The Sahtu’s first female MLA said one of her top priorities will be finding an immediate solution to help students and teachers in Colville Lake.
Paulie Chinna garnered 309 votes in last week’s territorial election, enough to claim the seat from incumbent Danny McNeely by a margin of 22 votes. Chinna is the first female MLA for the Sahtu and one of nine women voted into office last week across the NWT.
A new school is planned for Colville Lake, although it is not clear how long it will take to replace the one-room log house that currently hosts classes.
Supportive of the school, Chinna said immediate improvements need to be made for teachers who come to the community – as well as its students.
“I was really shocked to see the facility that they’re being educated in,” she told Cabin Radio. “I think it’s really discouraging for the students to become successful, trying to be educated in that facility. I also look at the conditions that the teachers are working in.”
Colville Lake is a remote community of just over 150 people, where recruiting staff – a challenge across much of the NWT – is especially difficult. Most teachers do not stay for more than a year.
Chinna wants to find improvements that will help the community retain its teachers.
Speaking to Cabin Radio in September, band manager Joseph Kochon said the school faces issues of overcrowding, noise, and sewage system problems – which also plague the teachers’ residence.
Partly as a result of the state of the school, Kochon said, families are sending children to larger communities for their final grades of high school.
Bringing in modular buildings or making use of vacant NWT Housing Corporation units are potential short-term solutions Chinna wants to explore.
‘The greatest thing’
Chinna admitted she was surprised to see she had won her seat as she waited in Norman Wells and watched Tuesday night’s results come in.
The Sahtu has produced the likes of Stephen Kakfwi, a former premier, and Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya, but no woman has previously represented the district in the legislature.
Women have come close to gaining the seat before. Most recently, Yvonne Nakimayak – who ran under her previous last name, Doolittle – lost the seat to McNeely by 29 votes.
Echoing the sentiments of other female MLAs-elect after the reslts came in, Chinna said more women in leadership will mean a different way of dealing with the territory’s business.
“It’s going to bring a new dynamic and a new perspective,” she said. “I’d like to concentrate a lot on the social impact, the education, and our dealings with health and social services.”
Chinna said MLAs of the past four years who encouraged more women to stand for office had brought about the “greatest thing that the Northwest Territories has done.”