Sahtu leaders sign housing agreement with N.W.T. on final day of 2022 annual general meeting

·6 min read
Sahtu Secretariat Inc. Chairperson Charles McNeely speaks at the Sahtu Secretariat and Sahtu Dene Council annual general meeting. The meeting took place over three days this week in Norman Wells, N.W.T. (Sidney Cohen/CBC - image credit)
Sahtu Secretariat Inc. Chairperson Charles McNeely speaks at the Sahtu Secretariat and Sahtu Dene Council annual general meeting. The meeting took place over three days this week in Norman Wells, N.W.T. (Sidney Cohen/CBC - image credit)

The Sahtu Secretariat and Sahtu Dene Council closed out their annual general meeting this week with the passing of nine resolutions and the signing of a housing agreement with the Northwest Territories government.

Delegates at the three-day meeting, held at the Ray Persson Memorial Arena in Norman Wells, N.W.T., covered a lot of ground. They spoke about the need to support Sahtu students, to create job and travel opportunities for young people, to improve health care for their members, and to extend the Mackenzie Valley Highway through the Sahtu region.

Many expressed the importance of leaders and communities working together to create a better future for younger generations.

"My elder, who's recently passed away, always said leadership is getting things ready for young people for tomorrow," said Chief Tommy Kakfwi of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T.

He reminded the leaders on Tuesday that when they're gone, it will be today's young people running their governments.

Sidney Cohen/CBC
Sidney Cohen/CBC

A retreat for leaders

On the meeting's final day, leaders passed a number of resolutions. Among them: to seek funding for youth programs in the Sahtu; to create a Sahtu regional tourism committee; and to work with the Sahtu MLA to push the N.W.T. government to create a health and disability support policy that would assist Sahtu land claim beneficiaries.

Leaders also passed a resolution that would directly benefit themselves: a self-care retreat for Sahtu leaders, "as their respective roles can take a huge toll, not only on their mental health, but also family affairs and daily life."

David Codzi, president of the Ayoni Keh Land Corporation, seconded the resolution, but said it felt to him like a conflict of interest, and suggested that delegates vote on it.

Edwin Erutse, president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, said members were encouraging the leaders to go on a retreat, and that hopefully it would improve leaders' working relationships and family lives.

"It just makes us look bad we're voting on it to go and do that ourselves," he said, with a chuckle.

The reader of the resolutions asked the members present in the arena: "Can we have a show of hands on this, from the public, for David [Codzi]'s comment? A show of hands for approval?" The question was met with raised hands and cheers.

The resolution was declared passed.

Sahtu Dene Council Grand Chief Wilbert Kochon thanked the secretariat for voting on a getaway for leaders.

"The chiefs are going to go to Hawaii next year," Kochon said, laughing.

"No it's good, sometimes you need that," he added. "Sometimes you don't realize how tired you get. I never had grey hair but I'm starting to get grey hair now."

Sidney Cohen/CBC
Sidney Cohen/CBC

Housing agreement signed 

Also on Thursday, delegates heard about dire housing needs in Sahtu communities.

"There are people that don't have houses, don't have a place to lay their head at night. They can't rest properly, they can't work. They don't have a place to go, they can't finish their schooling," said Arthur Tobac with the K'asho Got'ine Housing Society in Fort Good Hope.

Speaking during the Sahtu community members' forum, Tobac said a lack of housing is at the root of problems experienced by many young people in the region.

Rose McNeely, who's worked with Fort Good Hope's Chief T'Selehye School for nearly two decades, also spoke during the members' forum.

She said recently, several teachers have left her community because there isn't adequate housing for them.

"That's my main concern, I want the teachers — you know, some are good workers, and you want them to stay in the community," she said.

Sidney Cohen/CBC
Sidney Cohen/CBC

Thursday afternoon, Sahtu Secretariat Chairperson Charles McNeely and Sahtu MLA and minister responsible for Housing Northwest Territories Paulie Chinna signed a memorandum of agreement on housing.

The agreement underscores the organizations' shared goal to work together on housing programs, research and planning in the Sahtu region. It also compels Housing NWT and the Sahtu Secretariat to form a housing working group that will meet at least once a year.

Ɂek'wahtı̨dǝ́ Leeroy Andre, leader of the Délı̨nę Got'ı̨nę government, said that over the course of the annual general meeting, leaders have been "trying to find solutions to work with the current government," and that the housing agreement "is a step in that direction."

But, he added, he wants to see more housing dollars flow to Sahtu communities.

"I'm really hopeful that Housing [NWT] would also come to the table with some money for our communities, not only to plan and the idea, but also with money," he said. "So I hope Housing [NWT] has their cheque book."

Sidney Cohen/CBC
Sidney Cohen/CBC

Two cases for the Mackenzie Valley Highway

Earlier in the week, delegates addressed the proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway extension, and heard suggestions for how to pitch it to the federal government.

The highway was proposed decades ago as a link between southern Canada and the Arctic Ocean.

Today, the Northwest Territories government is looking to extend the portion of the road that ends at Wrigley, N.W.T., 321 kilometres north to Norman Wells.

Doug Matthews, an energy consultant working with the Sahtu Secretariat, told delegates that the highway extension faces stiff competition for federal funding.

It's up against infrastructure projects like the proposed Taltson Hydroelectricity expansion and the Slave Geological Province Corridor, also known as the "road to resources."

"There's no way in heck that the [government of the Northwest Territories] can afford to do all three [projects]," said Matthews.

Matthews said there are two cases to be made for going with the Mackenzie Valley Highway.

One is that unlike the Slave Geological Province road, people actually live along the Mackenzie Valley route.

The other, he said, has to do with Arctic sovereignty.

"There's an expansion going on at the Inuvik airport. That's to allow different jets to have access to the lengthened runway. The case could be made that the highway expansion all the way up to Inuvik would be to benefit the country from a national defence angle," he said.

Matthews added that this case can be made now, as Russia and China signal their interest in the Arctic.

Sahtu Secretariat Chairperson McNeely said his organization is "100 per cent behind the highway."

The Sahtu Secretariat is responsible for implementing the Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement and is trustee of the Sahtu Trust and Sahtu Master Land Agreement Trust.

The secretariat comprises seven communities: the Colville Lake Dene, Deline Dene, Fort Good Hope Dene, Fort Good Hope Métis, Norman Wells Métis, Tulita Dene and Fort Norman Métis.

The Sahtu Dene Council is a political organization responsible for treaty matters. The council gives advice to the Sahtu Secretariat.

The next annual general meeting will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sahtu land claim agreement, and is set to take place in Tulita in early September of 2023.