NWT Election 2019: Sallie Ross’ Inuvik Twin Lakes interview
Sallie Ross is hoping to be the next MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes.
Ross said now is the time for the community to have an MLA who is a strong voice on social issues and wellness for Inuvik residents. “[You can] bring all the work to Inuvik that you want, but if our people are not well enough to work, we’re still going to have to outsource and bring people in to meet the needs of our own community,” she said.
With 12 years of nursing experience as well as work with the GNWT and in Indigenous government, Ross said her community’s biggest challenge is mental health and addictions.
Sending people south for treatment does not work, Ross said, adding her community is in “desperate need of a dual diagnosis treatment centre” which offers treatment both for addictions and their underlying causes. “Because we know that addiction is not the issue, it’s the symptom,” she said.
Other areas of focus for Ross are supporting students and providing for the housing needs of Elders, people who require assisted living, and all residents.
For the growing tourism industry, Ross wants to see more businesses step up to provide services in Inuvik. She envisions a cultural centre for locals and visitors, where arts, crafts, and dance are showcased and local artisans can make a living selling their crafts.
“I certainly have a heart for the people of Inuvik,” Ross said. “I have a heart for being an advocate to ensure people get the very best programming, the very best service that they can.”
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Ross’ interview air date is September 26.
More information: Sallie Ross’ campaign website
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 19, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emelie Peacock: Tell us about yourself and why you decided to put your name forward for MLA of Inuvik Twin Lakes.
Sallie Ross: I’m born and raised in Inuvik. My mom came here as a short-term government worker, she came for six months and stayed for 38 years. She fell in love with the community. She was married here, raised her family here. My father is of Gwich’in descent and they built their home here. And my parents were both really hardworking people. My mom was also a nurse. She was an operating nurse here for many years. My father was a businessman. He owned his own company in the 80s, until his passing. My parents were just really down-to-earth, hardworking people.
Why did I want to run this time? I think being involved with many organizations over the years – either with volunteering, as an elected official or an appointed official – I’ve developed a lot of skills. And through this service, I’ve further developed my knowledge and skills to meet the requirements that each group has. I’ve sat on friendship centre boards that required something different, I was an elected official and still am an elected official for the Nihtat Gwich’in council. I sat as an appointed official for the premier’s working group for Aboriginal student achievement. So I’ve had a lot of different exposures. And I feel like all of that experience, combined with my vast work experience has given me a really solid knowledge base, and a good understanding of what the issues are from the perspective of the average resident.
Tell me about a few of those issues. If you could narrow it down to, let’s say, three of the most pressing issues that you see facing your district right now...
For me, the absolute number one issue has to be mental health and addiction. Right now, we really are in desperate need of a dual diagnosis treatment centre here in our community. And when I say dual diagnosis, what I’m referring to is a program that not only tackles the addiction, but it also deals with the underlying cause of addiction. Because we know that addiction is not the issue, it’s the symptom. And for me, we can’t have healthy communities without healthy people. And we know that the current system of sending people to a southern location is not working for the majority of people that access it.
Another issue that I really have close to my heart is education. In the K to 12 system, we really see a lot of focus on students who are not attending. But what I have heard, and what I have seen is that some of our students who are doing OK don’t really get the added attention to help them excel. They’re doing well enough that they will graduate and they will get their credits to move forward. But I’d like to see some of our young people with that extra incentive and extra assistance to really excel. And I think that is really lacking with some of our students, with all of our students actually right now in my community.
And to narrow it down to a third, I really think that we need to have more advocacy for people in their living situations, whether that’s housing in general or specific housing. So housing to help keep our Elders aging in place, assistance to help them age gracefully in their homes or assistance for people who require assisted living. For example, we have people with brain injuries here, we have people with mental health issues that require a little added care. And those parts of our population really don’t have the services that they require in our region. For some people, they’re actually sent south to live in those types of facilities, away from their culture and away from their communities. So I’d like to see services available to bring them home and allow them to live within their communities and live within their cultures.
The Inuvik-Tuk highway is one of the major infrastructure projects that’s come to completion over the 18th Assembly, benefiting your region and connecting your region with Nunakput. I’m wondering what you see as other infrastructure priorities that you would like to bring forward, if elected?
