N.W.T. MLAs want government policies reviewed for racism

MLAs want a total review of the territorial government's policies from education to hiring and housing — and cabinet members agree.

MLAs seek review on housing, hiring, education

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos put forward the motion. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

All regular N.W.T. MLAs have directed the territorial government to review its policies and practices for racial and cultural bias. 

The motion, put forward by Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, directs the territorial government to review policies relating to education, health, justice, housing and hiring.

"Racism takes many different forms, especially in government," said Martselos.

"Cultural barriers have always been a problem. Affirmative action and the procurement policy are prime examples of bureaucratic, systemic racism. This has to change. Only then, we will make a difference." 

The motion recognizes that half the population of the N.W.T. is Indigenous and becoming diverse, that Indigenous people face colonialism and cultural genocide. 

The territorial government has 120 days to respond to the motion, which Martselos put forth during a themed sitting focused on systemic racism. 

Government house leader R.J. Simpson said the government has a "moral and ethical obligation to root out racism in our institutions." 

While it is convention for cabinet to abstain from voting on recommendations to the government, "cabinet fully supports the principles behind this motion," he said. 

Housing rules contribute to social, economic disparities

Caitlin Cleveland, the MLA for Kam Lake, said $25 million to achieve the 19th assembly’s goals over the next three and a half years is 'not very much at all.' (Sidney Cohen/CBC)

Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland said northerners are forced to enter homelessness because of the housing corporation's policies, which require people to live in a community for up to one year before being added to the community housing wait list. 

"It can take years to get to the top of the list, and some might say a lifetime," she said. 

"This policy is actively contributing to the social and economic disparities of northerners."

The policy puts people at risk of child apprehension, prevents them from leaving to access education or flee violence, and prevents family reunification, she said. 

"This means families cannot stay together and boys over 15 stand to be separated from their parents," she said.

Twenty-eight of the territory's 33 communities are considered non-market rent and are dominated by public housing, she said. 

The housing corporation has a wait list of 900 people, said Housing Minister Paulie Chinna. 

She would not commit to removing the policy, but says the housing authority developed an application process that allows applicants who wish to leave the community for a number of months to return to their housing. 

"I don't want to discourage local individuals from leaving their community to pursue their goals and other educational opportunities," she said.

Chinna said public housing is not the only option in communities, and that the housing corporation is looking to the CMHC co-investment fund to expand available housing.

Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge asked for cultural awareness training for all existing staff and new hires for health centres in the territory. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

'Nice words' must be backed

Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge said for too long "racist overtones" are directed toward Indigenous people, including at health institutions in his region. 

"Indigenous peoples are treated as second-class citizens in their own communities and on their homeland," he said. 

He recently asked for cultural awareness training for all existing staff and new hires for health centres in the territory. 

Monwfi MLA Jackson Lafferty points to an underutilized wellness fund for on the land healing, and millions in spending on southern rehabilitation as one example of racism in the health care system.

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn said "nice words" must be backed up by action. Norn recently alerted the territorial government to a policy prohibiting nurses from making house calls.

In an email to CBC, the health authority explained that health and social services staff have responded to emergency situations in the past, but that it "presents a risk to health and social services system staff."

"The public may be put at risk because the activities and skills being required for first response are outside the regular experience, training and duties of healthcare staff," the email states. 

MLA Jackson Lafferty is a vocal advocate for in-territory mental health and addictions treatment. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The department of Municipal and Community Affairs is responsible for local emergency response, including local ambulance services.  Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson are the only communities with ground ambulance services. 

Fort Resolution pre-med student calls N.W.T.'s no house call policy 'blatantly' racist, dangerous

Upcoming hiring policies will include targets: Wawzonek

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby asked for numerical targets for hiring of Black and Indigenous employees, including in upper management. 

In the current policy, Indigenous men are not distinguished as a priority for hiring, said Nokleby. 

The government is rolling out an anti-racism campaign and the forthcoming recruitment framework will include targets for each department, said Minister Caroline Wawzonek. 

The current review will determine whether Indigenous men need specific consideration for hiring.

MMIWG report risks sitting idle: Johnson

MLA Rylund Johnson says the territorial government should act on MMIWG recommendations outlined in the final report. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said he fears the territory's implementation of the MMIWG action plan is "caught in an endless cycle of planning and consultation with no meaningful action."

Johnson said the calls to justice risk falling into long-term planning and that the territorial government must cost its plan to respond to the MMIWG report recommendations. 

"We often create great action plans but don't back them up with the dollars," he said. 

The inquiry interviewed thousands of people and gave specific direction through the 231 calls to justice, including establishing a guaranteed livable income and free legal aid for victims of crimes before they speak to police, said Johnson. 

He asked Status of Women Minister Caroline Wawzonek to commit to those items, but she said she won't prioritize any particular MMIWG call to action until the draft plan is prepared in October.

That plan won't be fully costed, she said.