North

Yellowknife administrator says plan to end Indigenous Relations job not final

After being criticized for sunsetting the federally-funded Indigenous Relations Advisor position, the city's top administrator says it could look elsewhere for funding.

City councillor and YKDFN chief criticizing city for not seeking new funding for the position

The City of Yellowknife is taking criticism for sunsetting its federally-funded Indigenous Relations Advisor position. (CBC)

The City of Yellowknife's top administrator says it could look elsewhere for money for its Indigenous Relations Advisor position, after being criticized for sunsetting the federally-funded job. 

Federal funding for the job runs out in February 2020, 18 months after it began.

Stacie Smith, a city councillor, said losing the position would be "disheartening." She said it's a blow to people who want an Indigenous representative and a "safe space" to voice their concerns at city hall. 

The position "gives hope" when there are so few visibly Indigenous staff at the city, Smith said.

"As an Indigenous person, I might not feel as comfortable to go up to a white person who has no idea the struggles I've gone through that have been inflicted on me, on my parents … It's going to be so tough for that to happen again," said Smith.

Smith wrote a letter to fellow councillors and city administration asking for the position to be reinstated.

City councillor Stacie Smith wrote a letter to fellow councillors and administration, asking for the position to be reinstated. (Submitted)

"By discontinuing, it's as if the relationship doesn't matter and city hall had the position just to make themselves appear like they're making an effort," she said.

"If they couldn't find funding, but they could find funding for other departments, then they weren't as serious as they should have been about building relationships." 

'Unfair' for reconciliation to fall to 1 person: SAO

In September 2018, Maggie Mercredi became the city's first Indigenous relations advisor, a position funded by Indigenous Services Canada.

Mercredi is responsible for producing the city's reconciliation action plan, slated for completion early next year. The position is also meant to "provide advice and guidance on how the City can actively work toward reconciliation and enhance access and inclusion for Indigenous peoples in city services and civic life," according to the city's website.

Mercredi declined to comment for this story while she is still employed by the city.

Coun. Smith worries that without a dedicated position, reconciliation work will fall by the wayside. 

"If the expectation was for 18 months for this building of relationships to happen, they're sorely mistaken," she said.

Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife's senior administrative officer, said "reconciliation can't just rest on the shoulders of one position," and it would be "unfair if the responsibility was just vested on one position."

Bassi-Kellett acknowledged that the criticisms levelled at the city this week show that people feel the position is important.  

"As a person managing a colonial government structure, a municipal government, finding a path forward has challenges," she said.

Listen to the interview with SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett here

The city is ending its Indigenous relations advisor position because it won't have any more federal funding, but people like Chief Ernest Betsina and City Councillor Stacie Smith say the decision is a step in the wrong direction. 13:34

Those include work such as finding land for the city's dog trotters association, a process which isn't over. Other times, the work is more straightforward, she said. 

The city recently signed an agreement for land use for the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation. It's also moving on a 20-year push to return land back to Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) with a proposed municipal boundary change.

YKDFN chief 'very disappointed' to see job end

Ernest Betsina, Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chief in Ndilo, says he's "very disappointed" to see the position end while the city is in its "most active" stage of public consultation on its reconciliation action plan.

"How do I say to my members the city is serious about reconciliation and yet they eliminate this position?" he said.

Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina says he's 'very disappointed' to see the position end. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Mercredi has acted as an intermediary between the First Nation and the city, including on matters of economic development, said Betsina.

He wants to know if the city exhausted its options for looking for external funding.

"I do want to see it reinstated. There are some questions I want to ask: is this decision final?"

Bassi-Kellett said reconciliation is a priority, and that the city hasn't ruled out looking for ways to fund the Indigenous Relations Advisor position.

"If that's a matter of finding funding to make things happen, that's what we'll be working on doing."

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