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Covid-19 economic downturn hurting Indigenous men, Nokleby says

The NWT's January employment rate reached its highest level in more than a year but Indigneous people and especially Indigenous men are underrepresented, said Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby, in the legislative assembly on Wednesday. GNWT image

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby questioned on Wednesday whether the NWT’s rising employment rate is bringing women and Indigenous people into the workforce, particularly Indigenous men.

In the legislative assembly, Nokleby cited data from the January 2021 Labour Force Report that showed the territory’s employment rate that month was 65.8 per cent, the highest level in the last year, and the second highest in Canada, behind the Yukon.

The NWT’s unemployment rate was at 5.9 per cent, the lowest of any jurisdiction in the country.

Jobs for who?

“With all new jobs created, I can’t help but ask myself how many jobs go to priority hires, like women or Indigenous people,” Nokleby said.  

She also referred to statistics showing that the territory's Indigenous population has represented a stagnant 30 per cent of the GNWT workforce for decades, even though Indigenous people make up half of the NWT's population.

In response, Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Minister Caroline Wawzonek stated that in the period from January 2020 to January 2021 there were 239 affirmative action hires of Indigenous Aboriginal people, or 24.6 per cent of hires.

Women represented 67.9 per cent of affirmative action hires in that period.

Nokleby pointed to career advancement initiatives such as the Indigenous Career Gateway and regional recruitment programs and wondered about their effectiveness and how they measure success.

“Do we simply pat ourselves on the back for offering them without examining how effective  they are? We are anticipating the roll out of the GNWT’s new cultural awareness and sensitivity training. I hope it will remove barriers to advancement for Indigenous people.”

Gender-based analysis

The Great Slave MLA also asked how equal pay and promotion for women is playing out and how the new gender-based analysis lens is being applied across departments.

“The GNWT values and expects that there’s equal pay for work of equal value,” Wawzonek replied. “Gender doesn’t form part of considerations that go into job descriptions or salaries. The salary grid… doesn’t include gender.”

The ITI minister further explained that the gender-based analysis lens is now part of all decisions made in the Financial Management Board and all Department of Finance staff have received related training. Her department wants policy staff in other departments to also get that training.

Economic gains exclude Indigenous men

Nokleby then turned to the question of Indigenous male success in the workforce.

“We can’t talk about employment in the NWT without discussing how the economic downturn is also hurting Indigenous men. Industries that are traditionally male-dominated like recreation, forestry, fishing, mining and oil and gas are facing sharp declines due to the impacts of the coronavirus.

“Employment fell by 200 positions for men,” she said, referencing data from the January Labour Force Report, which conversely showed the employment rate for women rose by 5.5 per cent to 68.5 per cent, the highest since August 2019.

“What are we doing to ensure men have equal access to employment in the public and private sector? What is the GNWT doing to ensure that men have equal access to employment in sectors considered non-traditional for them?”

Men a secondary priority?

Men aren’t a designated priority group within the affirmative action policy, Wawzonek replied.

“They wouldn’t get an enhanced or additional focus in that regard. I acknowledge that indeed in the NWT and during Covid it was a lot of the traditional male areas that saw a lot job declines. Perhaps some further attention does need to get paid to that,” she said.

Wawzonek’s acknowledgement of the secondary attention given to men in the affirmative action policy comes just over three months after she addressed the same issue in the legislative assembly.

Addressing Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty on Nov. 4, 2020, the ITI minister said the policy targets Indigenous Aboriginal Northerners rather than Indigenous men and that if more Indigenous male Northerners were applying then there is more opportunity for them to be hired.

She said her department is look at other jurisdictions to incorporate best practices, such as in Nunavut, where a program exists to help young Inuit men succeed in the workforce.

The framework and implementation plans for departments would be completed in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, she said.