NWT Election 2019: Caroline Yukon’s Sahtu interview
Caroline Yukon hopes to become the next MLA for the Sahtu.
With 21 years of experience as a social worker in the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta, Yukon said she has both seen the challenges people face and overcome challenges in her own life.
She told Cabin Radio she put her name forward to help people through some of these challenges. “I want to listen to them and I want to try my best to help them out as much as I can, and be there for the people,” she said.
Housing is a persistent problem in the Sahtu, Yukon said, which has seen little progress in the past. She said people need to have the opportunity to build their own homes, and for renters to become homeowners. Yukon also called for the addition of a homeless shelter in each community.
Yukon wants to see a range of action on healthcare, including a dedicated diabetes nurse for the Sahtu, ensuring residents have medical escorts, and improving homecare for Elders.
In line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action number 21, Yukon said an on-the-land program in collaboration with Elders could address not only mental health and substance use issues but also harms caused by residential school.
“It would be for alcohol and drugs treatment, and withdrawal and suicide prevention and other mental health issues,” she said of a project she would pursue if asked to do so by the people of Sahtu. “But it could also be used for all the harm caused by residential schools.”
The Mackenzie Valley Highway can be a major driver of economic growth and job creation, Yukon said. However, leadership needs to ensure locals are trained and ready when the time comes.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Yukon’s interview air date is September 23.
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 12, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emelie Peacock: Tell us about yourself and why you decided to run for MLA for the Sahtu?
Caroline Yukon: I decided to put my name forward for Sahtu MLA because I really thought about all the personal problems that the people are facing today. And it’s nothing new. People have been talking about them for so long. And they are seeking solutions for their problems.
And I want to listen to them and I want to try my best to help them out as much as I can. And be there for the people.
Could you tell me about your platform? What are some things that you’re hoping to get accomplished if you get elected?
Oh, my goodness, there’s so much. One of them is the affirmative action policy and housing issues, social services issues, economic development, education system issues, healthcare issues. They’re all issues. Environment issues and income support, the economy. And also I keep in mind all the 94 recommendations that were done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I’m interested to learn more about that as well.
One of the challenges, I just thought about it now: with the Mackenzie Valley project that people are talking about, about that bridge that is going to be built in Tulita, it’s going to be very challenging. The leadership, they’ve got to do community development about the project. They’ve got to do a lot of collaboration with other leadership and the communities. They’ve got to do collaboration, that’s really important. And with the Government of Northwest Territories. All of them, they’ve got to get that equal share of opportunities with that project. And right now, the leadership have got to start talking about planning for the locals, for employment and apprenticeships and also business opportunities.
They’ve got to start talking together and they’ve got to start making plans together because they’ve got to get their locals ready for the opportunities. Which means that the locals, they’ve got to have their safety certificates like bear monitoring, slashing, first aid. They’ve got to have all these certificates in order for them to to get jobs. They’ve got to get them ready.
I can certainly suggest to them that they can get all this training through Aurora College in their communities. They’ve got to get their locals ready, even for cooking, or cook helper, heavy equipment operators training, all of that. They’ve got to get their locals ready, like now.
So that’s going to be challenging for me, but I’m aware of the situation and I’m willing to work with the leadership and with the government. I can only do my best.
I’d like to ask you about education as well in the Sahtu. Former education minister Caroline Cochrane said in the Legislative Assembly that the Sahtu needs to have an education review. How do you see the state of primary and post-secondary education in the Sahtu right now?
Right now, the curriculum and the school in the region is poor. And it needs to be reviewed because the community, the parents don’t know how the students are being taught in school. Like, what are the high school subjects that they are being taught? Is there a lack of courses that are not taught to them, for example, science, biology? The parents want to find out why programs such as home economics, small engine repair, industrial art… why aren’t the local artists and musicians being utilized at the school to teach the children about art, music? And why are the students not being taught all these subjects in the curriculum? They’re lacking all these courses in the curriculum. That’s a really big concern.
And not only that, when the students graduate, when they finish doing their Grade 12, they’re not even at their Grade 12. And when they graduate from Grade 12, they stay in the community. They don’t have a job because jobs are scarce for them in the community. And they don’t have enough support to go to college or university. Everything just stops for them in their community. And the parents want to know why that is happening to their children and they want their children to further their education.
Not just these courses are important but our culture is important. The school needs more funding for the Elders to come to the school, to talk to the students about their history, their oral traditions, and also for language revitalization. That’s important too. And drum dances for each season for the students at the school would be just awesome too. And also to recognize the students who are doing good in school, by the Elders. That would be great.
You have a background as a child protection worker, you’ve done that for many years. If you’re elected, what would you want to work on in Child and Family Services to improve the system, given your background as a child protection worker?
I know that some of the First Nations, they want to have control over the Child and Family Services. I know that was in the media in the past. I heard a little bit about that. And so I really support that because one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [is to] provide adequate resources to enable Aboriginal communities and child welfare organizations to keep Aboriginal families together, where it is safe to do so, and to keep the children in culturally appropriate environments. It doesn’t matter where they live. So I’m thinking about that recommendation and that recommendation is very important for the Indigenous, for First Nations, to have control over the Child and Family Services. I think that’d be really good for that. If it happens, I will support it. And I will push for it.
