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Enterprise entrepreneur gets into tense Facebook exchange with ITI minister Nokleby

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Katrina Nokleby, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, left, speaks in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, with education minister RJ Simpson, on the right. screengrab image

A self-described Aboriginal business owner has called out cabinet minister Katrina Nokleby in a Facebook post over alleged non-communication and lack of accountability related to her failed business, and she elicited a response from Nokleby.

Posting in the NWT Politics and Society group on Aug. 4, Lisa Thurber-Tsetso said the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) and Nokleby’s “unfair treatment and foreclosure of an Aboriginal tourism business in the NWT proves your lack of concern and recognition of changes that need to be made under your responsibility as minister to ensure Aboriginal businesses in all 33 communities are considered priority over non-Aboriginals.”

In 2014, Thurber-Tsetso cashed in her pension to purchase a business that would become Lisa's Place, the only gas station in Enterprise. But after a long and expensive process full of red tape, the Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC), a territorial Crown corporation, foreclosed on her business last year. Nokelby, as ITI minister, is responsible for the BDIC.

Lisa Thurber in happier times,after opening Lisa;'s Place in 2014. NNSL file photo
Lisa Thurber-Tsetso said she has been trying to speak with Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby for 10 months in relation to her former business Lisa's Place that was foreclosed in 2019.
NNSL file photo

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In a follow-up post to the group, she quoted Nokleby’s email response, in which the minister said she has been working to set up a meeting, but that “in light of your Facebook post, I do not feel that this will be a safe space nor productive.

“It is unfortunate that you did not want to wait for an opportunity to discuss this with me personally before you decided to take it to social media," read Nokleby's post. "I apologize that you feel that your issues have not been dealt with properly by the department but I can only answer for the time in which I’ve been in office. During which I have been very busy with issues such as Covid.”

Thurber-Tsetso added in the post that she has spent 10 months trying to speak with the minister about her foreclosed Enterprise business, with no success.

“I should have used social media sooner, but was giving (Nokleby) time and opportunity to review all documents,” Thurber-Tsetso wrote on Facebook.

“The minister was just in Hay River and Enterprise, and no one reached out to me. She even sat in (Hay River South MLA Rocky) Simpson's office and couldn't call me. That is why I went to social media, I have given plenty of opportunities and only asked for a phone call to hear my side,” Thurber-Tsetso added in a comment, referring to Nokleby's visit to Hay River on July 22.

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Nokleby joined the fray, adding to an already tense thread, saying that she has corresponded with Tsetso for the last 10 months but stated that she won't present a “one-sided story” on social media.

She added that Thurber-Tsetso is free to utilize the appeals process through the BDIC.

In an interview with NNSL Media on Aug. 5, Thurber-Tsetso said it’s not true that Nokleby has corresponded with her. Rather, she has only been told that the minister would eventually hold a meeting with her.

“I’ve been dealing with this right from the start. Like (for) months, Simpson has told me, ‘She'll call you. She’ll call you.’”

The only time a meeting was scheduled was in March, but it was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Since then, I've asked for just a phone call. You can't get the side of somebody's story without talking to them. I’m an Aboriginal person, that’s how I do business," she said. "They make more promises to me, but they did nothing. And I can prove that.”

She has tried going through the BDIC appeals process in the past but she said the agency referred her to its lawyer, who sent her back to the BDIC, leaving a thick trail of paperwork but few results.

Among the many questions Thurber-Tsetso wants answered, one concerns the different way her business venture was treated by ITI compared to Simpson’s Concept Energy, based in Hay River, which has owed the BDIC $1.8 million.

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“Rocky Simpson was allowed to be in arrears and for millions of dollars for months and months and months, and then sell off his assets and keep some of it. And yet I wasn't given a month to do anything. No help, no assistance. They only gave me assistance in 2014. Why? Why was I never given any further assistance, or referred to Community Futures or CanNor? They just gave me nothing.”

But above all, Thurber-Tsetso wants accountability from the government for what she views as unfulfilled duties.

“(Nokleby’s) department has done wrong. And it is her job as a minister to hold it accountable, and make sure (ITI officials) understand what their role is as economic development officers and lenders, and what their program is for and that they stay within their policy and guidelines,” she said.

NNSL Media has reached out to Nokleby for comment on the issues raised and is awaiting a response.