It’s been an interesting couple of years for me since getting elected in 2019, and then my unceremonious exit from the Legislative Assembly two years later during an unprecedented pandemic. No doubt many of you are thinking I’ll be sulking in a corner somewhere acting like a bitter Quasi Modo but I won’t. Not even! I am still committed to finding ways to make life better for all of us, even if I am no longer an MLA. I will start by writing and getting my thoughts and ideas out on paper.
I want to talk a little bit about the state of politics in our beloved territory and pose a question to you right off the bat: Do you know what the difference is in how we choose our premier and how they choose the Pope in the Vatican? Absolutely nothing. In the case of the latter, a conclave of high-ranking clergy called cardinals cast secret ballots amongst themselves to choose the nest pope.
Switch to our esteemed Legislative Assembly. When MLAs choose our Premier, it is the EXACT same thing. When a new election is called in the NWT, the 19 new elected MLAs have to choose amongst themselves who is the worthiest of holding the title of “Premier of the Northwest Territories” shortly after being elected into office. From there a public session is held and the votes are scurried off and secretly counted by black robed public servants. Once the votes are tallied, the NWT has a new Premier and executive council. In my opinion this is the wrong way for a democracy to choose its leaders. I firmly believe there is a better way to select our Premier and cabinet and it ought to be letting the people decide rather than 19 members of an exclusive club called the Legislative Assembly. I did broach this subject while in office but that idea died quickly. I won’t say who quashed those plans but you can understand that a great many of my colleagues and the staff behind the scenes don’t want the system to change.
My suggestion? We need to seriously revisit party politics in the NWT. This would allow for a more representative view of how the people feel about who our leaders should be at the Territorial level and give much needed accountability to our public officials. We are losing a significant amount of money in the North due to poor management and cronyism. The government is up to the gills in debt. We even have a lot of GNWT workers that are allowed to work outside the NWT, without contributing anything to our communities. A party system will let us have a healthier push and pull relationship within our legislature and let non-cabinet MLA’s have more resources to properly do their jobs. This isn’t happening at the moment.
I have heard both sides for and against a party politics system. A lot of that has to do with the false notion that parties are colonial institutions that will hurt Indigenous peoples and their communities. As an Indigenous person who has experience in the consensus system and indigenous governance, I can say firmly that this is a deep misconception and its usually supported by longstanding leaders who have entrenched themselves in the way the GNWT does business and don’t want the gravy train to stop rolling. Indigenous People in the NWT are constantly let down by the GNWT and it’s Leaders. Look to the state of land claims and the complete failure of the GNWT to make any real progress you if need evidence of that. Furthermore, how many of the NWT’s Indigenous self-governments use the consensus system? The answer is a big fat zero. We need to open our eyes to the fact that our system is broken and that needs to change.
I know there will be many who see my arguments as little more than sour grapes. Look, I am the first to acknowledge that I made mistakes during my time as an MLA. Mistakes that cost me my job and the respect of many Northerners. I am deeply regretful for how things played out but please believe me when I say that my heart was always in the right place and continues to be as I try to educate people on how our secretive system of public government works in the NWT. – SN
Mi’gmaq and Wolastoqey chiefs and many others across the province called for a public inquiry into systemic racism against Indigenous Peoples in New Brunswick’s criminal justice and policing sectors. In December 2020, when asked to support a motion in the legislature calling for a public inquiry, the government refused.
“There’s not a single American Indian, Alaskan Native, or Native Hawaiian in this country whose life hasn’t been affected by these schools,” Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said during the press conference about the investigation and report last week.“That impact continues to influence the lives of countless families, from the breakup of families and tribal nations, to the loss of languages and cultural practices and relatives. We haven’t begun to explain the scope of this policy until now.”
As an Indigenous child growing up in the 1960s I experienced racism first hand, especially when I started going to a public school in Midland, Ontario. Name calling directed at me by non-native classmates such as dirty savage, wagon burner, scalper, rapist, mongrel, devil worshiper, pagan and heathen are just some of the names etched in my mind from fifty plus years ago. Needless to say, I was not only hurt but shocked by those derogatory terms. They were all totally alien to me. I remember thinking that the parents of these students must be very racist. Forgiven but not forgotten, I would have hoped that those students of that time would have learned that racism has no place in a multi-national country such as Canada. Sadly, white superiority has held its ground for many. In short, even in 2017 racism is alive and well. Lest it be thought that I have misgivings and adversity towards my non-scone brothers and sisters from other mothers (Non-Native), such is not the case, I have come to know many non-Native people of all walks of life who have taken the time learn about the plight and struggles of the Indigenous people, and as a result support us in seeking moral justice, especially racial intolerance. Racism in Canada? Don’t take my word for it. There is a collective denial by most of the Canadian public that there little or no racism in the country. Ask the average person on the street. Better still ask an Indigenous person if he or she has ever experienced racism or discrimination. Chances are it may have happened, either subtly or outright. An example would be first come, but last served in a restaurant. Only after hearing or reading such testimony, you will be more inclined to believe and recognize that racism is everywhere, not only towards Aboriginal peoples but also other minorities! We don’t have an Indigenous problem; we don’t have a black problem; we don’t have an Asian problem, we have a white problem.Racism begins at home. If the parents or grandparents are intolerant of other races, the children may follow that negative attitude. Outside the home, the education system is a little more subtle, in that it only teaches about the accomplishments of the white race; accomplishments for people of color are trivialized or simply disregarded. Promotions, in businesses, police services and military are very rarely made. Racism can also be found within the judicial system, for examples, policing, courts, defense attorneys, crown attorneys, judges, jury selection, provincial (i.e. former Ontario Premier Mike Harris) and federal governments, (i.e. former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and more recently U.S.A. President Donald Trump), hospitals, entertainment companies, restaurants, clubs, universities, colleges, high schools, public schools, employment agencies, child care agencies, health care agencies, and corporations, to name but a few examples of systemic and outright racism. Regarding racism within the Canadian judicial system Robynne Susan Neugebauer's CRIMINAL INJUSTICE - Racism in the Criminal Justice System ( Canadian Scholars' Press, Jan 1, 2000 - Social Science - 374 pages) is an excellent source to find out much racism there is in the Canadian judicial system. The book "examines racism within the process of criminal justice.The contributors to this anthology argue that the differential treatment of people of colour and First Nations peoples is due to systemic racism within all levels of the criminal justice system, which serves these dominant classes." "Ideological and cultural changes are preconditions for the success of anti-racist policies and practices within the criminal justice system and within other state institutions. Recommendations for transformations in justice policy and practice are provided. Robynne Neugebauer is Assistant Professor in Sociology at York University. Her research and teaching focus on criminology, policing, inequality in criminal justice, and wife assault. It is only through open discussions about racism and collective actions by both the victim and victimizer that racism can be learned and reduced. Racism will never be eliminated. I am hoping to be one of the speakers at an Anti-racism conference at the University of Toronto sometime this spring. My focus will be on how we, in the spirit of brother-hood and sister-hood, can all help to make anti-racism work. I will keep you posted.