Absolutely. In with that Inuvik is at the end of the Dempster Highway and the beginning of the Inuvik to Tuk highway, the majority of our products are shipped to us via the highway system, and I really believe that the Mackenzie Valley Highway is a much-needed addition to the infrastructure of the Beaufort Delta region. The creation of a highway that would connect the Beaufort Delta to the Sahtu and then further south, to the North Slave and beyond, would be a great source of employment and an opportunity for more effective shipping options and tourism opportunities for our region.
So another road in the next assembly?
I would love to see that. And I believe with that road would come opportunities for several different opportunities beyond just the construction of the road.
In terms of economic development, Inuvik has seen the boom and bust cycle of resource development. Tourism seems to be taking off. What do you see as ways to further economic development in your region?
So one of the things that we’re seeing right now is a real increase in our tourism. And through that increase in tourism, we haven’t really seen an increase in the services with our hospitality or entertainment sector. And so when people come to our community, they come to Inuvik and a lot of things close up right at six o’clock.
So what I would really like to see is small business try to meet those needs of the people visiting us. There is a market for it. We know that our restaurants – we have one formal sit-down restaurant and two alternative dining experiences plus some fast food places – but really, if you want to have a sit-down meal, you probably have to do that before seven o’clock in the evening.
And for people that travel with their children, there’s not a whole lot to do. And I would really love to see something happen in our region where it showcases who we are as people from the Inuvik region and the Beaufort Delta.
One of the things that really interests me is the idea of having a cultural centre, or some sort of a museum or heritage site. And what I envision is somewhere where we can display our craft. We have people that are fabulous seamstresses, they’re creative people, they’re carvers, they’re sewers, they’re beaders. All of those beautiful products that they create, there needs to be a forum for them to be seen all year-round.
The town puts on an Arctic market in the summer, and there are sessions of the Arctic market over the winter. And we do have small craft shops at both the IRC and the GPC. But those close at five o’clock. And we have people that could honestly make a living, doing their crafts and their handiwork, if given the opportunity not only to showcase their handiwork, but also provide instruction. Teach people how to sew, to bead.
Another aspect of that same centre that I envision is an area for dance. We love to square dance here in the Beaufort Delta. We have drummers and dancers, we have other groups that perform. To have something like that available all year-round with programming in the evening for our visitors and our community alike. I mean, I know myself, I’ve taken a sewing course at the friendship centre. And it’s very difficult to get signed up for those programs because the demand is so high.
And people that come to visit this region want to know about us, that’s why they’re coming here. And we don’t really have a museum or a specific cultural centre to showcase the people of the region, who we are and what we do and where we’ve come from. So I really think that that’s a great opportunity to delve into several different fields, whether it’s culture and heritage, tourism and language, all of those areas can really be encompassed and showcased in that one centre.
I’d like to jump back to education. On post-secondary education, we’re right now in the process of imagining how a future polytechnic university could look. I’d like to hear how you think Inuvik could be a part of this future polytechnic?
I know that there’s been a lot of research done with regards to the trends and employment. Specifically ECE, where I worked before I put my name forward for MLA, we put together a document called Skills 4 Success. And our post-secondary institutions in the North should really focus in on delivering programs based on the employment opportunities identified in that document. So in essence, we should be really steering young people through high school, out of high school, into the programs to meet the needs of the region. Skills 4 Success is an amazing document. And it covers trends in the workforce for people who have no high school education, who are high school graduates, all the way up to people with advanced education. And it just talks about the current trends for people in those areas.
And it’s really amazing to see what the need is. You would think the need would be one thing by what we see currently, but that document really has some insight into what our future needs are going to be. And I really believe that if we have programs in our northern educational systems that can gear our students towards those in-demand jobs, that we would be able to take students right from college classrooms directly into employment opportunities.
Aurora College has a campus in Inuvik, would you like to see the future polytechnic have a campus or a headquarters in Inuvik?
I would love to see us all be partners and to have a nice centre here that has programs that would meet the needs of the students in this region. I know we have students that want to do different types of programs. And from what I understand, the programs offered here in Inuvik are very specific. You can do certain things – you can do upgrading, you can do business admin, office admin. I’d like to see the offerings be a little bit more varied and maybe encompass some of these in-demand jobs that we know are out there, to allow our students to be educated closer to home.
