The budget just passed with one MLA opposed tells the sad story of the NWT for the past 56 years.
The civil service spends billions to make itself better and the compliant MLAs complain then rubber stamp the checks. The welfare state outside of Yellowknife gets a few tweaks in weak acknowledgment of human dignity, while people wheel around the centers of our cities, towns and hamlets, raging against the unseen machine that denies their worth.
One by one, cabinet stands praising themselves for all the essays they had written over the past year that became government policy and legislation. Grand pronouncements on how they are working to house people, heal people, educate people.
Proclaiming alliances and policies that bear little fruit
They pretend to ally themselves with Indigenous governments and pay homage to UNDRIP and reconciliation, (“Words with no spine!” declared one Dene commentator) further constructing their gleaming castle in the sky.
Castle is the apt image because the GNWT acts like a creature of colonialism, a system of economic exploitation, and unfortunately, contributing to a cultural genocide to which the Pope confessed.
We are all complicit in this, from cabinet to MLAs, to Indigenous government leaders, academics and the voters. I and my fellow settlers are the tools of colonialism, enjoying great careers and income, as are the Indigenous leaders who accept their colonial roles, enjoying great careers and income.
Housing numbers show where we are failing
There is no shame in who we are, only shame if we refuse to recognize what we can do better on housing, healing and education for the communities.
Despite our best words and efforts over the past 53 years, there are 2.900 NWT families in decrepit public housing, 1000 families waiting to get into that decrepit public housing, over 500 more who have broken the rules and can’t get on the waiting list for decrepit public housing. “I don’t know what to say,” said one MLA when informed by the NWT Housing minister the housing wait list in one of the communities was three to seven years.
And yet for the past 60 years, MLAs have approved budgets that spend less than five percent of the territorial budget on housing. The percentage spent on on-the-land healing, the main recommendation of a 2013 gold panel forum on addictions, doesn’t even register.
That is the bad news but there is good news
So that’s the bad news. The good news is we have built a government machine (operated by 6,500 well-paid civil servants) fueled by a $2.5 billion annual revenue stream.
The purpose of that machine, faithfully financed by Canadian workers and businesses, is to make life better for the original land owners – the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit – as they join the Canadian nation.
Why else would the GNWT exist? The mines, the only truly private industry, don’t need us and never have. We are here to get paid and serve the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit.
The other good news is democracy.
The Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit, who welcomed us settlers, are different peoples with different land bases, cultures and histories but they share depressed economies, poor housing, and the appalling experience of residential schools, going back generations.
Where else in Canada do Indigenous people make up half the population?
It’s time the power of their vote is put to good use. What we need are 10 MLA candidates representing Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit interests with a mandate to take over that GNWT machine and make it work for all Northerners, not just the ones running the machine.
I want to be part of that new government in October 2023.