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Answer to a complaint from a civil servant in the GNWT

Bruce_Valpy (1)

Legislative Assembly of the NWT
Legislative Assembly of the NWT. Picture courtesy NWT Legislative Assembly

I recently ran into a GNWT worker downtown Yellowknife where I often hang out. This person didn’t like my column last week - The big reveal about the GNWT in the Katrina Nokleby affair.

I  have known this person for many years. When they stopped me with a fixed stare, I listened to their complaint. Essentially, they said my column was "unfair." The GNWT workforce mirrored any workforce in terms of slackers and keeners. They knew lots of people who worked tirelessly during COVID. “The payroll department was working hard,” I joked. They didn’t think that was funny. 

I heard other stories about some GNWT workers during COVID spring and summer. Decks were being built, landscapes cared for, a general sprucing up of GNWT homes. I am all for this as it increases the general value of Northern real estate and is good for Northern businesses at a critical time. So we can agree due to pandemic circumstances, some people were carrying a heavy load, mainly essential services, while many were carrying a lighter load in the non-essential services. 

I can accept that my judgement of GNWT staff was unfair to an unknown quantity of hard workers. My friend works hard, I am sure. Modern journalism ethics demands if one person is maligned, that is unacceptable, so an apology is owed. I agree and apologize to those people. My friend also insisted they consider themself a 'civil servant' rather than a 'bureaucrat.' I promise not to use the 'B' word in print again about GNWT staff.

However, working hard doesn’t add up to progress if the right goals are not set and without proper plans to achieve real results  The GNWT has a mandate set by the MLAs. The previous assembly had hundreds of mandate items. This time, they settled on a pared down list of things to do. I propose the following list adapted from Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson's speech in the assembly Aug. 25, 2020:

  1. Reduce rates of Indigenous people being incarcerated
  2. Reduce rates of Indigenous children being placed in foster care
  3. Reduce high rates of addictions and increase treatment support options
  4. Increase housing supply for Indigenous communities
  5. Increase employment for Indigenous workers
  6. Encourage Indigenous-owned businesses
  7. Increase Indigenous graduation rates 

That’s my answer to my GNWT friend, the civil servant. Imagine if the total talent, intellect, education and experience of over 5,000 civil servants were committed and focused on this mandate.

Developing an Indigenous economy and workforce would lift everybody. Healthy communities and healthy families would be able to grow, be happier, more self-reliant and more productive than they can now.  

History traces the transfer of most of the responsibility for the lives of Northern Indigenous people from what was once the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Ottawa to the GNWT. How much has changed except geography? DIAND staff were far better off than the people they were supposed to help, a lot of the funding went to their salaries, and the same is true of the GNWT. What is different, or should be different, is that we have a majority of Indigenous leaders in charge. The Indigenous population has yet to see a widespread and significant benefit of that representation.

So while I stand corrected by my friend about the efforts of GNWT workers, I can’t accept they are accomplishing any more than did the ugly and colonial federal department that came before them.