The NWT government will set new Indigenous employment targets for every department, the territory’s finance minister said on Wednesday.
Caroline Wawzonek said the targets would be part of a broader “Indigenous recruitment and retention framework” to be rolled out across the territorial government.
There will also be improved mandatory training for all GNWT staff, designed to meet Call to Action 57 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That call to action urges governments to educate staff about the history of Indigenous peoples, including their cultural and treaty rights.
Most regular MLAs spoke on the subject of Indigenous GNWT representation in the legislature on Wednesday.
On the same day, the territorial government published its annual public service report – which contains statistics outlining levels of Indigenous representation.
As of March 31, 2020, those figures show 30 percent of GNWT staff were Indigenous people from the NWT.
The territorial government has long had an affirmative action policy designed to prioritize and increase Indigenous employment.
On Wednesday, Wawzonek acknowledged the policy had been “often criticized as being ineffective” because the number of Indigenous northerners in the GNWT had stayed at around 30 percent “for the last several decades.”
She said the new framework “will include departmental Indigenous employment implementation plans with distinct targets” and will serve to “ensure that barriers to employment for Indigenous peoples are identified and addressed.”
What those targets will be is not yet clear.
“I think it’s very important that each department have targets,” Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty told the legislature on Wednesday, expressing satisfaction at the move.
“When I talk about Indigenous males – eight, nine percent within the GNWT – that is very low,” said Lafferty, referencing a statistic showing roughly nine percent of the NWT government’s staff were Indigenous men as of March 2020.
“It is disappointing to see those stats. It’s been there a long time now. I’m talking about decades.”
At the moment, just under one in every five GNWT senior managers is Indigenous. Ron Bonnetrouge, the Deh Cho MLA, stressed the territorial government should focus on improving that figure.
Wawzonek said targets across departments would extend to senior management positions.
She said updated Indigenous cultural awareness and sensitivity training would also appear “imminently” and all employees would be required to attend.
“This is the first update in quite a few – many – years,” the minister said.
“The goal of that is to culture-change, to change all of our mindsets and to increase everyone’s awareness.”
A note on the GNWT’s figures: the territorial government uses the awkward phrases Indigenous Aboriginal and Indigenous Non-Aboriginal in its reporting of staff numbers. We don’t use those phrases in our reporting because they’re not immediately easy to understand.
Indigenous Aboriginal in general means someone who is Dene, Inuit, or Métis (the “Aboriginal” part of the phrase) and was either born in the Northwest Territories or has lived here for more than half of their life (the “indigenous” part of the phrase).
Indigenous Non-Aboriginal in general means someone who isn’t Dene, Inuit, or Métis (i.e. they are non-Aboriginal) but was born here or has lived here for more than half of their life (they are “indigenous” to this area of the country, using the GNWT’s phrasing).