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Politics

NWT’s MMIWG response can’t be just ‘minor tweaks,’ MLA says


It’s nearly nine months since the NWT government announced an action plan to respond to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

The territory promised to examine the 231 calls to justice and incorporate them into its governance. However, one MLA is questioning whether the NWT has the courage to see through more substantial changes.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson expressed concern at the implementation of an action plan in the legislature on Wednesday. His comments came during a themed session in which MLAs raised subjects related to systemic racism in the North.

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MLAs concluded the day by passing a motion calling on the territorial government “to review its policies and practices for racial and cultural bias.”

“I’m afraid it is heading down the road where far too many GNWT action plans end up,” Johnson said of the MMIWG plan.

“Some of the low-hanging fruit is picked off but the larger systemic problems are left unaddressed in an endless cycle of planning and consultation with no meaningful action.

“Systemic problems can’t be solved with a series of minor tweaks to the systems that perpetuate the problems in the first place, and systemic racism is no different.”

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Last November, the territory released a document setting out how it would review the national inquiry’s calls for justice to identify which department should hold responsibility for each, how each call was being addressed, where gaps exist, and how long filling those gaps might take.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson in the Legislative Assembly on March 3.

Johnson said he feared many of the commitments would be pushed to a long-term plan without immediate action. He said any action plan should be fully costed with budgetary backing for action items.

“It does not matter how great the action plan is or how much long-term planning we do if we don’t put the money behind our words,” he said.

“I know that planning work has to be done, but more importantly, work also has to be done to dismantle the systems and barriers that will get in our way.”

This is not the first time the GNWT has faced criticism for its response to the MMIWG crisis.

Before the territorial government announced its intent to develop a plan last July, several Indigenous leaders and women said not enough action was being taken. Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said the territory was “passing the buck.”

‘Into the weeds’

During Wednesday’s question period at the legislature, the minister responsible for the status of women – Caroline Wawzonek – announced the action plan would now be released in October this year, as opposed to the original promise of May.

“I have recently made a decision,” Wawzonek said, “keeping in mind the principles that were set out by the national inquiry when they put through the final report, which included stating we need to take a decolonizing approach, that we need to have the inclusion of families and survivors, that the solutions should be self-determined and Indigenous-led solutions … it is not good enough for the government to simply make our own list of what we’re doing.

“We need to take that out to the Indigenous people, to the communities, the families, and survivors and let them confirm if, in fact, us looking at ourselves is accurate.”

Wawzonek said the draft of the action plan would not be fully costed.

“While that won’t necessarily be costed one-by-one,” she said, “I do believe that by laying all this out, we are going to be better-placed to make better decisions about how we properly address the budgeting to achieve the things that are in that plan.”

Johnson later inquired about the minister’s intentions on specific calls to justice issued by the national inquiry. He focused on item 4.5, which calls on governments to establish a guaranteed living income across the country, and item 5.6, which calls for free, independent legal counsel to be provided to Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S+ people.

Minister responsible for the status of women Caroline Wawzonek in the Legislative Assembly on March 3.

Wawzonek couldn’t say whether the territory would be implementing either specific call, but said she would use the principles outlined by the inquiry to ensure a “decolonized, inclusive and trauma-informed” approach.  

“I am struggling with how to be decolonizing in the approach to the action plan, working within a system that is still the system that people are telling us is colonial,” she said.

“As far as an action plan that is meaningful in response to the national inquiry and the totality of all 231 calls to justice, I am determined to try my best to go about differently how we create that draft plan.”

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