Paul Betsina wants to become Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh’s next MLA.
Betsina, who said leadership runs in his family, is currently the business development manager at the Det’on Cho Corporation.
His platform focuses on healthy growth in the economy, housing, and protecting the land.
He sees mine reclamation and tourism as opportunities to stimulate the economy.
Betsina says people need to be informed and trained in both the wage economy and in traditional knowledge in order to have a secure future.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Betsina’s interview air date is September 18.
More information: Paul Betsina’s Facebook campaign page
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: I’m going to get you to start by introducing yourself to everyone.
Paul Betsina: Well, good afternoon, Sarah. Thanks for having me here. My name is Paul Betsina, I’m running for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA. It’s been quite the journey so far getting here.
I’ve been a member of the Yellowknives Dene. My first home was out in Dettah. Later on, we moved to Fort Smith for schooling for my father. We lived there for a couple of years and moved back to Ndilo where we stayed until I was a young lad after high school. That’s me in a nutshell.
The reason why I’m doing this is because I’ve been involved with the community since I was a child. I’ve always been around some great leaders, great Elders: my family and extended family, they’re all chiefs and ex-chiefs. They’ve been leaders in their communities on both sides of the lake, as well as on Great Bear Lake. I have a great extensive family as well: Edward Blondin as well as George Blondin, they’re my other side of the family. We have a great history of leadership.
For myself, I got elected on to [the Yellowknives Dene] council in 2011 with great support. I had overwhelming support that I didn’t think I was going to have. In my four years I was able to help the youth get a seat at the table. I was there to bring some issues forth like the impact benefit agreements and helping bring along the Akaitcho Process.
What else have you got on your resume that you feel makes you qualified to be an MLA? What do you do in your day-to-day life?
I left council after my second term, two years into it, because I had a great opportunity with the Det’on Cho Corporation to work with them as their business development manager. Since then, I have helped the corporation get to where it is today with the help of our great management team. They are there to mentor me, to be my support. It’s been quite the journey to be involved in that, to see Det’on Cho grow out of the state it was in a few years back to where it is now. And I’m very, very proud to be a part of that.
Let’s talk about your platform. When you first announced that you were running, you said you wanted to focus on healthy growth in the economy, housing, and land: in particular, protecting the land, looking after it, and taking care of it. Are these things are still the same? Have you added anything?
Well, since I announced I’ve been meeting with my people and it’s been relatively the same messaging they want to see. At the very beginning the Elders told me to stick to these three because it was core to them that they wanted to see things get done, get some approval process in place, as well as get some things fast-tracked. But they also told me to be prepared that it could change. Our people want some different things, whether it’s more things in the community, like daycares and stuff like that. It can happen but if you stay to these three you’ll be well on your way to a better nation.
Let’s talk about each one of these three in a little more detail. Healthy growth in the economy: what do you propose moving forward there?
Well you know Sarah, our diamond mines are sunsetting. They’re starting to come to a close, we need to look past that. I believe even if I can speak just for Det’on Cho and Yellowknives Dene, we’ve established that already. We made a 10-year plan. Us going past that is key. And I can see that, as all the regions, we need to see something to get us past our diamond mines, as well as some of the exploration ones that are coming up. So we need to be on top of that. Keeping our treaties in place as well, knowing that and having a balanced approach.
Which areas could the economy grow in outside of mining?
In our own region close to home, we have a good reclamation program happening out at Giant Mine. At Det’on Cho we have four out of the five contracts, we secured them. So we’re in a reclamation phase for mining and we can see ourselves developing and reclaiming all the other diamond mines that are winding down. We will be in a better position to help them, as well as that will be helping us to get the job security and employment for our people, as well as training them, even pushing through apprentices in some instances.
What about for the communities outside of Dettah and Ndilo? What could Łutselk’e and Deninu Kue do in terms of their economies?
Right now Łutselk’e has a good thing going, they recently just signed Thaidene Nene. They have a national park that’s in their backyard which has great potential to attract tourism and to get employment for their people. As well, they have the freshest water just outside their backyard and that attracts a lot of people, even myself. I enjoy going there all the time. I’m actually going to be going there pretty soon. And as far as Res, they have the Pine Point Mine, they’ve already started the talks with them and they’re going to get some good things going there from what I hear.
Tied to growing the economy, we have to look at taking care of the land. So I’m guessing you’re looking at sustainable development and growth. What are your other thoughts on the land?
We have to have a balanced approach to get an economy that will see our people through the times right now. To be able to get job security and training, as well as having the traditional knowledge of our Elders, and to be able to work near where we are, to be able to secure jobs rather than having our people move away. That’s the last thing that I want, or anybody else wants. People that I’ve been talking to, they don’t want to move away. I did. I didn’t like it and I moved back. It was not a good experience for me to move, where I lost so much of my heritage, my traditional upbringing. In the last few years, I’m finally gaining it back. So it is hard. I know the feeling because I’ve been through it. That’s nothing that I want to wish on my people at all.
As an MLA, what would you do in the legislature to encourage people to look after the land and take care of it?
