Jordan: By now, you’ve heard me describe the plight of the north when it comes to Federal elections. The number of seats up here is so small that any Overture by a leader or party is done mostly in service to a far larger block of Voters down south who care about quote Northern issues, but northern issues aren’t a collection of concerns or a list of opinions to the people here in the Northwest Territories who live with them.
They are everyday thing. Minds that are closing roads that are no longer drivable the recognition of land claims and the rapidly melting permafrost and Ice that’s the real stuff and if you ask people here, it’s not the federal government no matter who wins. That’s ultimately going to get most of these things done in the Northwest Territories, which government is in charge in Ottawa after this election matters mostly in regards to how much of that government’s decision-making power.
It is willing to cede to the government’s that actually get things done on the ground in the North. So will any government offer enough of that Independence or will the Northwest Territories and First Nations have here in particular? Once again find themselves choosing the least bad option.
I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is the big story today our final episode in the northern Trilogy of our lay of the land series features Deneze Nakeh’ko who works for Dene Nahjo, an organization that aims to advance social and environmental justice for Northern people. Deneze how is democracy going up in the Northwest Territories, right?
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Well this colonial experiment to democracy continues up here in the north and a bunch of different ways. And actually I think it’s kind of a pretty fascinating place to live when it comes to political development because of indigenous land claims and self-government living in a place in a time where governments are being created all around us.
Plus we still have a traditional Colonial entity of the Territorial and federal governments. So that mixture is actually a pretty exciting and he’s using place to live it
Jordan: when politicians do come to visit. What do they typically talk about and how how meaningful is what they address to the people actually living there.
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Well, I think for the reality of the north is a lot different than I think the narrative. Around the North. And I think the narrative around the north has mostly been crafted by people that don’t actually live here the majority of our population Canada lives in the South and that majority of the population have been formulating their own story and sentence annoy.
You know, when you travel South is a lot of people they pretty fascinated by the fact that people actually live up here. So we get a lot of questions and honestly some questions you get is, you know, do you move it again? How the polar bears up here. So the general knowledge of the reality of the Northeast as wacky really what it comes to the actual Narrative of the north and as Northerners, we don’t really get to participate in crafting that narrative as much so.
I think it is the really important for politicians not to come up here to tell us what they think like that actually to come up here to experience our reality of life in the north and just to listen to what the people need up here.
Jordan: When you mention that it’s a fascinating time because indigenous nations are developing their own governments, how is that working with the federal government currently?
I know that the Liberals came to power in 2015 with a lot of promises and I’m just wondering how how people up there see them as having delivered or not.
Dëneze Nakehk’o: The indigenous people in this country, they history in Canada’s not really good for us. We’re going to be treated as a second third class citizens really this whole nation state is.
And like a regime of Oppression from an indigenous perspective and I think a lot of the issues that we Face here in the north. We have a lot of social issues. We need in a lot of statistical categories that I don’t think other jurisdictions would be proud of high rates of suicide like a lot of social issues.
I think most of that stems from the fact that. There’s decisions being made in our traditional territories and those decision-making authorities don’t actually live here. They kind of station in Yellowknife or in Ottowa. So I think being able to have these indigenous government have more decision-making power and authority.
I think that it would be a good thing and I think we alleviate a lot of our social issues. I like to talk about the political developments. But North up here, we have the creature government and the creature government is pretty much the only signed land claim in self-government agreement and they’ve been operating as their own government since about 2005 and what I like to call what I like to say is that the creature government I think is our most Canadian government we have in this country and the definition of that is because.
The clean show our indigenous peoples up here and they negotiated with taylean numbers from the federal government and the territorial government. You all came together had a meeting in mind spin agreed to this agreement Katie’s and Indigenous people creating the system government that makes the actually makes sense to people that actually live in a geographical area.
So since it was created here by Canadians and Indigenous people. I think by definition creature government. Those are most Canadian government we have in this country because our federal parliamentary system as Canadians. He’s never had the opportunity to create our own city government for the people that actually live here.
That has been imposed on us from another country. So we operate in a legislative process that comes from another part of the world. That’s pretty much the definition of colonization as well to write.
Jordan: What are some of the things that indigenous governments can do for the people living in them that are not typically done by the federal government or the territorial government?
Dëneze Nakehk’o: There’s a lot of different things. We have to understand that just to paint a picture and provide some context to the reality of the north is a lot different from the reality is rest of Canada in southern Canada. There’s people that can probably live the whole life without even meaning.
Interacting with an indigenous person just because the population is so dense. But up here, you know, we’re have half the population is indigenous. So even if you’re like a super racist and don’t like native people, this is not the place for you because whether you like it or not in the grocery store or on the street, you know be interacting within the indigenous.
