NWT Election 2019: Steve Norn’s Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh interview
Steve Norn wants to become Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh’s next MLA.
Norn has prioritized housing, employment, and settling land claims as key pillars of his platform.
He would also like to develop tourism in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh to replace jobs lost when the mines close, citing Thaidene Nene outside Łutselk’e as a prime example.
Finally, Norn is concerned about the youth vote, and says this is something he is already working to change as a candidate. “Your vote counts, this is a way of you expressing what you want done with your government,” he said.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Norn’s interview air date is September 19.
More information: Steve Norn‘s campaign website
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.
Steve Norn: My name is Steve Norn. I’m originally from Deninu K’ue, I consider it my hometown. It was the place where I cut my teeth and I’m proud to be from there. I was raised by my great-grandparents.
This has been quite the journey so far. I’ve learned so much in the first 10 days of the campaign. And I’m really enjoying it right now. I’m learning a lot.
Can you tell us about your experience? What’s on your resume?
My resume? Well, I’m not sure if anybody recognizes my name but if you googled it I was on Canada’s Smartest Person a few years back, and that was quite the experience I have to say. And I remember speaking to a CBC producer, we sat down, and he said, “Why are you doing this Steve?” And I said, “You know what, a lot of the shows you see on TV now, they’re all these urbanites from down south and these big city centres. And they get to say their piece. And you know, there’s people on reservations and small towns like Deninu K’ue, Łutselk’e, Dettah, and Ndilo in my riding, that have their own lives. They want to get out and express themselves, and I want to be a role model and give people some hope that there is life out there. You have to take chances, just don’t be afraid of failure and put yourself out there. It’s a tough thing to do.
So I’m going to ask you the same question the CBC producer did. Why are you running for MLA?
I have a passion for my people, I’ve always served throughout my life, and I want to give back. I want to be the voice for our people. And I really believe I’m ready. I’ve done things along the way. I’m a former RCMP officer. I did some on-call work with the local fire department here. Great guys. I did some coaching for soccer, just giving back, and I still want to do that and carry on that kind of work from the house as an MLA for the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh riding. And just to say that again, the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh riding covers the communities of Ndilo, Dettah, Łutselk’e, and my hometown of Fort Resolution.
When you first announced that you were going to run for the seat, you mentioned housing and employment as critical issues. You also mentioned opportunities with Thaidene Nene, and you said you wanted to encourage more youth to vote. Anything else that you’ve added to your platform?
Oh, absolutely. Land claims is a huge issue and it’s been coming up more and more, and it was brought up immediately when people looked at my website. I did that by design, because I did want to encourage some dialogue and get people talking again. But we do need to get these land claim agreements finalized. There’s so much at stake, the negotiation team is doing a great job. They’ve done a lot of hard work over the years and they are right there. And if elected, I want to be supportive and give them all the supports they need to get this thing signed off on.
I’m trying to think of analogy to use for the role I’d like to play. In football, the negotiation team, they’re the quarterbacks, they run the plays. I would like to be their defensive tackle, protect their blindside, protect them and support them in any which way I can and get these things signed off on.
You said you’ve already had lots of moving experiences with people whose doors you’ve knocked on. Do you want to talk about those experiences and how those conversations have influenced your platform?
Absolutely. One thing that hasn’t changed for my platform is mental health and addictions. I’ve had a lot of ongoing discussions with a lot of people, and the needle hasn’t moved.
In terms of helping our people I could never understand for the life of me why they closed down the addictions facility we had up in the North. I tried wrapping my head around it. Sure, it’s going to cost money. But the long-term cost down the road of not having one is far greater.
We’re still spending a great deal of money sending people for opioid addictions, alcohol addictions, and so on down south. And then we’re sending them back here with no aftercare. And they fall back into that vicious cycle again, and it just hurts. We’re seeing that spill over now and need to remember that these problems have a lot of effect on emergency services, our police, on our fire department, on our hospital nurses – all the frontline workers, it’s very taxing on all of them.
And if we get these facilities back with the right staff, and using our resources wisely, I really believe that we’ll see changes. We’re not going to see them immediately overnight. We’ve got to be realistic here. I really believe that we will see some gradual changes for the better and it will certainly be better than now because right now it’s scaring me, and we need to do something. And I’m starting to get emotional with this because it hurts. We need to do something.
What is it exactly that you’re proposing that we do right now? Like what would be the first thing that you would do as an MLA to address this issue?
Work with stakeholders, because it’s not just me. Work collaboratively with other MLAs, with other First Nations, with the City of Yellowknife, and the Métis and talk about these things and find out ways to get these facilities in place. And again, the aftercare is a big part as well. Let’s just start getting it done. It’s going to cost money, yes. But again, I think it’s necessary. And we need to get that done now.
And you have a particular vision for what this addictions treatment centre could look like? I’ve heard different iterations of it from different people.
In my ideal world, I’d love to see a main facility where we have the traditional and the western way of handling it. With psychologists and their support staff to help people with addictions and stuff. But I’d love to see other facilities on the land, working with Elders. Collaboration and trying to work with the mental health community to get these programs rolling. Just doing something is better than doing nothing, and I’d love to see that.
You also said housing and employment have long been issues in your riding. Let’s talk about your ideas for how we can address those issues. Let’s start with housing.
On more than one occasion in my door-to-door, it’s been a sore issue. I’ve had people who were crying about the conditions of their homes. They’re upset. I’ll give an example, say for access to grants to renovate your home. It costs a lot of money to renovate your home, it’s costly to own a home. In the North, it’s very expensive. The cost is astronomical compared to other parts of the country.
