Northwest Territories MLAs in the newly-minted 19th Legislative Assembly have yet to govern a day, and leadership in the community of Deline say they already made a big mistake.
The Legislative Assembly clerk and MLAs invited 15 Indigenous groups to a meeting about its priorities, but did not invite the Deline Got’ine Government, much to the dismay of Ɂek’wahtı̨dǝ́ Leeroy Andre, the community’s elected leader. (Ɂek’wahtı̨dǝ́ means “highest honest leader” in the Deline Got’ine dialect.)
“It gets very upsetting that time and time again, we don’t see the benefits of this government in our community,” said Andre.
The community got “next to nothing” from the 18th Assembly, said Andre.
He said Deline’s leadership should have been invited to meet with the MLAs that will lead the 19th Assembly to discuss priorities like social housing, climate change and education. Although Deline is self-governing, the territorial government continues to provide services.
“When I look around my community and say ‘OK, well, what has the 18th Assembly done for our community?’ And there’s basically next to nothing,” Andre said.
“There’s no new social housing. There’s no home ownership programs. There’s no changes to our health care.”
Deline needs a new school, but instead gets repairs to the existing facility, he said. Andre said the territorial government gives minimal programs and services and does not invest properly in communities.
“A lot of these kids are getting failed … We need to make sure education is a big-ticket item for our communities because we want these kids to be successful.”
The meeting had some representation from within the Sahtu, including the Sahtu Secretariat which represents the region’s land corporations, but not Deline as a local government.
“When you send a land claim group to speak on our behalf … that’s just not the way to run a government,” said Andre.
The Sahtu Secretariat has operated as a land claim organization since 1993, but Andre said that as Sahtu communities negotiate their own self-government agreements, the role of the secretariat will slowly diminish.
“We’re going to take over those authorities and responsibilities. But right now, as a government, nobody speaks for us as a government except for … Deline Got’ine Government,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Legislative Assembly said the clerk’s office prepared a list of invitations, which MLAs reviewed and added to. The assembly could not provide an interview until early next week to explain how it decided who it should invite.
The clerk’s initial list invited the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Inc., Sahtu Dene Council, Tlicho Government, Akaitcho Dene First Nations, Dehcho First Nations, North Slave Métis Alliance, NWT Métis Nation and the NWT Association of Communities. MLAs added invitations for Acho Dene Koe First Nation, Dene Nation, K’atl’odeeche First Nation and Salt River First Nation.
Fly-in only communities get left out
The fly-in community of Deline rarely see its issues recognized by cabinet and the government, said Andre, adding that it’s harder for Deline’s leaders to meet face-to-face with territorial leaders.
“We’re not like the Tlicho where we can jump in our vehicles and head over and meet with various ministers. We have to spend an arm and a leg to go to Yellowknife and bring up these issues,” he said.
“There’s a big difference when it comes to making our voices heard.”
Andre said he wants an acknowledgement that the territorial government made a mistake, and for them to develop a working relationship with his community.
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Finnish Parliament debates Rinne govt’s first budget proposal, Yle News
Norway: Political earthquake shakes up Northern Norway, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Career diplomat to represent Murmansk region in Russian senate, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: What the budget says about Sweden’s minority government, Radio Sweden
United States: Protest, policy critiques mark first day of Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, Alaska Public Media