You mentioned at the start of our interview a few things that you want to work on. You talked about the affirmative action policy, tell me a bit more about that.
I strongly feel that if it’s the Indigenous who apply for the job and if they’re qualified for that job, it would be good for them to get that job because they are from the community. Not only are they qualified for the job, they are from the community and they speak the language and they practise and know the culture.
And it’s the same thing, too, about that Mackenzie Valley Highway project that I talked about. I think it’s really important that if all the businesses, they start bidding on the contract for the project… it doesn’t matter how much they bid for the projects, if they’re from the North they should get those contracts. Because it is important to keep the economy in the North. I think that’s really important.
So on housing, what do you want to see done for the housing issue in the Sahtu?
Oh, my God. How long have the people been talking about that? But to this day, nothing really happened with the housing issues. People in the communities, the families are suffering from a shortage of affordable housing, that’s for sure. In all the communities. Some adult children still live with their elderly parents today because of that problem, it’s just so sad.
It’s not just a shortage of affordable housing, but homeless people too. They’re suffering because they have no accommodation and they owe arrears to housing and they’re coping in the wrong way. Turning to drugs and alcohol because of their situation. And we need a shelter home in each community, where they can go and have a place to stay and have a good meal and try to get back up on their feet. And try to work something out with housing so they can start paying their arrears and help them get back into rental housing. They need that support, like, big-time, they need that support.
Another thing is that six months’ residency for housing, which means that you’ve got to live in your home community for six months before you can obtain housing for yourself. I don’t think it’s fair for the people because they’re already from their home communities and they shouldn’t have to wait six months before they can get housing for themselves.
And another thing is that all the people that live in rental houses, if they want rent-to-own so they can own the houses that they live in… if they want me to work on that on that for them, I will try my best for them.
My husband built our house when our children were small, and we own the house now. People need help with homeownership again. People can build their own houses and eventually own the house after they build it. It’s not only going to provide housing for them, but it’s going to provide carpentry work, the skills how to build houses. It’s going to get that opportunity to the people in the community. So if the people want me to work on that for them, I will certainly do my best for them.
You talked about economic development and the economy being a focus for you. Tell me more about that. In the Sahtu, what needs to happen?
A lot of people are suffering in the communities because jobs are scarce. And they need to have jobs so they can make income for themselves and become independent.
And that Mackenzie Valley Highway project that I mentioned, it’s going to be a good opportunity for them. And the leadership needs to start planning now for their own people, to get them qualified for the jobs for that big project. And the local people, like I said, they need to get all their safety certificates, they will need to get into like heavy equipment operators courses or training. So they can get jobs when the project starts. And the economy is really important, people really need jobs in the community. They are desperate and they need help.
Are there other parts of the economy that you are looking to in the Sahtu, other than the Mackenzie Valley Highway project, that could bring those jobs to the communities?
The other businesses in the communities, they need funds so they can use the funds to hire local people and also to train them for the jobs. So if they get that support and if the local people get trained, then the local businesses can get them jobs as well. And they will have a job.
Healthcare was another priority for you. Do you want to briefly touch on what you want to see done in healthcare for your region?
I know there are a lot of concerns about escorts for patients, because sometimes the patients are sent out to the hospitals without an escort and they don’t speak English. So there’s no communication between them and the nurses and the doctors. It’s really important for them to have an escort because they can interpret and translate for them. Sometimes they have to make really important medical decisions for themselves and they have to have the right information about their medical care. And the escorts are very important for them.
Also, there’s an increase in diabetes in the surrounding communities. And the local nurses at the health centres are very busy with the patients, they’re already too busy. And at least if we have one nurse in the region who is trained in diabetes and who deals only with diabetes for the people in the communities, that would be just awesome. They can provide education in regards to diabetes, they can do stuff like foot care, education, and healthy cooking too.
There could be improvements in home care, too, because I know that more can be done for the Elders in their homes.
If the community members want me to work on a treatment program for alcohol and drugs management and for treatment for suicide prevention and other mental health issues as well, like a treatment program for out on the land, I’m willing to talk to them and work hard for them. The Elders could also be used to provide healing for the clients and an Indigenous perspective as well. So the Elders can be utilized for the treatment program.
And also one of the recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is for the federal government to provide funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres, to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harm caused by residential school, and to make sure that the funding of healing centres in the Northwest Territories is a priority. So that’s really important to know as well. It would be for alcohol and drugs treatment, and the withdrawal and suicide prevention and other mental health issues. But it could also be used for all the harm caused by residential schools.
We’ve got about 30 seconds left. I want to give you the opportunity here at the end to tell the voters of the Sahtu why they should choose you on October 1.
As I was growing up, as a child, I went through a lot of personal problems myself. And also when I worked as a social worker for the Government of the Northwest Territories, I gained a lot of knowledge in regards to the personal problems that people experience. And I know that I will listen to the people and I will try to help them out with their problems.
And I will try my very best for them and I want to ask them to believe in me because I know that I will make a difference in their lives. And I know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very challenging for me, but I’m going to speak up for them. I’m going to try very hard for them.