North·Point of View

An open letter to N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane

Ambe Chenemu says he is at a crossroads, faced with a decision many northerners have had to make at some point while living here — to stay or to leave.

Resident Ambe Chenemu tells his new premier what he needs in order to stay in the territory

One N.W.T. resident has a list of things he needs in order to stay in the Northwest Territories, and he wants Premier Caroline Cochrane to read it. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Dear Premier Caroline Cochrane,

Congratulations on your election as the premier of the N.W.T. and the second woman in that role.

This year's territorial election put forward the first legislature in Canada with the highest number of female MLAs, the first female-majority cabinet, and the only female premier in the country at the moment. 

These are exciting times for our territory, not only for the many young women who now look up to you, but also for all northerners living in anxiety about the economic future of our territory. 

As someone who moved here more than six years ago, found work, and fell in love with the Northwest Territories and its people, I have now come to a crossroads and am faced with an important decision many northerners have had to make at some point while living here — whether to stay or to leave.

I can't stay if the cost of living keeps rising.- Ambe Chenemu

This line of conversation has become the new normal among friends, colleagues and even new acquaintances.

Why should it have to be this way? Why do we feel forced to move away from something we want to be a part of? Why are we losing good and talented folks to the pursuit of a better life somewhere else?

Here is the deal Premier Cochrane — like many northerners at crossroads, I would like to stay but that decision is heavily dependent on the next moves of your government: 

  • I can't stay if the cost of living keeps rising;
  • I can't stay if your government will not invest my hard-earned tax dollars in creating jobs and growing the economy;
  • I can't stay if your policies are aggressive on new businesses and shut down existing ones;
  • I can't stay when fundamental needs such as proper childhood education, childcare and universal daycare services and infrastructure have become a privilege, instead of a basic right available to all children and families across the North;
  • I can't stay if your government cannot invest on improving the quality of education in smaller communities, including at the post-secondary level;
  • I can't stay if your government cannot work with Indigenous peoples to settle outstanding land claims and strengthen existing relationships;
  • I can't stay if our communities continue to live in poverty and in very challenging social conditions;
  • I can't stay if nothing is done toward improving and increasing affordable housing, especially for seniors;
  • I can't stay if this government fails to introduce the incentives necessary to attract immigration to our territory, and most importantly;
  • I can't stay when the pursuit of happiness is no longer possible.

When I travel to other parts of the country, which I do fairly regularly, it is shocking how often I have to clarify that the Northwest Territories is not in the Yukon nor is it part of Nunavut. 

What is our hallmark? Our identity? What are we known for? When are we going to get on the map? Let our when be now.

Let this government — your government — get us on the map. Let it be a government we can rely on, a government that will bring us together, a government of hope, growth and prosperity, a government that works for the people, that keeps its place in the lead, and a government that northerners like myself would want to stay for. 

Least to say, you have your work cut out for you.

I'm still at the crossroads watching and waiting. 

Good luck, Premier Cochrane.

About the Author

Ambe Chenemu is a planner with the Tłı̨chǫ Government in the Northwest Territories. He holds a bachelor's degree in law and a diploma in natural resources management. He has experience working with local Indigenous governments in the N.W.T. to support strategic planning, plan implementation and Indigenous rights to consultation, self-government and natural resources management.


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