What advocacy groups want from N.W.T.'s next MP

·5 min read
Wilbert Cook, executive director of Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, said hunger is the pandemic nobody blinks an eye at.  (Randall McKenzie CBC - image credit)
Wilbert Cook, executive director of Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, said hunger is the pandemic nobody blinks an eye at. (Randall McKenzie CBC - image credit)

Advocacy groups in the N.W.T. say they're watching closely for which election candidates will advance human rights, Indigenous sovereignty and climate action, as well as expand services for survivors of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

Voters head to the polls Monday, and CBC News spoke to advocacy groups about their expectations of whomever emerges as the next Member of Parliament.

Here's what they had to say:

Sustained funding for healing

Wilbert Cook, executive director of Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, said hunger is the pandemic nobody blinks an eye at.

He said his organization has to "jump through 1,001 hoops" to get funding "and at the end of the day you get crumbs."

At 7 a.m. every day, the wellness camp in Yellowknife sends out employees to pick up people who are street-involved to have an "awesome, big, warm meal."

Randall McKenzie/CBC
Randall McKenzie/CBC

"We treat them like family … and some of them are still sober today after several months," said Cook, adding that the group has also connected clients to employment and addictions counselling support in an Indigenous-led healing setting.

Cook wants the federal government to sustainably fund the hiring of additional counsellors.

So far, he said, NDP candidate Kelvin Kotchilea has been the only one that has contacted him.

"I'm very grateful for that," he said.

Friendship centres and COVID-19 response

The Northwest Territories and Nunavut Council of Friendship Centres represents eight friendship centres that operate meal programs, employment services and health and wellness support.

Friendship centres have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and have needed ongoing support, because the N.W.T. government doesn't fund them like provinces do.

Tony Rabesca, the organization's president, said he's looking for more support from the federal government.

He noted the Liberal party has a "strong mandate" that has been supportive of friendship centres in the past. Rabesca also said Michael McLeod, the incumbent Liberal candidate, understands the role they play in communities.

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC
Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

Rabesca pointed out friendship centres are also important employment and training opportunities, and have created at least 200 jobs across both the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

Black entrepreneurship, immigration services

The Black Advocacy Coalition (BACupNorth) says it's looking for a federal candidate that will redefine federal entrepreneurship programs with a stream dedicated to Black and minority-owned businesses that are poorly served by the current program design.

"Our process is different, our challenges are unique," said its president, Ambe Chenemu.

"Lumping us in with everyone else across Canada does not bring the local investment community that we want to see in the North."

Chenemu wants the incoming federal candidate to bring an immigration office to the North, because the fact there isn't one deters newcomers and makes access to some basic services expensive.

Walter Strong/ CBC
Walter Strong/ CBC

He is also looking for a candidate who will overhaul policing by shifting to community-led approaches that are by and for racialized and Indigenous communities, and who will move forward on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)'s 94 calls to action.

"We haven't seen progress in that direction … we cannot keep backpedalling," he said.

Chenemu said the coalition has been contacted by NDP Candidate Kelvin Kotchilea, but none of the other candidates.

Food security, keeping public service

Lorraine Rousseau is the regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North, which represents 20,000 northern workers.

She said the federal government must respond to the TRC's call to action #57, which says all governments must educate public servants about the history and legacy of residential schools and Indigenous rights.

They must also make changes to Nutrition North, which has seen prices rise to "unmanageable levels," she said.

Rousseau said access to the Internet is recognized as an essential service, but in the North people are subject to unstable connections and overpriced data plans.

She said voters should elect a government that supports workers and rejects public service reduction or privatization, saying it could undermine pandemic recovery.

Rebuilding Canada

Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya said an ideal federal candidate will support First Nation self-determination by committing adequate financial support to housing, environmental clean-ups, education, health and wellness, economic prosperity, and restorative justice and reconciliation.

He said Indigenous people have been left out of Canada's nation building, but that "political leaders are no longer able to ignore the commitments to advance reconciliation."

Yakeleya said it "seems very difficult" for Canada and the territorial government to turn responsibilities over to First Nations.

"We have our own means of bringing in good housing to our communities, but the government still holds the purse strings and still is working with the territorial government to do things for us."

Dene Nation's calls for federal action mirror those of the Native Women's Association of Canada, which are to address the genocide of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

Randall Mackenzie/CBC
Randall Mackenzie/CBC

Yakelaya said he wants "true justice" against "the ones who are responsible for hiding our children." He said the federal government must hold residential school abusers, Canada and the church accountable for the children buried at residential schools.

He said MP Michael McLeod and NDP candidate Kelvin Kotchilea have both reached out to the Dene Nation.

He encouraged voters to support a Northern Canada and said Dene Nation is "bewildered" by the Conservative candidate Lea Mollison, a non-resident.

"To think they could put a name in the federal election from a person that's not even from the N.W.T. Those days are done. It's 2021. It's not the 1940s or 50s. They're trying to live those days. They're somewhere stuck in the past."

Climate action and a green recovery

Kyle Rogers is a member of Our Time For A Green New Deal, which has pushed for a just recovery from the pandemic that includes adequate housing, good jobs, upholding Indigenous rights and addressing climate change.

He said the Liberals have not "fought for climate justice as much as they should."

After an evaluation of each candidate, his organization is endorsing NDP candidate Kelvin Kotchilea.

Rogers said people should also support candidates who will solve the territory's housing issues, pointing to the latest outbreak of COVID-19 which has largely impacted those who are not housed.

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