Sunday night, I attended the political forum put on by Dene Nahjo at the Tree of Peace in Yellowknife. Moderated by Dëneze Nakehk'o with a focus on indigenous issues, there were the candidate statements, a number of questions, and the audience got to ask a few. (Also a Facebook Live Feed) I didn’t get to ask my question so I will now.
My question was about the downtown sobering center and shelter of which Northern News Services is the landlord. I was going to start off by saying the GNWT bureaucracy, the Yellowknife city administration, even the federal government to a certain extent, have made progress with the various housing programs: SideDoor, Hope’s Haven, the Salvation Army, Bailey House, Lynn Brooks' Safe Place for Women, Yellowknife Women’s Society and its Street Outreach program, the ride program and the sobering center. Despite these achievements, there is a major hole in the strategy - the lack of involvement of Indigenous governments and organizations.
Numbers in the latest report confirm the majority of the people accessing these services are Indigenous (90 percent). As are the majority of people in the North Slave Correctional Center. These are people failed by our educational system (residential schools), our economic system (high unemployment) our government policy (Indian Act). These failures have all been formally acknowledged by Canadian politicians, governments, academics and the United Nations.
In the face of such overwhelming evidence, it seems misguided to expect the institutions that served up these failed policies to fix the very problems they caused. No matter how hard they may try, even how much money they may spend, how much they care, three levels of non-indigenous governments cannot heal what they don’t understand.
So my question to the candidates was going to be: How are you going to convince the GNWT bureaucracy to admit it doesn’t have the inherent capacity to do the job properly, that the goal should be to ensure Indigenous involvement in healing the trauma and addictions plaguing their population? Would that not be a true act of reconciliation? There is the Tree of Peace, the Dene Nation, the Native Women's Association, the North Slave Métis Alliance and the Wellness Camp for starters. There are Indigenous governments from the Beaufort Delta to Fort Smith.
This cannot be a downloading of responsibilities to Indigenous governments and organizations. No, there must be a significant transfer of money. The GNWT, City of Yk and federal government have taken a bite out of the tremendous costs of arresting, court trials and jailing people just looking for a safe place to go while dealing from their addictions and trauma. Every dollar invested in the delivery of Indigenous based prevention, care, and healing services will probably save $10 in the Canadian ‘justice’ system, if not more.
A man died outside the sobering center a few weeks ago, a senseless act of violence. The same thing happens too often in our NWT communities, as headlines in the paper, year in, year out show. By enlisting the considerable power and influence of the GNWT political and bureaucratic leadership, money can be found to turn things around.
There are two more nights left at the Dene Nahjo political forums. I urge you to show up and let the candidates know it’s time for real change. Aside from that, tonight is stew night. I fed my son the chili and bannock provided. He gave a thumbs up after two bowls.