Last week, we had two separate stories that both brought up the number of NWT-born, Indigenous workers currently employed, with Premier Caroline Cochrane praising how the Yukon-border crew for Covid-19 was entirely staffed by Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic residents and Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler noting the dial on Aboriginal employment in the public sector has not moved much, if at all, in 40 years.
While the premier is highlighting an excellent first-step in helping people take financial control of their own destiny, the problems Semmler highlights seem to be far more rampant. Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek told the Legislative Assembly in November that in spite of making up close to half the entire population of the NWT, only 30 per cent of the GNWT’s workforce has been Indigenous for decades —which you can split even further to find that 21 per cent are Indigenous women and only nine per cent of the workforce are Indigenous men. Only one out of every five senior managers is Indigenous.
Semmler notes there are tons of loopholes that enable a manager to close a job competition if they don’t get the candidate they want and re-run it until they get their preferred choice. She also concedes that oftentimes locally-born candidates have the experience needed to relate to the community they service, but may lack in the needed academic qualifications.
To get those qualifications requires travel south for education, which is only really possible if you can afford it and have the pre-requisites to get into a post-secondary institution, which requires a solid Grade 12 education with strong core subjects. Plus you have to be able to afford to move and live in a totally different place while you pursue your degree or diploma in the field you eventually want to come back and work for the GNWT in.
This is an entire universe away from what the “fly-in, fly-out” portion of the population who have come up here to fill these jobs experience. I’ll use myself as an example — all I needed to do to get qualifications was figure out where in Edmonton I needed to register for the classes. Moving into the field of journalism was also fairly straightforward — I applied to a program and completed it.
Contrast this to someone who was born here, lives here and expects to be buried here. Even when the economy is booming, there are only so many jobs to go around and so many bridges available. Someone who has had a spate of back luck with jobs could find themselves blacklisted. Isolated in the Beaufort Delta, job opportunities could dry up over one’s lifetime. The lack of opportunities effectively becomes a trap.
How do we get out of this viscous cycle? Certainly more emphasis on education is key, but youth growing up have to see a use for said education to want to pursue it. So we also need more Beaufort-born biologists, project managers, politicians and professionals of all stripes so youth have ideas to inspire them.
All this requires political will to put the money where it needs to be. So I’m glad our current government is taking this issue seriously.