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GNWT staffer answers column on affirmative action

NNSL Media Publisher Bruce Valpy

NNSL Media Publisher Bruce Valpy
NNSL Media Publisher Bruce Valpy

Publisher's note – A rule in journalism, based on no science, is that for every Letter to the Editor there are countless people who feel the same. I hope this letter in response to my column last week headlined – The urban myth of P1 job candidates taking jobs from southerners holds true to that. It was obviously written by a knowledgeable, caring GNWT employee who wants very much to deliver better results to the people they serve. I suspect there are thousands like this person in the GNWT who are kept silent by a job confidentiality agreement that silences all but elected officials far removed from the front lines. Hopefully, more such civil servants will contribute to the conversation, anonymity guaranteed.

Dear editor,
I am writing the following Letter to the Editor anonymously. As a current GNWT employee I don't think it is proper for me to identify myself considering the role that the Affirmative Action policy has in the life of all GNWT employees, however I still thought my views might be of interest to the Yellowknifer on this issue. Thanks for your consideration.

In the March 8 issue of News/North, Bruce Valpy said we needed more from our Government in terms of including Indigenous community members in the ranks of the civil service. As one of the 'southern' hired as we are called, I couldn't agree more. But there is more to the issue than Mr. Valpy identifies in his opinion piece.

While I originally moved North many years ago due to the good salaries, opportunities, and adventure; I have stayed in the NWT as I believe in the work of the GNWT to create a better place for all Northerners. With that said, something that perpetually causes me annoyance is the GNWT's and our Indigenous and non-Indigenous population's obsession with the Affirmative Action policy as "the" tool for increasing Indigenous participation in the public service. The policy has been in place for decades and the numbers haven't budged. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to try something new.

The Affirmative Action policy will only work to increase Indigenous representation when there are Indigenous candidates qualified for the roles available in the communities (usually Yellowknife) where positions are available. In basic economic parlance, the GNWT has been trying to solve a supply side problem of not enough qualified Indigenous candidates who live in the capital city; by putting in place an Affirmative Action policy, something that solves a demand issue by saying Indigenous candidates are wanted and open for hiring.

The GNWT needs to build an education system from JK through post-secondary that provides real opportunities for Indigenous peoples from small communities to get university Bachelor and Masters degrees which are the qualifications required for most GNWT jobs. There is a reason most Indigenous employees in the GNWT are in administrative roles. These are the jobs for which they are qualified.

After providing the educational opportunities the GNWT needs to provide people the opportunities and tech capacity to work online from their home communities. Until these things happen it doesn't matter how much focus is placed on an Affirmative Action policy, the numbers of Indigenous people in the public service won't budge! And even these solutions are 20 year solutions, not 2 year solutions. COVID has shown the GNWT and the world that working remotely is possible.

It is time to use the digital infrastructure that makes it possible for people to work remotely, including for the GNWT, from all of our small communities. Give people the chance to make a living without having to pick up their lives and move to Yellowknife.

I believe strongly that the NWT has the potential to be an example to the rest of Canada, showing that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can work closely together to build a better society and country. But this will only happen when real and meaningful opportunities for learning, and earning qualifications are available in the North. Until education and career opportunities are made available where people live, and they are supported on their education journey with all the social support that entails, I am afraid that every new Legislative Assembly will continue to rehash this same old and tired debate of how the Affirmative Action policy needs to be reviewed.