I’d like to speak about public housing in Inuvik. The town has one of the longest public housing waitlists in the territory, partially given that it’s one of the larger communities but also the need is quite large. I’m wondering how you see the work of housing on this in Inuvik, and what more you would like to see done?
In my previous position with ECE, we worked very closely with housing and our other counterparts. And what we do see is that there is a need for more housing, we see that there’s a need for suitable housing. So for people that require special needs, so for example people that need wheelchair access and such, but also to deal with people who are housed but are overcrowded.
And we do see that there are programs available to help people become homeowners themselves.
I think there needs to be some more collaboration between the different departments to assist people in getting the housing that they need. At this point, we’re really struggling, especially here in Inuvik. We’re really struggling with the population that I’m more familiar with, which is our more vulnerable population, we’re really struggling to get them housed in suitable housing. Based on the lack of housing, based on sometimes the lack of a suitable reference for the client. So there are lots of barriers for the people that I’m most familiar with in getting housing. And I’d really like to see there be more collaboration between the different departments and how to brainstorm to get our most vulnerable population suitably housed.
Tell me a bit about how you see climate change impacting your region and what type of actions at the territorial level would be beneficial for your region?
I see our northern environment being severely impacted by the effects of climate change. It’s happening at an alarming rate. I think the government has to collaborate with researchers and climate change experts to study how climate change is affecting our environment specifically, and develop a strategic plan of how to slow these changes.
At this point, I don’t believe that we’re going to be able to reverse what’s happening. But we certainly need to look at ways of how to slow what’s happening in our communities, because many of our communities are already feeling huge impacts of climate change.
Are there ways that the government can support those communities to mitigate impacts?
We do have the Aurora Research Institute here in Inuvik and I think that there’s a great opportunity to be collaborating with researchers and real experts in the field of climate change. Inviting them to visit our region and having them assist us in developing a plan to really mitigate what’s happening here.
Because we’re seeing the effects throughout the community. We’re seeing it mainly with failing infrastructure. Right now in Inuvik, we see our building with difficulties, maintaining units that have been damaged by the thawing ground. Our iconic igloo church is having huge structural issues inside and that is because of what’s happening to the earth beneath. And we need to have some real sustainable, innovative housing designs and building practices in place to help stabilize what’s happening here and make our living spaces as well as our commercial spaces suitable and safe for what our climate is now going to be.
As I said, we’re not going to be able to reverse what’s happening but we really need to work on slowing what we’re doing with our fossil fuels and those sorts of things, but also really work on what we’re doing to maintain the infrastructures that we have.
We have a little bit of time left, I’d like to invite you to make your pitch to the community. Why should residents vote for you?
I really believe that I come with a skill set. I’ve been an active community member for many, many years beginning in probably 2002 when I returned from university. I have sat on numerous small non-profit organizations’ advisory groups, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work. I also have a lot of experience as an elected official with one of our Indigenous governments, as well as appointed positions within the government – as I mentioned earlier, the Aboriginal student achievement working group.
All of that experience is combined with my past work as a registered nurse. I worked as a registered nurse in acute care and emergency as well as in a supervisory position for 12 years. And most recently, my work experience with ECE as the regional manager of income security programs.
All of these experiences really give me a solid understanding of what some of our most vulnerable people in our population are experiencing. Because unfortunately, those are the clients that we see in a lot of our social envelope programs. We’re seeing people that are needing that assistance. And I certainly have a heart for the people of Inuvik, I have a heart for being an advocate to ensure people get the very best programming, the very best service that they can. And I believe that we really need a strong voice in the Legislative Assembly for those things.
We’ve had people that have had a strong voice for others in our region. But I believe right now, now is the appropriate time for us to be dealing with some of our social issues. And we really need to have that be at the forefront because we need healthy people in order to have healthy communities.
You can have, and I’ve mentioned this before, if you have all the job that you want, bring all the work to Inuvik that you want, but if our people are not well enough to work, we’re still going to have to outsource and bring people in to meet the needs of our own community. So I believe that we need to work with our people, to get them to their place – what’s best for them – and move forward and build a really strong foundation for our students and our children that are coming behind us, because they are the future of our territory.