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.

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  1. I think the hiring practices are racist. However, likely in not the same way that is being presented. For example, Person A has a degree, several years of experience have lived in NWT for several years. Person A is hired based on experience and ability to do the job. This is challenged because the position, per policy, should have been given to someone from a priority group. The challenge is one based on hiring policy and someone with less education and experience and ability to do the job is then hired. Is this not systemic racism?

    1. According to Wikipedia “Institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, and education, among other issues” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_racism).

      Meaning that systematic racism is when a person feels that they are being racially discriminated throughout society or an organization not just a specific sector. Using the sectors the MLA’s want reviewed (i.e. education, health and social services, justice, housing and government hiring) system racism can be explained as a person experiencing the following or similar issues: 1.) not having the same access to education or supports to get an education, 2.) not have adequate health care benefits or disregarded based on their race (suggest reading up on what happened to Brian Sinclair in Winnipeg, 3.) more likely to be jailed or taken into custody based on their race, 4.) not having the same accessing to adequate housing or end up in a low-income housing, and 5.) less likely to get a job anywhere regardless of policies or in the case of the GNWT if they did not have the policy that you have mentioned the opposite would apply (i.e. the person with the same level of education and/or experience as other applicants is not considered based on their race).

      If the Person A that you have mention is experiencing racism through society or the organization that you have mentioned then perhaps they are facing systemic racism and I would suggest that they join the anti-racism momentum and look into the anti-racism organizations that is mentioned in the article.

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