North

Reflecting on Yellowknife's 1st Indigenous relations advisor

The city of Yellowknife made history in September 2018 when it hired its first ever Indigenous relations advisor — but a year and a half later, the job has been eliminated. Now people are reflecting on the short-lived position. 

Position ended 18 months after it began when federal funding ran out

A file photo of Maggie Mercredi, the city's first Indigenous relations adviser. The position was ended in February 2020 when federal funding ran out. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

The city of Yellowknife made history in September 2018 when it hired its first-ever Indigenous relations advisor — but a year and a half later, the job has been eliminated. Now people are reflecting on the short-lived position. 

When the city announced the new role in June 2018, it noted there was only funding for 18 months from Indigenous Services Canada — but said it was looking into options to keep the position long-term.

The role officially ended on Feb. 21.

The position was intended to help improve the city's relationship with Indigenous people and governments, and embed reconciliation in its practices and decisions. Reconciliation has been highlighted as one of six core values in the city's 2019-2022 strategic priorities. 

Yellowknife is located on Chief Drygeese Territory, the traditional home of the Yellowknives Dene. And according to 2018 data from the NWT Bureau of Statistics, more than 24 per cent of the city's population is Indigenous. 

At a council meeting on March 2, Coun. Stacie Smith thanked Maggie Mercredi for her time in the job. 

Her position ended before it could even begin- Coun. Stacie Smith

"I just wanted to give recognition to the positive work that she had done for us with the starting of the conversation and really bringing to light what reconciliation actually is," Smith said.

Mercredi was "starting from scratch," Smith said, and put "a lot of tender love and care" into speaking with community members. That included work on the city's reconciliation action plan, which Mayor Rebecca Alty said is in the draft stage. 

"It's been a great opportunity to begin the discussion on reconciliation and our plan moving forward," Alty said.

Coun. Stacie Smith had fought to make the Indigenous relations advisor role permanent. (Submitted)

Smith, who is Tlicho and currently the only Indigenous member of city council, had fought to make the position permanent. During a council meeting on the 2020-2021 budget in December 2019, she proposed using city funding. But that plan was rejected by a majority of councillors and Smith was the only councillor to vote against the budget. 

"Maggie's role, what she was trying to put forth, it's not done, it's not completed and it's never going to be completed," Smith said. 

"Her position ended before it could even begin."

Maggie Mercredi declined an interview with CBC for this story.

Should be expanded to a committee: Smith

Smith is not alone in her disappointment. Social advocate Arlene Hache and Yellowknives Dene First Nation Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina have also spoken publicly in opposition to the city's decision to not extend the role.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty says the city will see with the anticipated reconciliation action plan what it will do in the future. (Katie Toth/CBC News)

When asked if she'd like to see the city reinstate the position, Smith said it should be expanded to a committee, noting the city's population is made up of many different First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Alty said the city will decide what to do in the future when the reconciliation action plan comes out. All city staff will be responsible for implementing the plan, she said, and different departments will take on specific initiatives to this effect. 

"The important thing is to ensure that the projects are moving forward, and if we come to any issues that we're working to resolve those." 

But Smith said she feels that is "doing to, rather than with" Indigenous people as she said there are few Indigenous people working at city hall. 

Yellowknife is located on Chief Drygeese Territory, the traditional home of the Yellowknives Dene. And according to 2018 data from the NWT Bureau of Statistics, more than 24 per cent of the city's population is Indigenous. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

Mayor Alty noted the city has worked with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation on a number of projects including a proposal to change the city's boundary, and events like the NAKA Festival and Hockey Day in Canada. The city also had its annual council-to-council meeting with the First Nation Tuesday afternoon. 

Smith did say she thinks the city's relationship with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation has improved. 

"I hope that city hall will also jump leaps and bounds to want to include and have more Indigenous voices within city hall and council."      

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Arlene Hache as Anne Hache.
    Mar 13, 2020 9:25 AM CT

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