And I want to find ways to keep money in people’s pockets in any which way. I’ve been told that they try to access money through a housing corporation to get the money to renovate their homes and they’ve been denied. It’s not so much the actual organizations themselves, the housing organizations, it’s more like the policies in place that are barriers to getting access, to me, because these monies are in place to help people with fixing up their homes, renovating homes, and first-time homebuyers. We need to lower that threshold a little bit and help people.
Employment is another big issue for you.
Yes, absolutely. Right now the mines are coming to a close. And then we have to remember that there’s a lot of secondary industry that’s going to be impacted aside from the actual direct loss of jobs there. The airlines and catering services, those jobs are going to be affected.
We’ve got to be innovative and find ways to find new work. It’s not just about mines, we need to find work for people that are going lose their jobs. My take is tourism, for example. I think we have to start realizing that the North is a tourist destination, we could use that and we can run with that. It’s not just about mining, mining is going to be there, there’s other mining developments. Some of these people are going to lose their jobs, they can work towards those other mining developments. Finding whatever we can to put people back to work, keep them working.
On that note, you’ve mentioned Thaidene Nene as a topic.
I feel very positive. This makes me so proud. In Łutselk’e, I was there, I witnessed the signing and you should have seen the people. The community of Łutselk’e, they were beaming. It was such a happy timestamp. You know, just watching the celebrations, the drums, having all the upper echelons of government and our Aboriginal organizations showing up and recognizing the hard work that they did over there for the new park.
It’s going to create some jobs. And I think it’s not going to create massive jobs, but it’s something and that’s really important. And getting the people of the town involved. I have to say I was so proud to be there. I got to meet a lot of new people. I was very happy to be there.
And for sure, this is something that will increase tourism in that area. What about increasing tourism in your other communities?
There’s tourism all along the lake. There’s outfitters in Łutselk’e, in Deninu K’ue, and here in Yellowknife. I think that we need to start promoting and marketing them a little more and getting behind them. That’s my take on it.
You also mentioned that there’s not very many youth out voting, and it’ll be interesting to see what the turnout is this time around. But if you are elected as an MLA, what will you be doing over the next term to encourage more people to vote? Or is it something you’re working on right now, as a candidate?
I’m working on this as a candidate right now. If you look at my website, in my introduction in the video, that’s one of the main points I drove home. In the last election in 2015, 20 percent of the 18 to 35 demographic voted. And that’s scary. That tells me that there’s some sort of disconnect happening there, whether it be apathy, or people just didn’t care, or couldn’t or didn’t want to bother to vote, or felt that they didn’t have a voice.
And I want to tell the youth out there, you do. Your vote counts, this is a way of you expressing what you want done with your government. It’s a very important civic duty. And if you have time to spend time on your PS4 or your Xbox or your iPad, or whatever tablet you’re using, you can take that time to vote. It only takes a short time. Go out and vote. You can vote online. And I really hope that we could increase those numbers.
The communities that you represent are spread out all across the lake. What’s your commitment to them? What do you want your plan to be in those communities, to hear their concerns, to be available when they need you?
So my riding is kind of unique. It’s not like a Yellowknife riding where you just say, “I’ll have a meeting at Javaroma, come on out.” Here, with this riding, you have to go out, travel, and speak to the leaders. And it’s going to be taxing. These four communities – Deninu K’ue, Łutselk’e, Dettah, and Ndilo – they’re all unique. They all have their own specific needs, their own wants, their own ideologies. And the important thing is that we need to listen and work with each other and respect each other and move forward.
So in terms of how often you would ideally like to be in these communities or how you can be reached, do you have any specific, tangible ideas?
Oh, yes, absolutely. Unfortunately – I have a little bit of background, I used to work in the legislature as a constituency assistant – there’s a limited budget you have to work with. But you know what, I’m going to do my best to have probably a couple half-time constituency assistant positions. I’m not sure how that will work out at this time, because I’m not in office yet. Because you can’t be in all these places at once, it’s not realistic.
But I’ll always make myself readily available. Anybody who knows me, if you’re going to call me at three o’clock in morning, if you have a concern, I will do my best to get up and speak to you. And that’s my vision moving forward for trying to keep open lines of communication.
There are a few more territorial-wide issues that we haven’t chatted about yet. Things like education and infrastructure and climate change have come up again and again. Do you have anything you’d like to say on any of those?
On education? Not at this time. I was just mainly here to talk a little bit more about my platform.
But obviously education is important. When I was speaking to one of my constituents, when I went to door-to-door, I told him that we have to be always pushing our youth. Our next prime minister, our next Nobel laureate, our next Olympian, could be in our communities and it could be a little quiet kid sitting in a corner. And we always need to be uplifting and encouraging them.
What about climate change or infrastructure?
I think climate change is something we all have a responsibility for, whether you’re going to use reusable bags at the grocery store.
Our people have always looked after the land. We’re very passionate about the land and the Elders have foreseen this. I remember, my great-grandmother and my great-grandfather who raised me, they used to say, “The land is changing and we don’t know what’s happening right now. It’s affecting the wildlife. And you’re going to have to be there, you’re going to be growing up in this new world. And you need to be prepared and teach your kids to look after the earth.”
Are there any big infrastructure projects that you’d push for?
The biggest thing I want to see is some benefit coming back to our communities. If there isn’t, then I won’t support it. Going back to what I was saying when I first started, it’s all about working with people, collaborating, and figuring out what they want to do in terms of these projects, what benefits they want to see, and how they want to do this going forward.
And just wrapping up here, what’s your pitch? Why should people vote for you?
Because I’m passionate. I love my people. And I’ll do whatever it takes to get what you want from your government. Because the government, they’re here to serve you. It’s not the other way around. And I’m hoping to do that for the next four years.
Do you have any interest in being on cabinet?
No, not right now. I’ve I told this to a few people: I’m there for the people first, and who knows what might happen down the road, but right now, I’m all about the people I’m serving.