For the past 50 years, elected Indigenous leaders in the Legislative Assembly have brought up over and over again the dire need to hire more Indigenous staff in the GNWT so that the public service is representative of the people it serves.

All the while, educated and experienced Indigenous persons applying for positions with the GNWT cross their fingers in hopes that they will get a job with the public service. When they don’t get hired, they hope their Indigenous representatives in the Legislative Assembly will change the systemic racism that keeps Indigenous people in the North out of their own public service. 

What happens instead is the Minister of the Human Resources at the time directs their staff to find data to justify why the numbers are so low for the hiring Indigenous people, citing a lack of education and training good enough to work for the GNWT public service. 

That’s why the GNWT cannot get past the 30 percent Indigenous representation mark in the public service. Why don’t they just apply the Affirmative Action Policy when hiring? That is what the policy is for, right? While the policy was “revised” in 2017, the revisions did not include solutions for fixing the problem.

Here’s what we know from the Public Service Annual Report: Indigenous representation in the public service is at 30 percent. Indigenous people make up about 51 percent of the population and therefore, they aren’t being properly represented at the public service level. 

Here’s what else we know, 12 per cent of the GNWT public service is made up of Indigenous non-Aboriginals but the GNWT does not know what their population is in the NWT and so we don’t know if they have achieved equal representation under the Affirmative Action Policy. 

What does this have to do with Indigenous representation in the public service? Well, in the nine years that I worked for the GNWT, the departments considered the hiring of Indigenous non-Aboriginal candidates as fulfilling their Affirmative Action obligations. 

Deputy ministers (DM) aren’t held responsible for their lack of hiring Indigenous people and that is evident by the low number of Indigenous employees in their departments. The Affirmative Action Policy also states that DMs are to develop and implement affirmative action plans. I did not see any of that done by any department in my time with the GNWT.

The Affirmative Action Policy also states that a review is to begin once a “target” group achieves equal representation. Without the population data of the Indigenous non-Aboriginals, the review cannot be triggered and it probably will not be triggered any time soon by the low employment of Indigenous people in the GNWT. 

It is my hope that the Affirmative Action Policy is scrapped for a true employment equity policy, one that doesn’t exclude Indigenous people and doesn’t give preference to those that, in any other jurisdiction, would not be considered affirmative action candidates.


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  1. Although I agree with the part of the article regarding the low numbers of Indigenous (P1’s) in the GNWT, I certainly would not like to see the Affirmative Action Policy scrapped. I think it needs to be revised to better ensure that P1’s are given the proper representation in hiring practices. Having worked in the GNWT, I too saw many non-Indigenous given preferential treatment in hiring. What I see is there is no watch dog to ensure those hiring are following the proper hiring protocols. We know that systemic racism is alive and well within the GNWT, so, obviously this interferes with appropriate hiring practices. Perhaps there should be a third party Indigenous Advisory Group that oversees how hiring is done, and that also should be a part of the appeal process. What I saw over the years is no accountability from HR or from the appeal process when it comes to hiring practices. I also heard of several non-Indigenous who claim Indigenous identity when applying for positions. Any person claiming Indigenous identity should provide the GNWT with identification from their respective First Nation, Metis or Inuit community. The issue of improper hiring practices can easily be solved, if the GNWT was interested in ensuring hiring policies are followed.

  2. I should have added to the article that I was the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at HR for two years. During my time there and many times I brought this clearly biased and illogical affirmative action policy to the attention of two DMs, Sheila Bassi Kellet and Bronwyn Watters, three Ministers, Robert C. McLeod, Tom Beaulieu, and Glen Abernethy. Not one of those senior managers stepped up to change a clearly racist system meant to increase the pay level and positions of only one group of people.
    The GNWT will continue to fall behind in its public service because the people they put in senior positions at HR don’t have the education to push the public service forward. The most senior employee of HR in the GNWT has a diploma in make up but she’s a P2 and while the GNWT says that there aren’t enough educated Indigenous people to fill positions, they are filling those same positions with P2s who have zero education applicable to the positions they are filling.
    I call on the Minister of Finance and Premier Cochrane to do something about this ridiculous affirmative action policy.

  3. What is an “indigenous non-aboriginal”? Honest question. It gets more and more confusing every day.

    Dividing people up into special interest groups by race is never a great idea, and as we can see, it doesn’t even benefit the people it is supposed to and becomes a lose-lose proposition.

  4. To Arlene Hache:
    Thanks for the examples – much appreciated. If this is truly happening ( and I don’t doubt what you have stated), then it is wrong. I suspect there are many other examples where southern woman (of any colour) are hired over a northern person. In the hiring process, how does the government get around the P1, P2 and P3 classification in these hires? I agree with the author that affirmative action should be scraped.

  5. A Northern Indigenous woman appealed a decision by the GNWT to hire a Southerner man who hadn’t been in the North more than two years. His interview revealed he didn’t even know there was a difference between First Nations, Inuit and Metis. Both people had exactly the same education and training qualifications, but he was white and had made inroads into the old boys club. In spite of the facts, and MLA intervention, bureaucrats dug their heels in claiming her resume was poorly written. They smugly offered to help her re-write it for the “next” job.

    Not that long ago, two other young, Indigenous women with degrees were refused employment in the GNWT or were kept in casual positions so they could never rely on whether or not their jobs were secure.

  6. We all cross our fingers when applying for GNWT jobs. I find that affirmative action is a form of racism. There are many experienced and educated males that are not considered or don’t apply. Would like to see the stats on how many “experienced and educated” Indigenous people apply for jobs and don’t get them.

  7. Well said Brenda, thanks for writing this positive and factual article, here in the Yukon, the hr advisors, screen out the indigenous and then YG posts that they are going to give preferential hiring to Indigenous, which never happens, the hr staff and most of YG is so prejudiced and it’s been condoned for so long, it’s the “norm” now, and no one wants to say anything because they fear for their jobs, the union, respectful workplace and human Rights do t and can’t do anything about it, I’ve been blacklisted on YG job applications, they’ll call back 4-5 times to “dig up dirt” so they have an excuse not to hire me,