election 2019: Arlene Hache’s Yellowknife Centre interview
Arlene Hache wants to be the next MLA for Yellowknife Centre.
Hache, a longtime NWT champion of social justice, is focused on downtown violence and safety.
Presenting a four-point plan to address downtown issues, Hache called for the approach of services for vulnerable people in Yellowknife to change.
“I find that the service environment today is all about, ‘These poor people are totally incapable of doing anything.’ Which is not true,” she told Cabin Radio, referring to her own time homeless as an example. “I think that can change.”
Emphasizing the importance of a healthy economy as a means of tackling social ills, Hache said the “economic marginalization of an Indigenous population” in the NWT has to stop.
Accusing incumbent Julie Green of failing to lead or listen, Hache said she would offer a “different” form of leadership in the district.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Hache’s air date is September 11.
More information: Arlene Hache’s campaign Facebook page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 6, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: Why did you decide to run?
Arlene Hache: I decided to run for MLA for Yellowknife Centre because, from my perspective, there needs to be a new approach in terms of how you work, with community MLAs and Yellowknife MLAs working together, to really consider the whole picture across the territories. I think balance is so critical when you realize the gaps in service, and where they’re landing, and how community people engage in services in Yellowknife and at home, and how to create a better continuum for people across the Territories.
And we’ll come back to some of that in a second. Now, it takes a lot to run for election, and I don’t think anybody would do it if they didn’t think they could win. This is your fifth time. What do you sense is different this time?
I think the community is broader in their thinking. I think that experience matters, length of time matters, history matters. When I’m going door-to-door people know who I am, they know the work that I’ve done, they comment on that. So I think there’s that long history of community dedication and recognition that has kind-of peaked at this moment.
You have been scathing about the state of downtown Yellowknife. A quote from you from a little while back: “The sense of community I and others have known has been replaced by fear and dread.” What would you do?
What would I do? There are four concrete things I would do.
One thing I would do is really look at the good neighbour agreements. I think they’re a fabulous way to start a conversation about what that means and how you make that happen. I would, as MLA for Yellowknife Centre, make sure that the RCMP were a part of that discussion, because we need them to re-engage in their job, which is to stop public intoxication and public harassment. And the GNWT is responsible to negotiate a contract and to be clear about their expectations for the RCMP’s role in this community.
From my perspective, the candidate who currently sits in Yellowknife Centre failed to recognize that that is the job of an MLA: to lead, not accept what is the norm or what is the way of operating versus the way forward. So I think that’s one concrete thing.
I think the other concrete thing is around mental health and addictions. You really need to, again, think about the balance between being compassionate and making sure people are accountable. And that’s how I moved forward when I was a homeless individual – I had people that were compassionate, and understood the situation I was in, but they also expected me to be accountable for my behaviour, and to change and to move forward.
So I think that was the greatest lesson I learned, is that I was capable of great things. And I didn’t know that. And I find that the service environment today is all about, “These poor people are totally incapable of doing anything.” Which is not true. They are capable of understanding how to do things differently and do things better.
That doesn’t mean they don’t struggle, it just means they know full well that harassment, violence is not a thing they should be doing and should accept as a norm. And you saw that with the death of Mark Poodlat. I saw his mother today, I saw people on the street today, who just said: “We have to stop thinking that this is normal. It is not normal.” Service providers take that kind of bent and that kind of approach, which kind of re-entrenches the notion that, you know, this whole block of poor people really aren’t capable of doing anything. And so I think that can change.
I think mental health first aid is a really critical, concrete tool that this community could access that would help the community generally understand mental illness – and, when they see it, to know how to intervene properly and help people access mental health services.
I think we came up with a really great solution that would help the RCMP provide better support to people struggling with mental illness, because the RCMP were really frustrated. They would would respond in the early days and they would pick people up that were really struggling with mental illness and hearing voices and sort of in a decline of their mental health, and they would take them up to the hospital. Then the hospital would release them within 20 minutes. So the RCMP said, “We’re really frustrated, because we take people to the hospital and they’re back downtown before we are, back down at the detachment.” And again, I think that’s because the medical community took the easy way out. And they don’t understand that population.
So we took the unprecedented step of beginning to fill out the mental health forms ourselves. For example, family members, or community members, or anybody who cares about somebody who is struggling with a mental illness, can fill out those forms, and document their decline in mental health – so that when they’re in deep trouble, and they are harassing people, and they are doing things that they ordinarily wouldn’t do, then you have the documentation that would assist the RCMP, the doctors, and service providers to be appropriate.
The final thing that I think would make an amazing difference is a program model where, when people are healthy, they work with their family and their doctor in the community that supports them to say, “I know that sometimes I’m not doing well. I’m well now but sometimes I’m not. I know when I’m not well, and I can feel myself slipping into that place.” It gives the person an opportunity to say, “When I’m not doing well, please intervene, don’t let me just wander around doing stuff I shouldn’t be doing. And here’s how I want you to intervene. Here’s what I want you to do in terms of my employer or my children or my finances.” And those are binding agreements.
I find current MLAs and the government generally has zero vision to move forward. They’re sort-of stuck in, “This is what we do, and this is what we always do.” And you know, they kind of fluff around with some general kinds of up-in-the-air decision-making. But as one of the constituents said to me, they believe that they don’t get down into the weeds. If you’re not in the weeds, you don’t know where the swamp is, and you don’t know how to dredge it out. And I’m very familiar with that. Because when I began my life here in Yellowknife, I was on the streets, I did stay in shelters, and there was a pathway forward. And some people helped me forward. I can do that for other people and so can service providers generally, but not if they’re mis-targeting and not if they’re misunderstanding that population that they’re dealing with.
You alluded to Julie Green a little while back there, the Yellowknife Centre MLA for the past four years. You’ve said in the past that Julie Green has “developed a reputation for being combative and mean-spirited.” Now, when we say combative, combative isn’t always a bad thing. Forgive me for saying, you’ve sounded a bit combative yourself in this interview so far, because you’re passionate about the issues. When does combative become a bad thing?
Well, I think there’s a difference between being passionate about issues and name-calling. I think there’s a difference between being passionate and clear about kind-of a pathway forward, even if people don’t agree with you, versus accusations of hidden agendas, or calling somebody a coward, or we’re creating such a divide that you can’t call it back. So for example, I find community MLAs generally very supportive, great people who care about their community. If you can’t have a relationship, a good relationship with community MLAs, we’re not moving forward in the Northwest Territories. From my perspective, you have to be able to be open to conversations – and that has not been my experience with the candidate from Yellowknife Centre.
I think it’s just a difference in leadership. So my tack, my approach, is to listen to people, hear what they have to say, not always to accept what they have to say, but agree to disagree without getting down into talking about personalities, or talking about a negative spin on that. I’m really focused on the issues – I always have been. I find people tend to turn that into something it isn’t. And I find that particularly true of, you know, the expectation that all women get along and all women should be on the same page. And if they’re not on the same page, then that boils down into a fight between women instead of, you know, a clear difference in how we see the world, how it operates, and how you get from A to B.
You’ve developed, over many years, a reputation for your knowledge of dealing with some of the issues downtown, and people expect from you a campaign that would focus on the wellbeing of downtown residents. Beyond that – when we look at, for example, the economy – where do you feel the NWT’s priorities should lie?
Well, I think it’s kind-of a myth that candidates who care about the downtown wouldn’t care about the economy. Because the fact is, if you have no money to put food on the table, your life is miserable. That’s the bottom line.
When you look at the difference in employment between the communities and Yellowknife. 80 percent of the unemployment resides in the communities. In Yellowknife employment is high, but it’s not high among Indigenous people.
