Devolution, healthcare tops Gwich’in meeting with territory

The Gwich'in Tribal Council began a three-day conference with the premier of the Northwest Territories and MLAs in Inuvik, N.W.T., this week.

Premier, MLAs and Gwich’in leadership meet in Inuvik, N.W.T.

The Gwich’in Tribal Council began a three-day conference in Inuvik, N.W.T., this week.

The council leaders have been meeting with leaders of the Northwest Territories to discuss devolution, healthcare and other community concerns.  

Richard Nerysoo, president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said the council feels slighted after the territory signed the Agreement in Principle for devolution in January.

He said Treaty 11 gives the Gwich’in people a right to be consulted when it comes to territorial spending in communities.

"Particularly in light that we have a land claim agreement, many of the programs and services that are being transferred to the government of the Northwest Territories are treaty programs and it seems that we’re being marginalized to the point that municipal governments have a power above and beyond the Gwich'in government," said Nerysoo.

Richard Nerysoo, president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, said the communities want more control over healthcare, especially after issues such as when the territory closured the Joe Greenland Centre for seniors. (CBC)

Nerysoo said treaty groups such as his should get a larger share of resource royalty payments than what is now being proposed.

"It should come to us as a Gwich'in government so we can deliver those programs to our people," he said.

Gwich'in also want more healthcare authority

Nerysoo said the Gwich'in also want more authority when it comes to healthcare and social services in communities.

One year ago, 400 people signed a petition to save the Joe Greenland Centre for seniors in Aklavik, N.W.T. The territorial government said it was too expensive. It relocated elders who needed daily medical care to a centre in the larger community of Inuvik, N.W.T.

Nerysoo is against that decision.

"We can't simply take people out of communities and transfer them into Inuvik, into a regional centre, because that's not the environment where they feel comfortable," he said.

The Gwich’in council is asking for more money for healthcare in small communities at this meeting. Nerysoo said the council also wants more government spending oversight.

"We want responsibility for housing, healthcare, social services. We want responsibility for how we educate our children, how we take care of our elders," said Nerysoo.

Mary-Ann Ross, who is on the Gwich'in Tribal Council board, said Tuesday that she was looking forward to meeting with Northwest Territories premier Bob McLeod, as well as with first-time member of the legislative assembly Frederick Blake.

In the past, Blake served as the Gwich’in chief for Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T.

"He'll certainly express what he knows coming from his community, coming from the small region in Tsiigehtchic, isolated in the spring and winter, at breakup and freeze-up. He knows first-hand all the issues he has to deal with," said Ross.