So anywhere that you mean business perspective in general public is much higher that I think in the rest of Canada, but also, you know our Capital here is yelling life and this colonial experiment of this government. Actually the territory governments turning into a microcosm of Canada when it comes to decision making and our federal government system ottawa’s receiving power and people go there then make decisions that you know affect people in Alberta, British Columbia and the maritimes, you know, and you know, a lot of times people from Alberta or like, you know, a all the raw stay out of our business type of the Tang, you know, that’s that’s where all the decisions are made in Ottawa and that’s what the Northwest Territory.
Turning into when it comes to political decision-making power. A lot of the decision-making power is happening in Yellowknife. And the rest of the northern regions are like a Yellow Knife stay out of our business
and the realities in the community. So a lot of the communities are remote. Our population is pretty small here in Northwest Territories. Like 43,000 people is actually more people that live in Grand Prairie, Alberta and the entire Northwest Territories, but we’re also spread out over a vast land.
And some of these communities are only flying sell some of the communities don’t even have a road access in and out and some of these communities don’t even have a police officer in the community and some of these communities don’t even have a nurse or Health Center. And you know we see it time.
And again, we’re all the people that come up here. They kind of come in a save your attitude where they have this idea to kind of fix the milk, but as the the longer they stay here and they entangled in the complexities of this place before we realized that there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to them work.
Well, there’s one Federal seat for the entire territory, so I guess our question because this series is. Analyzing the impact of the federal election on communities across Canada.
Jordan: So the first thing that comes to mind after what you’ve just described is what kind of promises and policies can these candidates proposed that would actually make a difference across the territory.
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Well, it’s it’s it’s a different animal and then really we have to be strategic and and how and who is elected as our Member of Parliament because in reality is we don’t have a lot of political power federally with one Member of Parliament. And if you combined the say one party Gets A Member of Parliament from the Yukon the Northwest Territories and.
Now my math is pretty much half the country but it’s only through yeah, and then it’s not a lot of political power. So we understand that reality when it comes to Ottawa and I think from an indigenous perspective a lot of the indigenous government’s here are really pushing for the completion of negotiations for my pains and self-government, but not only that there’s a real big push for the implementation of these agreements that have already been made.
One of these holdups with the federal government is not like actually making the deals but putting the views into action the implementation of these things and the I guess what they call the Devolution of authority and decision-making power from the federal government to more towards the indigenous governance, I think from an indigenous perspective that’s more of a priority.
So any leverage that these governments can have to Member of Parliament or actually just going to Ottawa. And lobbying those like upper middle level of the bureaucracy of Ottawa. There’s a bunch of different ways. And and in the north, I think one of the characteristics of Northern regions our creativity and our imagination not that we have the luxury of time to sit around and and kind of like exercise or creative juices, but we’re forced to be creative.
Use your imagination because we have a lack of resources up here and and not a lot of people pay attention to us. So even if we do are allowed and have strong messages to Ottawa. Usually a lot of the solutions depend on our own Ingenuity in our own creativity. So a lot of the solutions do a lot of issues up here.
The owners are forced to be creative in order to kind of figure those things out.
Jordan: So given all that how do people in the territory decide who to vote for and what do they see as the differences between the major parties?
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Well, you know the obvious fact, I mean this this election is really crazy.
You know, you think about it, you know, you know, you know one prime minister whose it’s fast it’s done blackface and Brown face. Yeah, but it and that’s horrible, but then. You know, he’s like the lesser of two evils compared to the other guy. So you’re like, what are you gonna do and then you know, I really don’t think the new Democratic party will be able to get a stronghold for leadership in this country as well too.
So we call it a democracy but you know, there’s not a lot of choice really in the reality of our situation up here. And really we have to be strategic about that. It’s I think it’s more like just an exercising duty to go and really know like whoever gets in. Pretty much. It’s just going to be with by their political party to just end up being a prop to stand behind the current leader of the political party whenever they talk about Northern or indigenous issues.
Jordan: That sounds really cynical. I’m not I’m not judging but it’s sad
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Well, you know, and so we’re used to not being heard or B with c 2 up here in North so like I said earlier, you know, we were forced to be creative and a lot of our Solutions and you know, Have to take like, you know, let’s talk into you know our situation and where we’re at.
We got to try to make the best out of it. That’s how we were able to survive up here for four generations and generations as easy as people but you know as you get older and you know, however many political Cycles, um through you can see a pattern and you can see that you know, really. Nothing changes.
So I think from the the most of the indigenous perspective here in the north that like those the ratification and implementation of all those Ryan claims will be very helpful in a lot of ways and again looking as the preacher government as an example. He stays. Ratified their land pain and they’re operating as creature government.
