N.W.T. Election 2023: Sallie Ross's Inuvik Boot Lake interview

Ross, who was a registered nurse for 14 years, wishes to work on a "dual diagnosis" aftercare program that addresses the root cause of addiction.

She cites inflation as the main challenge she will attempt to combat if elected. She said: "People need to have additional jobs just to make ends meet. People are finding it difficult to sustain their families on a modest two-person income."

Housing for Elders, addressing absenteeism in schools, and seeking territorial funding to make improvements are other areas on which she hopes to focus.

Denny Rodgers and incumbent Diane Archie are also running for the seat.

This interview was recorded on October 26, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Aastha Sethi: You ran for MLA of Inuvik Twin Lakes in 2019. What made you run for Boot Lake this time?

Sallie Ross: I think it had a lot to do with the support of the people. Even after the 2019 election I had a lot of people in the Boot Lake riding, which I am a resident of, coming up to me and asking if I would run again in the next election already. So, I gave it a lot of consideration and chose to run, this time in my own riding.

Q: In a previous interview, you shared you have experience in nursing, and said there's a need for treatment centres in Inuvik. In what ways do you think improvements can be made?

A: As I said in 2019, I've been a registered nurse. At that point, I ended my career in nursing after 14 years. I've moved through the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and now I am back with the Department of Health. During that timeframe, we're dealing with the same clientele. What we're seeing in the community, as well as what I am hearing from the constituents that I've been speaking to, is that there is a great need for both mental health courts and addiction aftercare. Part of what I'm really interested in is having a dual diagnosis type of program where you're not only dealing with addiction, but dealing with its root cause. Those are the kinds of areas I am interested in. What can we do about it? We need to focus on the mental health of our residents. We need to make our residents a priority in our territory.

Q: If elected, what are some other issues you'd be advocating for?

A: One of the main issues that we're seeing in Inuvik right now is housing. Housing is a huge issue. I think even greater than housing is the rising cost of living in the Territories. The rising cost of living that literally impacts every aspect of a person's life. Everything is more expensive these days. A lot of our residents are Elders. People need to have additional jobs just to make ends meet. People are finding it difficult to sustain their families on a modest two-person income. For some of our Elders, it is a larger concern with regards to housing and accessing the support programs that are available.

Q: What do you think can be done to change that?

A: We have some Elders that are in their own homes still, and we have some that are either in market rent or low-income housing. For the folks that are in their own homes, they're looking to apply for programs to assist them to stay in their own homes. They're looking at programs to assist with heating, such as the Senior Home Heating Subsidy through ECE. Some of the time, the income threshold is less than what their actual income is. So a majority of these programs, they are income tested. A lot of the times, our Elders are not qualifying but their income isn't enough to sustain themselves, and still be able to make the home repairs that they need. The other aspect is, we do have Elders that are waiting for a wheelchair-accessible unit. Those waits are long. We found that Elders are actually having to live market rent, where they can find a unit that's accessible to them, until they can wait for a unit in housing.

One lady I spoke to earlier this week, she said she's been on that waitlist for five years. She is waiting for an accessible unit with housing. In the meantime, she's having to pay market rent in order to live in a space she's able to access on her own. Some of those challenges we're certainly seeing with our elderly population.

Q: What are your thoughts on improving the quality of education in Inuvik?

A: It is quite evident that we are having attendance issues in our community. There have been incentives in the past and to date, those haven't been successful. The latest research that I have seen is less than 50-percent attendance. The District Education Council is working with the stakeholder groups such as IRC and GTC. Currently, IRC is putting together an incentive program. I'm not sure if that is going to be a fix for what is happening.

But at this point, I think the District Education Council has really exhausted what they feel is appropriate to get kids back into school. They spend a lot of time and resources trying to entice kids back. I think a large part of it is that we need to have parents and families on board with ensuring the children are attending school. One of the things that has been really positive in our community has been the school busing program. Even that hasn't had a long-lasting effect of having children in school as much as they thought it would. Yes, children are getting to school. But we aren't seeing steady, higher numbers. We're still sitting at about 60-percent attendance.

Q: If you're elected, how do you think you can help bring those numbers up?

A: Well, I think its going to be the role of the government in itself to be creative. How do we address the absenteeism within our schools? I'm sure the Beaufort Delta is not the only region that has this type of an issue. The thing is: what might work in one community or region might not work in another.

We really need to work within our government to be creative, but also work with our stakeholder groups and our families to see what is going to work for them in the long run. The goal at the end of the day is to have happy families. Having their children come to school. Whether that means there's an overarching type of program and each region tweaks it a little bit to suit what their communities need? That might be an answer. But at this point, I think we need to really analyze what the overarching plan is and then fine-tune it for the regions that we're working within.

Q: What does your economic vision look like for Inuvik?

A: In Inuvik, we're seeing that a lot of our employment in the summer comes from tourism. The GNWT is a major employer in our community, but outside of that, we're definitely seeing that tourism is a huge issue. Overall, I think the GNWT really needs to invest in the local people. We need to ensure that we have human resources that are required to have our territory functioning. By having our own residents working with us, within the territory, that ensures not only that our local people have jobs, but also that the money that they're earning is staying within the territory, helping boost the local economy.

Q: As an MLA, what would be the initial three things you'd work toward?

A: I think that part of what I'd like to see initially is a review of what has happened in the past and where they've left those projects off. Doing a summary of what the next steps would be, in order to continue on or deal with those projects if they're left unchecked. The other thing that I would really like to see: I know from sitting on certain territorial boards, such as the Inuvik Housing Authority and the District Education Authority, we do have a lot of policies and acts that haven't been reviewed in a long time. It kind-of stifles the growth and the way that programs can be delivered.

I'd really like to do some strategic planning around what our government will be doing. I think the acts and certain legislation may need to be updated and bring it into a more modern language, so it reflect the realities of our Territories right now.

Q: Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your work with our readers?

A: I'm married, mother of three. I have lived in Inuvik my entire life. I am a person who was raised with traditional values. I live a sober lifestyle and I do practise traditional ways of caring for others. In my daily life, I am a well-known volunteer. I was a community coach for many years. I am also a small business owner. I run a catering business in my spare time.

I just think all of those experiences, both personal and professional, have led me to advocacy. I really have a heart for people. We all have goals that we want to achieve. We all have dreams that we'd like to realize. For some of us, we're able to access programming on our own. For others, the programs that they might need to achieve those goals might not be readily available to them. They might not know how to access them. So I think the role of MLA is to be an advocate for the people and to get them what they need in order to live a self-reliant existence, to really be the best that they can be.

Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.

Aastha Sethi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio