NWT Election 2019: Richard Edjericon’s Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh interview
Richard Edjericon hopes to become Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh’s next MLA.
In an extensive brochure, Edjericon sets out two-dozen platform pieces ranging from settling land-claim agreements, to revising the terms of the federal day school class-action lawsuit, to working with Nunavut to protect the caribou.
He would also like to work to index the federal Canada Pension Plan to inflation to offset the high cost of living, build a comprehensive drug and alcohol addictions treatment facility, and trigger an independent review of the NWT Power Corporation.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Edjericon’s interview air date is September 18.
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 11, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: So Richard, can you introduce yourself?
Richard Edjericon: Hi, my name is Richard Edjericon, I live in the community of Ndilo and I was born and raised here in Northwest Territories.
I have a lot of background experience. I was on band council for 10 years, I was the YKDFN (Yellowknives Dene First Nation) housing manager, I was also the NWT Apprenticeship Board chairman. Later on I became the head chief and spokesperson for Akaitcho on behalf of all the chiefs, more or less like an acting grand chief. And after that I got involved in the Mackenzie Valley Impact Review Board as a board member for a year, and then I did two three-year terms as chairman for the Mackenzie Valley Impact Review Board. So I’ve got a variety of experience on all fronts.
It sounds like you’ve done everything but be an MLA. Why did you decide to run?
I’m a carpenter by trade, I’ve been busy doing a lot of consulting work and construction management for last few years. And as you know, we’re still in a global recession here in the North in terms of the economy. It’s front and centre here in the North and people are looking for work, and there’s a lot of issues as the diamond mining winds down. So in the last number of years, community members from Ndilo, Dettah, Fort Resolution, and Łutselk’e, they have approached me to seriously think about running for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA again, based on my life experience in community leadership and also community involvement. So I thought about it and finally said, “Yeah, OK.” So as of last Friday, I finally filed my papers in Fort Resolution to make it official.
We’ve got your brochure here in front of us. Walk me through some of the key points.
First of all, it’s a very extensive brochure. I’ve just been on the trail for the last little while here and I’ve heard a lot of things. And the last number of years here in the North, especially in the Akaitcho region, the NWT Tribal Corporation are getting close to signing off an agreement in principle, and they’ve been at this for quite a while now. And I was here in 2000 when the Treaty 8 centenary was done in Fort Resolution on July 25. Just so you know, a hundred years earlier, my great-grandfather was the one that signed the treaty on behalf of the Chipewyan. So 100 years later I was there to sign the Akaitcho Framework Agreement that laid out all the principles to negotiate an agreement.
We’re getting close to that point now where it’s got to move forward so that’s one of the big things that we have to conclude. And not only that, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation are concluding their agreement as well. So we’d be there to support both claim agreements, to get these agreements done.
As you know, Thaidene Nene National Park has been recently signed. They’ve still got some obstacles they’ve got to get resolved, but it’s getting close. And with the GNWT, we’ve still got to put it through the house and then get those things finalized. So one of the things I said here is that we want to finalize Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve.
The other one is to support the harvesters, hunters, and trappers program. It’s one of those things where we encourage our people to go on the land to hunt, trap, and harvest animals, but money is getting really tight now and the cost of living is going up, the fuel prices are going up. The money’s just not there any more. That’s just another area.
The other one is – I’m thinking like a former leader and former chief – I always wanted to work closely with the Aboriginal governments and Elders’ Councils. So in this case, if I was elected the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, I want to work with the chiefs and councils and Elders, and work on their priorities. Go through the five-year capital plans for their communities, prioritize what the issues are going to be, and then come back and work with them so we have that relationship. So those are things that I want to bring to the table: to continue to work with the Elders.
Not only the Elders, we’ve got to include the youth as well. The youth are growing, there’s a lot of youth in our community. So we can’t ignore them, we’re going to have to listen to them, we have to figure out ways we could work with them. And those are things that I’m prepared to do as well – not only to sit with the Elders, but to sit with the youth and look at what their priorities are going to be as well. And then some of those priorities could be also included in the five-year capital plan as we move down the road.
And the other thing I’ve got in here as well is for the GNWT to negotiate a new caribou protection and harvesting transboundary agreement with Nunavut. Right now, the caribou is on the decline and it has been for a while. Right now, big game hunters can actually go into Nunavut and shoot caribou, but the caribou does not know boundaries. So the caribou is on the decline in the Northwest Territories, so we can’t really shoot them. But that caribou walks across to Nunavut and gets shot by big game hunters from the States or wherever. So we need to work with them so that we can manage that together. Those are important things, otherwise we’re going to have no more caribou down the road. That’s another thing we’ve got to take a look at.
