Meet the N.W.T. candidates: NDP's Kelvin Kotchilea to focus on 'meaningful employment' if elected

·5 min read
Kelvin Kotchilea is the NDP's candidate in the Northwest Territories. He's up against Lea Mollison for the Conservatives, incumbent Michael McLeod with the Liberals, Roland Laufer with the Greens and Jane Groenewegen, who is running as an independent.  (Submitted by Kelvin Kotchilea - image credit)
Kelvin Kotchilea is the NDP's candidate in the Northwest Territories. He's up against Lea Mollison for the Conservatives, incumbent Michael McLeod with the Liberals, Roland Laufer with the Greens and Jane Groenewegen, who is running as an independent. (Submitted by Kelvin Kotchilea - image credit)

This is part of a series of profiles of N.W.T.'s five federal election candidates. Another will be published each day.

All candidates were asked the same questions. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The New Democratic Party's candidate for N.W.T., Kelvin Kotchilea, 30, who is originally from Behchokǫ̀, holds two post-secondary diplomas — one in business administration and one in environment and natural resources.

He has worked for the territorial government for the last decade as both a renewable resource officer, and as a finance officer with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

Kotchilea was defeated by Jane Weyallon-Armstrong earlier this year when he ran for MLA in the territory's Monfwi riding. He plans to hold a virtual town hall Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and will have a link available on his Kelvin Kotchilea Northwest Territories NDP candidate Facebook page.

Why did you enter politics?

A lot of people, especially like myself, you know, we talk among each other. We say that, you know, they should do this differently, we kind of collaborate on what we would do if we're in that type of position. And none of us usually take that next step forward of putting yourself out there. I think it's the fear of public scrutiny.

I'm a worker, first and foremost, I'm not a politician. I am faring against two well-known politicians, but at the same time, that's their skill set, they're politicians.

I think a new person will bring new ideas, and bring more relevant ideas that I face, as a young person from a small community that is really relatable to people across the North. And at the same time, with the work experience that I gain, I talk with other residents, from you know, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Norman Wells, Inuvik. I travel for the fire program. So I know the firefighters and the communities.

What will your priorities be if elected?

When you look at our neighbours to the east [in Nunavut], they talk about the housing crisis, mental health and addiction, which we kind of face here in our communities. And then when you look at the west of us, Yukon, they talked about reconciliation and the climate crisis. So here, I feel that what we need to do is invest in people and invest in northerners. And at the same time, you know, we need greater autonomy.

When I talk about investing in people, it's capacity building at a community level, though getting people from the community to become the nurses, to become the teachers, to get Red Seal certification. Promote post-secondary... because people need meaningful employment and they need purpose.

When I talk about autonomy, you know, Indigenous governments need to have established land claims and self-government. Not only will that create clarity, but we need to know which lands are available for development, which lands are set aside for protection, which lands are for community use.

Why did you choose to run for the NDP?

After the Monfwi byelection, I was scouted by the NDP to be a candidate for their party, and when they showed me a platform. It really aligned with what I was advocating for.

There were things that I was, you know, ready to talk about what I felt, you know, was the next future decisions that [we] need to create positive changes. But then there was an outcry for housing, mental health and addiction at the regional level, but when you look at it, as you know, from the federal point of view, from a territorial point of view, you're going to help all residents, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

With the NDP, they really push on equality. You know, inclusiveness, fairness, and you know, they really do talk about Indigenous issues.

What are you doing to campaign?

Right now, as soon as the election was announced, as you know, there were COVID-19 cases popping up in the territory, specifically in the Sahtu. That kind of put a hinder on how do we go ahead and campaign? Because we have to remember to keep our team, our volunteers and residents safe from COVID. So we decided to hold off and we're trying to figure out how can we do everything virtually. So we're still adapting, but I think most of this stuff is going to happen virtually. Signage, lawn signs, road signs, and hopefully we can get some local people to talk to community members.

Is there a political leader you look up to?

I think when it comes to politics, I definitely look at Jackson Lafferty as a mentor, not only for his ability to speak the language in the Legislative Assembly, but just the warmth and you know, he looks into things that you bring to his attention, whether it's, you know, something small or something minor.

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq spoke out about how difficult it is to have a voice in Parliament, and the racial profiling systems she encountered. How are you planning to do your job in that environment?

I'd like to congratulate her on the good job that she has done for the North, and for her territory.

I use academics as a tool to look at problem solving. And always look to my grassroots of, you know, my culture, my people, my community, the North. And, you know, life is really short. So there's not a whole lot of time, you have to create a whole whole lot of positive changes.

This will be the loudest, strongest platform to reflect that. And if you feel, you know, there's nothing really you can do, then I think you've just got to shake it up. You got to see things that maybe people will think twice about saying, because they're more worried about maintaining their seat, you know, incumbents want to stay in power.

I want to try to have the biggest positive change in the shortest amount of time.

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