How should northern on-the-land programs be evaluated?

Five voices at the On The Land Summit in Dettah, N.W.T., discuss how northern residents should decide whether or not their on-the-land programs are working.

Territorial government promises balanced approach as Dene leader voices skepticism

K'atl'odeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian addresses panellists with his remarks about evaluating on-the-land programs. (Ollie Williams/CBC)

The first pan-territorial On the Land Summit concluded with a frank exchange of views in Dettah, N.W.T.

A panel discussion of how on-the-land programs should be evaluated led to passionate speeches from Chief Roy Fabian of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation and Dene elder Be'sha Blondin.

Fabian said the territorial government had no place evaluating the merits of on-the-land programming run by Dene people, for Dene people. Blondin called on Dene colleagues to take more responsibility for the success of their own programs.

For its part, the territorial government promised to employ a balanced approach and "get out of the way" where possible.

Here are four edited extracts from speeches and CBC interviews as the three-day summit concluded.

Roy Fabian, K'atl'odeeche First Nation

"To us, on-the-land programs are a natural outcome of the things we have been doing as Dene people. If you can give a child the ability to go and set a rabbit snare, catch a rabbit, skin it, and cook the food, you've done more for that child than all these evaluations and processes.

"We're trying to justify ourselves as Dene people, here. We don't need to.

"To me, this is a colonization process we're in right now … They took rabbit snaring away from us. They took being able to set nets away from us, and they replaced it with other things. So today, our children are having difficulty. And I can't believe what I'm hearing, that somehow we have to justify ourselves.

"The whole process — is it about money? If we toe the line and do everything that they tell us to, then we get money? Hopefully, if the government is really serious about this, we need to have another one of these meetings but with only us as Aboriginal people, in a circle. We are all going to sit here equally."

Be'sha Blondin, Dene elder

"It's our responsibility, as parents, to take our children out there. That's what we need help for. The best value of life for our children is taking them out there and teaching them — we don't need money to do that.

"If we don't do that, we are going to always depend on governments to do things for us; funders to do things for us. We can't keep going into this little box so that we get controlled.

"It's so important that we take a look at how we advance from here with the right voices; the right values; the right way of life.

"The government wants to put programs we are doing at a certain level. Then when they don't know how to work with them, they put their studies on the shelf. What happens to those studies? They get too old and they start throwing them out. We are studied to death.

"We are tired of it. We just want to be left alone."

Debbie DeLancey, deputy minister of Health and Social Services

"The first challenge is being really clear on who the evaluation is for. A lot of people don't trust evaluators and they don't trust evaluation. And historically, governments have used evaluation as a tool of colonization.

"There has been a power imbalance and it's been, 'We're going to evaluate your programs and based on how we think you're doing, we'll decide whether to give you some more money.'

"The second challenge I have run into is the perception that you can't evaluate land-based programs.

"Last week I was making a presentation and when I talked about this conference, one regional leader said, 'You can't evaluate land-based programs, that's ridiculous. We all know what it feels like when you get out of town and get on the land. How do you measure that?'

"Or you hear, 'Well, this guy went on an on-the-land program and he's still drinking, so the program failed. Why should we fund it?' But obviously, there are dimensions that we can evaluate."

Glen Abernethy, Minister of Health and Social Services

"Evaluation is important but this is something that's incredibly hard to evaluate.

"People just feel a sense of wellness when they are on the land. How do you evaluate that? How do you help people that don't live that experience to understand the importance? There are mechanisms: we have got scientific evidence now that shows there is value; there are benefits.

"We need to talk to the local people, running these programs, about helping us answer some of these questions so that we can explain the value and flow money where it is needed.

"We have to make sure we are looking for the things that are meaningful to the people utilizing the programs. In many ways, I think we are already going down that path. We are not telling somebody in Tulita, 'This is what your program shall look like and you shall do it or you will not get money.'

"We understand there is value, so what works for you and how can we help? How can we get out of the way when we need to, and how can we be your partner when we have to? Where's the ability to find an effective way forward?"