N.W.T. leaders hope mending gap between the North, South is a priority this federal election

·3 min read
Ken Kyikavichik, the grand chief of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, says northern communities need help with social issues before moving too far ahead with economic development for the future. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)
Ken Kyikavichik, the grand chief of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, says northern communities need help with social issues before moving too far ahead with economic development for the future. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)

As federal party leaders continue on the campaign trail across the country for the election next month, some leaders in the North say they want to see Indigenous and northern issues become a bigger priority.

"Housing conditions are at critical levels for a lot of communities and the Gwich'in communities are no different," said Ken Kyikavichik, grand chief of the Gwich'in Tribal Council.

He'd like to see investments in green energy like wind, solar and hydro to secure an energy future for the North. But before that happens, he says communities need help with social issues.

"None of that is possible, however, without tackling some of the significant mental-health and addictions issues that are being faced in the North and our communities and people need a lot of help."

Yellowknife MLA hopes not a lot changes

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson says the timing of this election couldn't be worse; he thinks calling snap elections can breed voter apathy.

"My hope in this election is that we return the exact same number of MPs to each seat and Parliament has to go back to doing its job," Johnson said. "And the message is sent that the voters don't appreciate these snap elections, especially when there's more important work to be done."

He says from his perspective, federal money has been flowing to the North, but he wonders how long that's sustainable. He says larger issues like reconciliation and land-claim settlements are slow to happen and that Canada needs a unifying vision.

Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada
Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada

"It's so much more than just what the territory wants. It's what Canada is going to do about the fact that the people that live in the North are radically unequal to those in the South. Our Indigenous population lives next to some of the wealthiest resources in the world in one of the wealthiest countries and yet is just living in poverty.

"And that's fundamentally wrong."

That gap between the North and southern Canada is something that the N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane says was made more apparent during the pandemic.

Walter Strong/CBC
Walter Strong/CBC

In a written statement to CBC, she said: "The pandemic has laid bare the gaps in our society, and N.W.T. residents deserve to understand where each political party stands on the issues relevant to the N.W.T.

"That is why we will be writing to each federal party leader in advance of the election to find out how each party will work with and support the people, governments, industry and environment within the territory. The responses provided by each party will help to inform N.W.T. residents on those issues as they go to the polls in a federal election."

Kyikavichik thinks Indigenous voices can play a part in this federal election.

He says even though the North doesn't have the same number of ridings found in the South, it can still punch above its weight.

He says the Liberals were elected back in 2015 in part because of their bold stance on Indigenous issues and seeing the North as a strategic area for Canada.

"I think that given the multitude of issues that continue to be faced across Indigenous Canada, it will be very prominent in this upcoming election."

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