So let’s just call a spade a spade. The racism that exists in the Northwest Territories is an economic marginalization of an Indigenous population. So we have to look at economics broader. I think we have to be more balanced again, in how we support the mining industry, and more realistic in terms of how we support the mining industry.
What do you mean by being more realistic?
More realistic in the sense of wanting jobs, making sure the mining industry can reduce its burden of red tape, but on the other hand making sure you have stewardship of the environment.
I always go back to the old memory that I never forgot, and that was the oil and gas industry in the Beaufort Delta. There was a lot of controversy about, you know, land claim settlement and that sort of thing. Communities were accused of betraying the rest of the Territories when they wanted economic development. And so one of the chiefs at the time said, “You don’t know what it’s like to live with your neighbour who has money. They have money, they can be in partnerships, they can build buildings. We can’t, and we’re like the poor cousins, and we are not going to be the poor cousins. That’s the bottom line.”
And when you look at the mining industry going into the Northwest Territories, there were a lot of doomsayers. There were a lot of naysayers about the risk to the environment and the damage it would do, socially, to the community people in those areas. Some of that was true, and some of that was borne out, but I saw a lot of growth. I saw a lot of economic wealth going to communities, people who had been living on income support for a generation or two. It boosted their expectation of wealth and it boosted their sense of knowing that they also have a right to have a job, they also have a right to have money, they also have a right not to sit there and be given a handout that they didn’t ask for.
And so I look to the Tłı̨chǫ region and I just see that that early discussion was not balanced. It didn’t pay attention to the community and it didn’t listen to the community. And the community barreled ahead anyway. And in come the diamond mines, and there were partnerships, and there were jobs, and it could have been better – but on the other hand, it was great. And I saw that, and I saw it up close, because families would come to me and say, “We’re doing really great.” And some families came to me and said, “We’re really in the tank, because we don’t know how to manage our money and we’re kind-of off track. We need help.” And I would help them as well.
So I think that that experience with the diamond mines taught me that it’s important to be supportive. I did a tour of Gahcho Kué Mine a month ago and they are not talking doom and gloom. They have hired local people in management positions. They talk about the future, they talk about environmental stewardship and involving community people and involving elders.
They present a lot of hope. And that’s what our Northwest Territories needs right now. Not to ignore the green economy – not to ignore that, we’ve barely even made an investment in that realm at all, so I want to look at that. I think agriculture is on the cusp of really making a change. Is it a big enough change? I’m not convinced. You know, they’ve talked for years about the arts and crafts and renewing that: talk to a craftsman or an artisan and they’re going to say, “I will never get the money to compensate me for what I have to put into that incredible work.” So I’m not convinced that that is the way out.
And then when I look at tourism, there has not been the investment that there should have been. It’s kind of been penny-pinched to death and not a real focus. So I think that’s a possibility. And then I look at the informal economy. The informal economy was kind-of decimated by government policy and so I want to relook at shared technology, shared knowledge, shared space, and could we do more with the informal economy? And can we have policies that are more… I’m really passionate and keen on homeownership for Indigenous women, for example. And so I’m looking at co-op models. I think a lot of those innovative, creative ideas are dismissed by the government and by MLAs because “the policy isn’t there.” I think that’s why you need a visionary person, and I think I’m a visionary person.
We are almost out of time. In a tight 60 seconds, what would you see as some of the changes we could begin to make to education in the Northwest Territories to get it to where we need it to be?
I think the polytechnic is just the key. One key, anyway. The polytechnic in a downtown location, downtown Yellowknife, is really important. A broader scope in what that polytechnic could offer and how it offers its services is great.
I think early childhood education and early childcare that is really focused on infant mental health would make a massive difference. And I also want to look at, you know, the grade status of NWT students because it’s not good enough. That’s the bottom line and I don’t want, as a parent or grandparent, to buy the story that it’s OK because we want social children. No. Our children are able to achieve great things. I want children that get high marks and can survive going into university without upgrading for three years.