Ernest Betsina speaks at a memorial walk hosted by the Dene Nation in Yellowknife to honour the children found in Kamloops, BC. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio
Ernest Betsina, the former chief of Ndilǫ, said he wants to “bring back stability and integrity” if he wins the upcoming Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh by-election.
Betsina is one of six candidates running to be the MLA of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh alongside Nadine Delorme, Steve Norn, Richard Edjericon, Mary Rose Sundberg and Clinton Unka.
The by-election is being held because former MLA Norn’s seat was declared vacant in November.
Voting will take place 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’ve decided to run in the by-election?
Ernest Betsina: Some people have talked to me and told me there was a vacancy, and members around Dettah and Ndilǫ have called me and asked me if I wanted to run for MLA. I have to respect that and that’s why I’ve decided to run.
I have an opportunity to bring back stability and integrity as the next MLA. My track record as chief for eight years in Ndilǫ, two full terms I’ve been the chief. So I have lots of experience to bring with me.
What do you see as some of the biggest issues to tackle in the region?
For instance, housing. During my tenure as chief I helped bring in $18.85 million of direct federal money. Basically, Ndilǫ is going to be building four four-bedroom units and in Dettah it’ll be four four-bedroom units and also 11 apartment unit type of construction. That’s pretty significant for Dettah and Ndilǫ.
This is the type of lobbying that I want to bring forward and with a good local leadership, we can do this. If the Yellowknives Dene First Nation can do this, then so can the other two communities.
You’ve served two terms as the Chief of Ndilǫ, what do you think the most important thing you learned from that role that you’d want to bring to a territorial level?
If I’m elected MLA, I mean being chief I’ve learned that you can’t just sit back and wait for the other politicians to push your issues. You have to push your own issues and you have to get a hold of the right people. In my position as the Ndilǫ Chief, we got hold of the top bureaucrats like the federal ministers and deputy ministers and the same thing with the GNWT, we got the ministers and even the premier and deputy minister.
You need to push your own issues. If you don’t, it’s going to go to the wayside. It’s so important that you follow up and put the right pressure on the right people, the right departments and the right organizations.
You’re only going to have two years as an MLA, if you’re elected. How do you expect to build those relationships and make sure concerns are heard in that short span of time?
Two years is not very long, it’s only 24 months. Definitely housing is one and also the Akaitcho negotiations too. This has been going on for too long and people want to see action and progress.
My intention is to work in partnership with the communities to hold the governments accountable, the federal government and the territorial government. More updates need to happen in the community, a lot of people say that they don’t know what’s happening, so there needs to be more communication to reach key people, Elders and community members. All four communities have to come together to give mandates to the team on negotiations. That’s very important.
For jobs, in a short five to 10 years the diamond mines are all going to be shutting down and then what? That needs to be talked about. We need to start diversifying and start planning for the future. There’s such things as alternative energy to support tourism, strengthening our culture and our languages. We need to maximize local employment, encourage small businesses, and I’d like to see people become journeymen so they can start to own companies and train their own people.
With housing, I’d like to see more community members own their homes, that would definitely show ownership and help become happier families.
You talk about creating more jobs in the area. Can you go more into what you see as opportunities that can kickstart the NWT’s economy?
Like I mentioned, we need to start diversifying and we need to start planning for the future. Each community is very unique and has a strength. In the area there could be some employment opportunities like abandoned mine cleanups, there could be some more logging. I know around Łutsël K’é and Fort Resolution there are some good, big, healthy trees and there are some abandoned mines that could be cleaned up too. The big one is Giant Mine because I know the Yellowknives Dene can’t handle everything.
I can definitely see Łutsël K’é and Fort Resolution helping out with the workforce on that because as Giant Mine gets more and more busier, they need more workers. If you start training the people now for all four communities of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, then all the better for them because the diamond mines are shutting down and we need to start planning for them.
What steps would you take to help solve the housing crisis in the region?
I want to bring the experience of what YKDFN did to achieve that $18.85 million. I certainly want to lobby Łutsël K’é and Deninu K’ųę́ and work with local leadership and try to get some more federal money and direct funding. This is pretty unique because this money doesn’t have to go through the NWT Housing Corporation, it’s direct funding. The communities have every right to maximize the dollars coming in and certainly create employment for the people, hopefully some members or constituents can become journeymen in the long run. So, working towards that and certainly pushing for that for the other two communities.
What do you think needs to be done in order to see more progress on land claims agreements?
There are two regions that have not settled yet, the Akaitcho and Dehcho. If the GNWT and the federal government, if we can try and finalize a final agreement for the two outstanding regions, I can see that the NWT would be more open and we could just start planning from there.
There’d be less red tape and industry and the government would know which First Nations and which regions are in their area. There’d be no questions because each region respects each other, and I believe that the industry and governments would know who they have to deal with. I can see if the Akaitcho and Dehcho, if they do settle, I mean that will certainly be good for the economy for the whole Northwest Territories.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to help bring back stability. Can you go more into what that means for you?
This is no big secret, but the previous MLA has caused quite an uproar in the Legislative Assembly. If I’m elected, I would bring back the honesty and bring back the stability and work with the other MLAs, premier and the ministers. There has to be a good working relationship with the other departments and other MLAs, minsters and the premier. I would certainly be open to that and having been chief, I know the issues are going to be somewhat familiar from being chief and being a MLA.
I am familiar with issues and I did bring the professionalism of being chief. My track record has shown that I bring that professionalism with me and I will certainly bring it with me if I hopefully become the next MLA.
Were there any other points you’d like to share at all?
Right now, the Covid situation is very challenging. It’s very hard to visit house to house, so I will travel to Łutsël K’é and Deninu K’ųę́ but I have to be respectful of Covid and not cause a panic out there to the constituents. I’m going to drop off my pamphlet and in there it states that if somehow they can get a hold of me on my cell phone and there is a Facebook page, and I have all of that, but somehow let’s meet and let’s talk. We can talk over cell phone, we can talk over landline, or even a Zoom call. There are ways we could try to do it, so it’s going to be challenging but I’m up to the challenge.