As I walk the trail, people are talking about an alcohol treatment centre. A couple of weeks ago in Nunavut, Canada built a $42-million facility for families with addictions. We really need one here, but I’m hoping to have Canada fund that program, including the operations and maintenance, and also maybe take a look at programming at a local level where there’s an aftercare program and an on-the-land program as well. But there’s just not enough money to go around, but absolutely, those are things we’re going to have to go after and make it work.
And as far as the alcohol and drug treatment facility, you said you’d like to see it on Chief Drygeese traditional territory. Any particular community?
At this point, not really, those things will get sorted out. It could be in Fort Resolution, Łutselk’e, Dettah, or Ndilo, it doesn’t matter where it would be.
But the thing is we do need a facility for a family. Also, we need to take a look at on-the-land programs. We only could do a couple of programs a year and there’s no more money, so we’ve got to really look at providing more money for that kind of thing.
But most importantly, we need programs at the local level for the aftercare program, after you’re done your treatment. We’re going to have to take a look at that: how we’re going to continue to provide services to them to help guide them. So we’ve got to find the money.
Also, moving on down the little list I’ve got here, is to improve education outcomes for children and youth at all levels to ensure high graduation rates and territorial participation by focusing on early child literacy. And I guess what I mean by that is basically in our communities, we have a lot of graduates that come out of school, but sometimes the education level is two grades down and they have to go back for upgrading to get into college or university. But if we could focus on the younger people at all levels, and then just work with them and bring them back to par, where they should be, that’s going to be key. And in that area, there’s so much focus we should have on bringing our younger people into trades or college or university. So we’ve got to start somewhere, right? So what I’m saying there is that we should really take a look at that as well.
The high cost of living is another priority, whether it be paying for fuel, power, or water, we’ve got to take a look at new ways of bringing those high costs of living down. Possibly looking at the Taltson hydro is another idea, green energy, wind: anything to really take a look at the high cost of living.
My power bill is probably about $350 a month, but my actual power is probably about $180 or $200. And there’s all these other fees and levy fees. I’m saying we should really take a look at the NWT Power Corporation and maybe have an independent review. We really need to tackle the high cost of living, that’s just another area that I think is important to everybody.
You mentioned the Taltson hydro expansion project. That would run right through the traditional territory of many of your constituents. Have you heard from them about whether or not they’re in support of the project?
At this point, it’s been discussed in the papers and the territorial government. You’ve got to remember when Dezé Energy was looking at providing power to the mines, it was going to go through some very sensitive areas of Łutselk’e and the Lockhart River and spiritual gathering sites. When I was the chairman for the Impact Review Board, there were a lot of significant public concerns and at the end of the day, we ended up turning it down because there was a lot of significant adverse impacts to our people.
So that project was stopped on paper, but I think they’re looking at reviving that and maybe choosing another route. But those issues need to be talked about, we need to take a look if that’s what they want to do. The Akaitcho and the community governments, they have to be on board. But if not then this will be another project that probably won’t go further than the review board process.
You’ve got at least a dozen more things in your platform.
Just trying to keep it simple: improve the social health funding to local Aboriginal governments and free medical travel programs. There are just so many concerns on medical travel alone, when people go down south and they have issues with escorts or there’s just not enough money or there’s just policies in the way that prohibits our people. We have people that speak the languages, but then when they go down south there’s no way to communicate to the nurses or doctors. And there’s always obstacles.
So those are some of the things that I’ve been hearing that really need to be looked at. So until we find out what the issues are in all the communities, right now, I just want to listen and see how we can fix these problems. To me, any problems can be fixed as long as we know what it is and talk to the people to make change. But any time you want a change in government, you’ve got to change policy.
And so moving on, like I mentioned earlier, an independent review of the NWT Power Corporation. To me, I think that needs to happen.
Overall, the GNWT has a budget of $1.9 billion a year to maintain and run this government. But the mining industry, some are moving south already, some are in reclamation mode, and revenues coming in from mining industry are no longer going to be there. So I guess overall, as a government, we need to really assess ourselves. We may have to take a look at how we can eliminate duplication and help provide better services, but yet, do more for less. But at the end of the day, that’s something that we may have to talk about as a government.
