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Assembly passes motion to review racial biases in the GNWT

Things are not what they should be in society because of racism, said Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos in the legislative assembly Wednesday, as she tabled a motion calling for a review of GNWT policies for racial and cultural bias. GNWT image

A motion was passed in the legislative assembly Wednesday calling on the GNWT to review its policies and practices for racial and cultural bias.

It urges a review of policies especially as they relate to education, health and social services, justice, housing and government hiring.

The motion – put forward by Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos and seconded by Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge – passed with 10 votes in favour, zero against and seven abstentions. Martselos gave notice about the motion on Monday.

Government House Leader R.J. Simpson said that under convention members of cabinet abstain from voting on recommendations to the government but in this case cabinet supports the principles of the motion.

Session about systemic racism

The debate and motion came during a themed session on systemic racism where MLAs and ministers spoke about their commitment to confront racism and dedicate resources to rooting out racism in government and society.

In supporting the motion, Bonnetrouge said “racist overtones” have impacted Indigenous people for too long.

“It's happening in my community at a specific institution that I've probably mentioned many times in the House and in meetings. And it's continuing to this day. I do support the motion,” he said.

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn, who recalled an offensive incident of racism in his childhood in the former town of Pine Point, commended Martselos' motion.

“We have nice words and well-worded documents (about opposing racism) but at the heart of it all is action. I hope all of my colleagues work really hard and back up our words with actions.”

Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler said the work of anti-racism isn't just for Indigenous people in the NWT but for black people as well.

“We all should make sure we have access to education, our justice system, our child welfare system – they're all intertwined. We need to make sure we have this motion here to move things forward and continue that momentum,” she said.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said that she commits to being an ally, to educating herself and checking her own privilege and she looks to her colleagues to help her do so.

Anti-racist momentum

Marteslos told the assembly that she tabled her motion in the context of the NWT, where half of the population is Indigenous and becoming more diverse and where Indigenous people have have faced colonialism and cultural genocide.

The GNWT has also accepted the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the calls to justice of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Martselos said.

Furthermore, there is growing public awareness of the effects of racism in society from the efforts of Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism organizations.

MLA recalls incident at SPCA

“I think it's an important motion and we have to recognize things aren't what they should be all of the time,” said Martselos.

She recounted an experience she said exemplified systemic racism which she had at the NWT SPCA in Yellowknife on Feb. 1 while trying to adopt a puppy. A member of the upper management at the shelter behaved in a “cold and microaggressive” way towards her, Martselos said.

“I've never had that happen to me and I've never felt that way in all of the years that I've lived in the NWT. I've been very fortunate. But many of the people I represent, especially the Indigenous people of Salt River First Nation and all the Indigenous organizations in the NWT – that's where you see the difference.”

NNSL Media has reached out the NWT SPCA for comment.

The GNWT has 120 days to provide a comprehensive response to the motion.