Richard Edjericon said he believes working together with different levels of government, other MLAs and ministers is the key to seeing results for constituents in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh.
Edjericon is one of six contenders running in an upcoming by-election to represent the communities of Fort Resolution, Dettah, Ndilǫ, and Łutsël K’é in the NWT Legislative Assembly. Clinton Unka, Ernest Betsina, Nadine Delorme, Steve Norn and Mary Rose Sundberg are also vying for the role.
The by-election is being held because former MLA Norn’s seat was declared vacant in November.
Votes are being cast by mail-in ballot as a pandemic safety measure. Ballots must be received by February 8 at 8pm.
Cabin Radio has invited all six candidates to discuss how they would approach the role of MLA if elected.
This interview was recorded on January 24, 2022. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Sibley: Can you tell us more about why you’re running?
Richard Edjericon: Since November, I’ve been doing my business and I’ve been getting a lot of calls from constituents and people in the communities of Fort Resolution, Dettah, Ndilǫ, and Łutsël K’é. So, I had given a lot of thought about putting my name forward for MLA and spoke to my family and the response I got from my family was really positive.
I already work full-time and the thing is, when people ask for help in the communities to help improve their lives to make it better – at the end of the day when we grow up our grandparents who raised me, said we’re always supposed to help people. So, giving that some thought, I decided to put my name in for Tu Nedhé – Wiilideh MLA.
You have a list of 26 different priorities. Can you talk about some of those and which one you’d tackle first?
I think when we look at priorities, we need to keep in mind that the territorial government is already working on some of these priorities. Back in 2019, the MLAs put forward a plan until 2023 that lays out some of their priorities. So, after listening to all the MLAs in the Northwest Territories they sort of prioritize it and then put it forward as their plan.
For me, when we take a look at the biggest issue here in the Northwest Territories next to Covid, because that’s what we’re going through right now, it’s impacting the rural economy and lives in our communities and we’ve lost some Elders. Everybody is doing their part to get through this and with that I put my platform together with my experience from being a former chief and on the Mackenzie Valley Impact Review Board who have a good understanding of how we look in the Northwest Territories.
The biggest thing is that we say the economy is number one, [we] should be next to finding jobs for our communities. Right now as it is the mining industry, I was around when we signed the agreement back in November 1996 at the Red Apple and at two o’clock one morning, we concluded an agreement, but this agreement is now coming to an end.
In order to strengthen the economy in the Northwest Territories, industries are looking for certainty and that’s why it’s so important to get these outstanding Indigenous claims done. That way we know what the rules are going to be, trying to look at how we can improve the economy in the territory – so land claims is front and centre for sure.
What do you see as the process to getting land claim agreements finished and how would you go about ensuring it gets done?
Indigenous governments are all at different points in their process, but at the end of the day when we look at it, the GNWT also needs to buy into this. It has to go to the Legislative Assembly, we need to look at it and vote on it, so one part is to really work with the MLAs so they understand what these agreements are really all about and get more support to make some happen.
It fits into their overall plan as well, so I think it’s important that we all work together and it’s really going to be the key and making sure that we are able to get the things done as quickly as possible so that we can move forward to strengthen the economy here in the Northwest Territories.
In your list of priorities, you mention the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How would you like to see that be implemented? What would you want it to look like?
That’s been in the process for some time and I believe that in Canada they’ve adopted it but it’s slowly moving to the provinces and territories. It’s an important document that we’ve been talking about for a long time and a lot of former leaders that were in key positions in government and organizations had a hand in putting this thing forward.
It’s to the point now where it’s sitting in front of the Legislative Assembly and of the 2019-2023 MLA mandate, this is one of their priorities. We’ve got to make sure that it doesn’t get off the table, we want to make sure that we look at following through on it and making sure that it’s one of the top priorities that gets passed by the GNWT and get some action on it.
The NWT is currently in a housing crisis, and Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh is included in that. Can you speak about some of the housing issues in the region and how you’d like to see them get fixed?
This is a very important topic and it’s front and centre throughout the Northwest Territories. In the good times when the Housing Corporation, prior to 1993, it received funding from CMHC [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] to provide houses and also provide public housing and that kind of thing. But after 1993, the Government of Canada, through CMHC, stopped providing that type of programming to the Housing Corporation so after 1993 there were no more houses, public housing, etc.
A lot of those agreements through the housing corporations to CHMC to subsidize public housing is coming to an end, probably in around 2036 – so it’s just around the corner. Right now the Housing Corporation is getting a limited amount of funding from the Government of Canada to build new units, new public housing units, etc.