It’s going to take a community effort on all fronts to be able to do that, to get the people on board by knowing full well the exact details. Because a lot of times when the mines came on 20 years ago, not everybody knew exactly what was going to be happening and how it would affect us. Nowadays with the incoming, different ways to get information and how to deal with it, it’s quite substantial.
Just last week, I was sitting in a Diavik meeting for their tailings ponds, and they wanted to put it underground and our people were sitting up at the front with questions I didn’t think they would have even thought of asking. I was amazed, I was blown away by how informed they are with what’s going on now, compared to 20 years ago when I was sitting at the same meetings in the same halls for these types of projects.
So it’s having our people knowing what’s happening and being involved. And as well, if I’m an MLA, I’ll have the ability to to collaborate with different MLAs, all of them, to be able to have them see our point of view and get their support. I’ve been doing that for longest time, even as a councillor. Sometimes you have 10 councillors, we need more support rather than just one voice.
Housing was the last major pillar of your platform: what needs to be done in your riding to improve that situation?
Right now we need more accessible housing so that our families can have a good home to go to every night. Just recently I was in Res, I could’ve easily stayed at one of their little B&Bs but no, I wanted to be with family and friends that I know were a little bit below housing that most people are used to. And it was eye-opening for me. So I was able to talk with them, to be able to understand their needs, and what’s happening. They need the support from almost all levels of government, because in Res there’s different levels of government and one needs to be able to talk to another to be able to have that line of communication which right now is kind-of lacking from what they’re telling me. They need a direct line. If they need their furnace fixed, they’ve got to phone a few different people and sometimes they don’t come for days. So it’s the humanitarian needs that need to be addressed.
Are there any infrastructure projects that you would like to see happen in any of the four communities you represent?
They will have a major impact on people and land and each region of the territories, like for instance the Taltson hydro expansion that goes right through Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh. Our people need to know exactly what’s involved in it and what’s happening. Right now it’s in the really early stages. We need to have a clear understanding of what’s happening, what the impacts are, and which route they want to see or which route the government or industry wants.
Łutselk’e, it’s all diesel generator with small solar power. I can see power being really beneficial to them as far as cost of living. Because the other one that is being talked about, and is in the early stages as well, is the Gray’s Bay project with the Slave Geological Road that can go up north. That can definitely help out many other mines as well as future exploration projects that could be happening up there. There there’s so much potential.
Any specific projects within the communities like roads, bridges, or buildings, or is it mostly just more housing?
Right now, you can’t build any buildings or towers in Łutselk’e or Res. So it’s the housing needs that is really the sticking point. Even for seniors, there’s no senior homes in Łutselk’e like we have in Dettah and Ndilo and Fort Res. Overcrowding is another issue that needs to be addressed. In the house I was staying in, the living room was the main room. It was quite the experience, what people are going through.
Your constituents are spread out across the lake and it’s a little more tricky for you than for an MLA in Yellowknife to sit down and meet with people regularly. What’s your commitment to everyone in terms of staying connected with them, hearing their concerns, and being in their communities?
My commitment is to know the issues. These types of projects, as it was 20 years ago, are scary to some Elders that don’t exactly know all the details. And as they say, the devil is sometimes in the details that you need to understand. And that’s what I bring, I do my research all the time on any project I do. And my commitment to my people would be to bring that into regular meetings in the community more than it has been.
Let’s just touch briefly on some other, larger issues that stretch across the territory. Things like healthcare and education have been in the news and on people’s minds a lot lately. Have you thought about what you would like to do to change the situation?
Yeah, the education system does need a new look and a new perspective. As the 18th Legislative Assembly came to an end, as the cabinet minister stated, it does need a revamp. Sadly, it came at the end rather than in the middle when it should have been identified. When the timing is better, we can actually do something about it. So if I get in, I would like to see another look at the education system as well as at healthcare. It definitely needs some attention.
You said it runs in your family – that people have always been chiefs, on councils, and in these leadership positions. Would you like to be on cabinet?
One step at a time. I want to get MLA first. I have thought about it, don’t get me wrong. And if the time comes and the other MLAs put their faith and trust in me, I’ll bring it back to my people and get their advice and seek the Elders’ approval. And if that does happen, I’ll consider it if the day comes.
And last question: what’s your pitch?
My pitch is I go meet with people but I don’t seek for them to support me. It’s never been my way of asking for support, for help, for anything. I have a strong mind and have a strong background in leadership.
I like to let my actions speak for me and I have my work speak for itself. And they know that when I go and meet with people, I let them tell me what I need to do and let them make their decisions on who they want to support. There’s a lot of great candidates that are running in our riding, in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh. I know all of them. Actually, except for one, I was looking to hopefully meet her when I was in Res but I didn’t get the chance. But the rest of them I have full respect for and, when I go back to Res, I can’t wait to speak with Nadine and get her take.
But people want to support who they want to support in communities without me going out and telling them, “please support me.” That’s not my way. I have my own way of getting support and it’s them that come to me. It’s been overwhelming right now to say the least. It’s been really humbling and I enjoy their compassion and their trust in me.