Several MLAs are calling on the NWT government to increase funding for harvesters through a community assistance program. The minister responsible says support is being offered through other means.
On Tuesday, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said more funding is needed for the Community Harvester Assistance Program, a concern that was raised in the Legislative Assembly last year.
“The program is very effective in terms of building food security. It gets people out on the land doing stuff they like, and it hasn’t been increased for a number of years,” O’Reilly said.
Through the program, the territorial government provides annual assistance to local wildlife committees and renewable resources councils. Harvesters are able to use the funds to purchase small tools and equipment to store, process and preserve food from community harvests.
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said she had regularly sought more support for traditional activities in her former role as chief of the Salt River First Nation.
“I want to know when we’re going to look at this very seriously to increase the funding, because traditional lifestyles are extremely important to the Indigenous people of the Northwest Territories, all people,” she said.
Environment minister Shane Thompson said his department would not increase funding “just to put increases in” but was reviewing the program.
Deputy minister Erin Kelly said that review had been delayed by the pandemic but was set to be completed in the next four months. She added that during community consultations on a Sustainable Livelihoods Action Plan, some people queried how program funding was distributed in communities.
“We really want to make sure we are being as effective as possible, and learning what we need to, and making sure those who need the funding are able to access it,” Kelly said.
Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland said increasing funding to the community assistance program was not simply adding money for the sake of it.
“I see it as adding money to add food for people who are struggling,” Cleveland said. “I do support an increase of funding to this, because I think it goes directly to people.”
Cleveland asked if the department would look into funding hunters and trappers directly rather than through Indigenous governments, saying she has constituents in Yellowknife who want to take advantage of programs like Take a Kid Trapping.
Thompson said that was not the focus of his department but added anyone can participate in the evaluation of the community assistance program.
‘Doesn’t anybody in the department actually make decisions?’
Martselos voiced concern about other areas where the government plans to spend money regarding traditional activities, like a country food strategy, saying those dollars should go directly to Indigenous groups.
“I find that so many times in government – and programs that affect Indigenous or Aboriginal people … there’s always a plan and a strategy with almost every department,” she said.
“Doesn’t anybody in the department actually make decisions?”
Kelly said $50,000 earmarked for country foods would go to communities to help develop the strategy. She also pointed to new programs the government has launched since the start of the pandemic to help harvesters, something Indigenous governments had requested.
In September, the territorial government announced $260,000 would be available to Indigenous governments and organizations to distribute harvesting subsidies and community training and knowledge exchanges.
The territory also put $50,000 toward a program that helps people take their family on the land, and $20,000 toward compensation for trappers as part of a pilot trapper mentorship program.
Additionally, the territory increased grubstake payments to trappers through the Mackenzie Valley Fur Program. These payments help offset start-up costs and are based on a trapper’s pelt numbers from the previous year.
Kelly said the department is planning a fur industry roundtable to revitalize the industry. She expects an upcoming harvest fur auction in April to do well as people are running low on inventory.
‘More valuable than any PhD’
Tu Nedhé-Wıı̀lıı̀deh MLA Steve Norn said he’d like the territory to review funding for traditional knowledge, saying research in all departments should involve Elders, land users and knowledge keepers.
“Nobody knows the land better than a lot of our locals in the area, in the North. They have a good pulse. They know every rock formation, what the history is of a certain area of land,” he said.
“To me, that’s more valuable than any PhD.”
Kelly said there are several pots of funding for traditional knowledge and many areas where the department works with Elders and traditional knowledge holders. She gave the example of the Slave River and Delta Partnership where scientists and Elders have worked together to research, monitor and plan initiatives.
“Traditional knowledge is very much what ENR is about,” Thompson added. “When we do things, we always tap into our traditional and our local knowledge because it helps our scientists.”