But the other one is, most importantly – on top of assessing the territory and where we’re going to be financially – it’s also important to really take a look at the overall economy of the Northwest Territories. For one, BHP mine. It’s like losing a small fortune – that’s a huge hit to the economy of the Northwest Territories and to the jobs and people here in the North and it affects everybody.
So we need to look at a new way to come together as a government to focus on what a new vision and mandate should be down the road. So that needs to happen, not tomorrow, it should happen today. If we’re going to run and nothing changes, then why bother running? And that’s what I’m saying. We need to really assess where we’re at, and then move this government along.
Also in here is to establish a new constitutional legislative framework agreement to include Section 35 claimant groups to work together with the GNWT on their outdated territorial act. And that’s also going to be a very important, key thing to talk about. As you know, there’s five claimant groups, there are two Métis groups, and Inuvialuit as well. So there’s about eight in total.
But when the territorial act was created back in 1967, it was never updated. So going forward, the territorial act, also in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples… what they’re saying there is they recognize our rights, but what’s happening is that the territorial act doesn’t, it needs to be amended in such a way that we may have to come together through a constitution. It’s something we need to take a look at, because land claim agreements have Section 35 rights, the territorial act is just under the Indian Act, and it’s just an extension of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. So that is called the territorial act.
So basically, we have to come together and see how we’re going to coexist and work together. So that’s going to be very important. If we could start the discussion now and move down that road, it probably won’t happen in the next four years, but who knows, we don’t know. But at least we can have a discussion and start talking about that.
Also, the other thing is that the federal day school class action lawsuit across Canada was recently approved and going through its process. But back when this whole thing happened, the federal day school, it was all funded by Indian and Northern Affairs, that ran those schools in those communities. But what happened in Ndilo and Dettah, the school there was funded by Indian and Northern Affairs, but it’s not included in the federal day school lawsuit.
And there are students there that were also abused. But they’re left out of the class action lawsuit. I think we need to really revisit that and have to take a look as to how we could work with the prime minister through our premier and take a look at this, because it happened. The money went from Ottawa to Indian and Northern Affairs to the GNWT to help to run that school at the same time. And then in the same breath, it also funded federal day schools in other communities. Those were included, but the abuses still happened. And we can’t forget about that, so we need to take a look at that as well.
We’ve got about three minutes left. I’m not sure if I’ll make it through everything on here. Do you want to just highlight the rest?
If people want to read my brochure, it’s online, or call me at 867-445-2601 and I’ll be more than happy to share the brochure with you. But I just want to say that I do have a lot of stuff in here and I’ve been around the block. I’m well-experienced, I have demonstrated leadership and proven governance.
Last night what hit home was: in the brochure, I said that we’re going to initiate efforts to index the federal Canada Pension Plan to the inflation costs, to offset the high cost of living here in Northwest Territories. Here in the North, I think we’ve got to take that pretty seriously. because right now the Elders on a fixed income can get up to $29,000. And if they were to go to meetings throughout the year, about eight or 10 times, and get some money, a cheque is written, it’s recorded, and then they’ve got to file their income tax. And as soon as they file their income tax they get penalized by $11,000. And once that money is paid back, then it goes back up to $29,000. It’s hurting a lot of Elders in our communities. Already, they’re getting between $400 or $500 a month, power bills are $300 or $400, fuel, etcetera… and they’re just struggling. So it’s something that we all have to really take a look at. How we can work with the territorial government and also Canada to really let them know that this is a very important issue to our people here in the North, versus the south where it’s cheaper to live? Here in the North, the high cost of living is hurting everybody.
Your communities are spread out across the lake. What’s your commitment to those people that you’ll be in those communities, that you’ll be hearing their concerns, and you’ll be representing them in the legislature?
I’ve known those communities quite well, I know Łutselk’e very well, I know everybody there, I know the leaders in the community, members and young people. And I was a former chief, I went to all these communities and travelled a lot and went to a lot of assemblies. And same thing with Fort Resolution, we’ve got two diverse groups over there, we have the Deninu K’ue First Nation and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation Fort Resolution Council. So, again, that’s where the treaty was made. I know everybody there and we know the issues. And Dettah and Ndilo as well.
In the last term, Fort Resolution and Dettah were included in the Tu Nedhé riding and now they call it the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh riding. And there’s still concerns with that, with how the lines were drawn, how the recommendations were made and decisions were made. There is a difference of culture in that riding. Those are issues that were brought to my attention that we still need to take a look at but, because the lines are drawn, we’re going to have to wait until they look at that again.