They’ve been like looking at mining opportunities or looking at building roads. So they’re their priorities have shifted and they really want to make that government work. So they’re open for business and they’re open to different opportunities within their territory the other regions that are still negotiating and.
Have an agreement that’s their priority is to get that deal done. So while that’s your main priority all the other priorities like mining or he’s worse developments kind of secondary or third in the main goal is to finish these agreements once those Agreements are done. A lot of these I think Regional indigenous government’s you’ll see that Spike and economic activity and opportunity.
But for for a lot of the Region’s to kind of split up and they’re at different levels, I get some self-governance when it comes to that so and at those different levels they have different priorities as well too. And you know, that’s just an example of some of the political complexities in this vast territory was a small population.
Government is elected in October and I’m not even talking about which one could be any of them. That was to make a dent and the kind of cynical Outlook towards Ottawa that you just described. What would have to be their top priority with regards to the territory. Would it be land claims?
I think that should be like on top of the list even here in the north, you know, the other half the population is not indigenous and especially in Yellowknife.
Like I think a lot of people are really shocked by the diversity here in Illinois. And but even the non-indigenous population, they’re really gung-ho about nine claims and soft government. Do you like me to give you doing done? So for the not only for the political development to promote economic development of the north as well T.
I think that these processes have stalled up a lot of different things and we kind of like in this middle ground and limbo of like he decides what about we’re here in Hanoi. But other than that, there’s a lot of other major issues. I mean climate change is a huge issue around the world. But up here.
It is the traditional managers the Harvesters the people that take medicines the Trappers the people that are on the land a lot still living that traditional lifestyle may be sounding the alarms of the drastic changes in the territory up here the town of tuktoyaktuk. You know, they’re scared that they might fall into the Arctic Ocean because of the erosion water and hydrology has been changing here because of melting permafrost also infrastructure lies all the roads that we do have in the communities that we have are all built on permafrost.
So once that permafrost melts the roads it’s going to like like all our schools and buildings are foundations. And so those are some of the I think some of the main. Use but also jobs we have a locker jobs here you either work for the government or you’re working out of mine. And so there’s not a lot you thought a real options and we don’t we don’t really have a university up here.
There’s a push to establish a Polytechnic University. I think that will go a long way to at diversifying our economy since we don’t have that knowledge economy. We have a universe. Here that’s a lot of jobs and we have a lot of knowledge up here. That’s pretty specific to appear the reality of that.
I live in that, you know, if I want to go back to University and to get a degree in northern studies. I have to go to the southern institution friend that really doesn’t make sense.
Jordan: Do you get the sense of all those issues because that’s that’s a long list and I mean, we’ve heard them from other provinces to but of all those issues you get the sense that there is one that people will actually change their vote. And and is there an issue that’s for people who are single-issue voters. That’s the most attractive
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Well. I began our population is so it’s so diverse and we have actually we have a like a growing thriving population of immigrants that come from all over the world. And so there’s only patterns are it’s pretty hard to to predict.
For all the indigenous regions in people’s it’s an incredibly diverse as well to you. Well, you have to understand like officially the government of the north-west territories recognizes 11 official languages that that’s pretty you know diverse for our small population and then it’s really hard to put your finger on like that one hot button issue, but like, you know jobs.
Pardon me is one how we take care of the land and climate is another one housing. We need to touch on housing and like, you know the lack of healthcare like a realities here like Jonas has been centralized. So a lot of communities even if they have a doctor, it’s very limited what the doctor can do and then they’re like they have to be like records and people have to be sent to Yellow.
If just to see the doctor, so that’s like a lot of money to pay for the air travel from a small community to go to Yellow noise could be diagnosed. Like I said, this is the place for such a small population in vast landscape. You know, he had a lot of complex issues.
Jordan: Well, thank you for sharing some of the narrative that we don’t often get and Reporting the gets to us down here.
Dëneze Nakehk’o: Yeah, I appreciate your interest and this opportunity to speak to you. It’s very good to be part of the big story or any story that’s coming out of the North and I think that you will find that if you come up here not only are we complex but really warm and generous and hospitable and you know, we really like when visitors come up here and I because we know.
Such a long way to travel to when people make the effort and we make the effort to welcome them up here as well, too. Thanks, Dennis. Ah.
Jordan: Dëneze Nakehk’o is a founding member of Dene Nahjo. That was the big story for more from us. We are at thebigstorypodcast.ca up to 8 now an hour lay of the land series.
There’s five more coming. You can also talk to us on Twitter at @thebigstoryfpn. Leave us a note. Let us know what you think and you can review us wherever you get podcasts, Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify. You will find us there. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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