Guest comment from Ambe Chenemu

As many Canadians from coast to coast to coast were celebrating and thinking about the New Year, I was thinking about the concept of employer affirmative action policies across our territory and particularly with the GNWT, which is the single largest employer in the territory.

GNWT prides itself as a government of diversity and inclusion and of a workforce that represents the people it serves. Who does its affirmative action policy really serve? Is this policy not being used to disguise its true purpose and suppress the true potential of Northerners? Whether this is truly the case is not for me to decide.

Ambe Chenemu is a planner with the Tlicho Government. photo courtesy of Ambe Chenemu.

Our government’s affirmative action policy offers priority hiring to “eligible designated groups” that are under-represented within the public service. What is the criteria to qualify as an eligible designated group?

According to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, the population of the NWT is sitting just under 45,000 and Indigenous Aboriginal Peoples constitute half of that number. Ironically, according to the GNWT Public Service Annual Report of August 2019, only 30 per cent of Indigenous Aboriginal Persons make up the GNWT workforce, while a staggering 59 per cent are non-Aboriginal Indigenous Persons and the remaining 11 per cent is made up of the “rest” which I will qualify to mean ineligible designated groups.

If the purpose of our government’s affirmative action policy is to advocate and give priority to under-represented groups, how then is 60 per cent of our public service represented by a group that is over-represented?

At the senior management level, only 20 per cent is made up of Indigenous Aboriginal Persons and even that is poor by any standards.

Creating an affirmative action policy is one thing and ensuring that it is serving the purpose it was intended for is another. It seems, looking at the statistics, that this policy is being used as a lip service by our government to defend its hiring responsibilities.

Even with the Diversity and Inclusion and Student Financial Assistance programs, most of our Northern youth do not seem to be benefitting from these programs as intended.

Need to move beyond lip service

Our young people are dropping out of middle school or using high school and to a lesser extent, trade programs and diplomas, mainly from Aurora College as a benchmark to qualify for entry level jobs. How are they supposed to get ahead and become leaders? Our government has to do better.

If GNWT continues with this lip service attitude and will not do more toward a practical implementation of the affirmative action policy, then I’m afraid we may never see a day when Aboriginal Peoples or the truly under-represented and what we could refer to as “minority”, will gain a fair representation in our public service. We will continue to steal away the true potential of a majority of young Northerners.

Our government has to do more to give young Northerners especially the opportunity to continue into post secondary and higher education, in order for them to truly take advantage of the hiring priority and into leadership positions. Instead, we are using affirmative action to staff primarily entry level positions and continue to hire folks that are already overrepresented to fill positions that truly matter at management levels. I am proposing five action item for a start:

• Government should immediately start looking at ways to improve the quality of K-12 education and graduation rates in our local communities
• Government should do more in marketing the northern context of education to increase the chances of direct admission into post secondary institutions in the south
• Government has to do more to create jobs in communities, which will provide residents and families in communities the opportunity to gain employment and reduce the rate of school dropout because of poverty and the burden of family responsibility
• Government has to recognize and take immediate actions to stop the damaging effects of alcoholism, substance abuse and trauma in our communities. We cannot allow this to continue destroying our potential leaders of tomorrow. We have to act now
• Government has to do more to increase the number of minority and under-represented groups at all levels of the public service, if it truly wants to be a representative employer of the people it serves.

If truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, adopting the UNDRIP and empowering Aboriginal Peoples and the minority of our society is truly on the agenda and priority of this government, then it is not too late to write a new script going in to this new decade.
Wishing you all a happy New Year!

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