Economic development working group formed at Inuvik symposium

Leaders from across the Northwest Territories emerged from an economic development symposium in Inuvik on Wednesday with plans to form a working group and continue the conversation.

About 60 Indigenous and government leaders met in Inuvik this week for 3-day event

About 60 leaders from across the N.W.T. spent three days in Inuvik this week discussing the territory's economic future. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Leaders from across the Northwest Territories emerged from an economic development symposium in Inuvik on Wednesday with plans to form a working group aimed at continuing the conversation about how the territory's First Nations and communities can benefit from development.

About 60 people attended the symposium, which was announced last year by Premier Bob McLeod. Attendees included leaders from across the territory, including representatives from Indigenous groups and the territorial government.

McLeod said the symposium is particularly timely. In late 2016, the federal government placed a moratorium on Arctic drilling, leading McLeod to issue a "red alert."

Since then, the economy hasn't seen "balanced development," he said.

"We've been concerned about the economy of the Northwest Territories for some time," said McLeod.

"We are also working with the federal government on developing and providing input into the Arctic policy framework so this tied in very nicely with that. And I think we need to have a very serious discussion into the economic future of the Northwest Territories."

Discussions over the three-day event were closed to the public and media.

Minister of Infrastructure Wally Schumann said this is only the second assembly like this held since the N.W.T.'s devolution agreement in 2014.

'We have to work collaboratively'

For many Indigenous leaders, they say a gathering like this has been sorely needed.

"It's long overdue that this sort of meeting took place with that type of leadership, with the GNWT in the room as well," said Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.

"Everybody is optimistic that this will create opportunities as well as keeping more of the employment and benefits from developments within the territory."

The IRC, with the support of the N.W.T. government, is looking to develop natural gas from wells in the Beaufort Delta. McLeod said representatives from the Sahtu region had also expressed interest in developing natural gas resources.

Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels says much of the employment in his community is tied to the diamond mines, and decisions need to be made to prepare for a future after mining. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"We need to build up our economy in the North and, you know, the question is how?" said Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels. "And I think we've been trying to work our way around that, and how we can do this moving forward."

Daniels said his delegation didn't bring up as many concerns as others since "we are self-governing and we do have land claims."

Currently, many of the Tlicho work at the diamond mines, he said.

"In the future, as those mines start to close, we need other sources of revenue. So those are the things we have to start looking at," Daniels said.

Detah Chief Edward Sangris said having collaborative conversations is integral for the future of the northern economy.

"If we want to work together, we have to work collaboratively, all of the groups," he said. "We cannot leave one group behind because of the situation that they're in.

"It's essential that we do something now [instead of] when it's too late ... this is just one way of identifying what we need to do for the future."