There is going to be a range when we really look at addressing the housing requirements that we need for our communities. Like supporting Indigenous governments to look at putting applications and submissions to the National Housing Strategy in Ottawa, to look at funding those affordable housing projects in the Northwest Territories.
When you take a look at the other strategies out there as well, the Indigenous governments can also put their applications in to secure funding. We already know that they are doing this already and all the monies they’re getting are addressing their housing situation needs in these communities without going through the territorial government and also to the Housing Corporation – it’s basically direct funding from Ottawa. By doing that, it eliminates the bureaucracy, eliminates the policies.
You’ve got to remember the territorial government is the service provider, for every dollar they get by the time it gets to the community you would be lucky to get 20 to 30 cents on the dollar. We really need to look at how we can assist the Indigenous governments to look at a new source of revenue to address their housing needs.
Another big issue in the region, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic, is tourism. The last two years haven’t been easy on operators and people who rely on it. Do you have some solutions to help out the industry?
Since this pandemic started, it’s had a huge impact on tourism here in the Northwest Territories. As you can see here in Yellowknife, Aurora Village has taken a huge hit. It’s going to be a while here before that initially comes back to sustain itself again.
But in the smaller communities, I’m in favour of working with small businesses to really promote tourism and ecotourism and to look at new resources as to how we could support small businesses because that’s going to be key moving forward. These are small steps during the pandemic and trying to look as to how we can work with small business in the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh riding, there’s some good potential there for sure.
Supporting leadership on climate change is another point you’ve made. Can you talk about what work you’d like to see in the region or territory?
We already are feeling the effects of climate change and when I was the chairman of the Impact Review Board our role and part of the jobs we were responsible for was to make sure industry, when they came in, that they know the rules. And we’ve got to make sure that the air, water, and animals are good and the industry don’t impact the human life of the people, etc.
Listening to what’s happening around the world in terms of global effects and global warming, it’s having a huge impact on how we do business here in the Northwest Territories. The seasons seem to be a little bit longer, the erosion of the land and ice in the water. We feel it and we see it through the migratory birds and the animals, etc.
We’ve got to take a look at new ways as to how we can all work together to really improve effects of climate change. It’s a big ticket one, but I think working together with governments to have to see how we’re going to deal with it, it’s on the table as part at the 2019 MLA mandates. What we want to do is continue to support the government to strengthen that and make sure we have good leadership on climate change.
It takes a village to raise a child and here in the North, we’ve got to work together to make sure that we have support and also to learn and determine how we’re going to move forward with climate change.
Were there any other brief thoughts or points you wanted to share?
When I put forward my platform, I listened to a lot of people here in the Northwest Territories. I had the opportunity to be the chairman of the Impact Review Board, so I know the business side of it. I was a former chief, so I’ve seen that side of the table. You mentioned climate change, etc, but the thing we are now starting to understand is that this pandemic is here and it’s pretty serious and we just need to get through it. Just making sure everyone is vaccinated so that we can continue on.
We know the economy in the Northwest Territories is front and centre. The Government of Canada put a stop to offshore activities in the Beaufort Sea, oil and gas is down, the mining industry is winding down, and so on. We need to have a new plan moving forward and I would say that let’s push to get these claims done, let’s look at coming up with a new economic strategy for the North.
Housing of course is always going to be there and I think it’s our job to look at how we can help the people in our communities to address their concerns. The biggest one, I would say, it that the cost of living is too high in the small communities, like in Łutsël K’é they don’t have proper internet services there. Things that you may take for granted like buying doors, windows or water sewer tanks, we can just go down the road and buy it, but in Łutsël K’é, the freight is high. They have a barge season once a year. One of the things we want to look at is how to provide a winter road to the community and then in the summer months we could provide additional barges. Anything to provide basic essential services to the community to help address the issue of the high cost of living.
One more thing I was going to mention that people that I spoke to brought up to me is the federal legislation on old age pension. Elders come to meetings and they contribute to the governance and claims and they give good advice, etc. But what’s happening now is that if we go over the pension, the fixed income for a pension for $39,000 for example, if they go over that amount by one penny, then the next fiscal year the Government of Canada pension will call them back $19,000, leaving them with only $20,000 for the next fiscal year. A lot of Elders now are reluctant to go to meetings, they want to contribute but they’re afraid they’re going to call them back and they’re going to get penalized. I know it’s not a territorial issue but we can raise it and then bring it up to our MP Michael McLeod to say this needs to be looked at because we want our Elders to contribute but they’re afraid of getting called back on.
You’ve got to remember one thing is that I can raise all of these issues, but at the end of the day, if we don’t work together, then it’s not going to work. So, working together is key, that’s my final message.