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Metis organization eager to collaborate with next NWT premier on land claim goal

The leaders of the North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) are looking forward to collaborating with the next premier of the Northwest Territories after being “left out for years” by past governments.

“[The next premier must have] the ability to bring cabinet together and to effectively govern the NWT while ensuring the NSMA is not left behind in doing so,” said NSMA President Marc Whitford. “Our past premier has worked hard to assist NSMA within her office and I look forward to the incoming premier continuing to do so.”

“Couldn’t have said it any better myself,” added Alan Harman, NSMA’s vice-president. “We want the next premier to support the NSMA in a way that is fair and in line with the treatment of other Indigenous governments. We are an equal and need to be handled as such.”

The territory’s next premier will be decided by the members of the legislative assembly on Thursday, Dec. 7.

There are four contenders in the running to replace outgoing premier Caroline Cochrane: R.J. Simpson of Hay River North, Shane Thompson of Nahendeh, Kieron Testart of Range Lake, and Caroline Wawzonek of Yellowknife South.

Whitford and Harman said they are “supportive of all of the candidates for premier,” noting that all but Testart have already served as cabinet ministers, and that Testart has experience working with the Liberal Party of Canada.

“We have worked closely with three of them in the last government,” Whitford said. “[Those three] have been ministers and know the inner workings of cabinet. The other has a great deal of political experience and has worked with First Nations as well as with a major political party at a national level.

“They are well rounded as a group,” he added. “The race could possibly be more wide open than we realized.”

Whoever is elected premier on Dec. 7, Whitford and Harman have a long list of goals they are hoping to push forward.

The “main one,” according to Whitford, is a land claim for NSMA.

“This means getting the complete support of the premier’s office as an advocate for fair treatment of the NSMA when dealing with the federal government in Ottawa,” he said.

Whitford and Harman are hoping to facilitate “direct meetings” with the new premier to determine “what can be done and in what time frame for a land claim.”

They are also hoping the new territorial leader can help set up a meeting with Ottawa to advance land claim discussions.

In addition, the pair would like NSMA to be included in the devolution agreement, to sit on the Intergovernmental Council, and to be included in the Taltson hydro upgrade project “and any developments resulting from it.”

They will also be looking for “ongoing funding” for NSMA and land for the construction of Métis homes, among other things.

“[The next premier must] have courage to stand up so that all Indigenous governments receive equal treatment and be able to make hard choices with fair outcomes for all affected,” Whitford said.

“We are facing a lot of concerns as Northerners as a whole that need to be addressed together based on respect and accountability,” Harman added. “The Indigenous groups have a lot of good ideas on what they want the future of the NWT to look like, which will not only benefit the government but all NWT residents.”

Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, NWT News/North