This is page numbers 2299 - 2340 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was indigenous.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:31 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 2299

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Honourable Premier.

Minister's Statement 126-19(2): Systemic Racism
Ministers' Statements

Page 2299

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories has a moral and ethical obligation to root out racism in our institutions. This obligation extends beyond the overt, visible, and obvious acts of hate and violence that we can easily see and condemn. It includes the subtle, hidden, systemic racism that persists in legislation, policies, and practices.

Systemic racism is real. It exists in the Northwest Territories, and it exists in our government. Some of our institutions, policies, and practices continue to disadvantage or discriminate against black, Indigenous, and people of colour. We continue to see examples of people facing discrimination based on their national origin, race, religion, ethnicity, and culture. It is an uncomfortable truth, but one that we must fearlessly acknowledge and confront if we want to change.

Mr. Speaker, the mandate of the Government of the Northwest Territories 2019-2023 identifies implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as one of our priorities. Done within the constitutional framework of Canada, this work will advance reconciliation, but it is not possible if we do not acknowledge and take tangible steps to eliminate systemic racism.

The United Nations' declaration sets the stage very clearly, "that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic, or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable, and socially unjust."

The Government of the Northwest Territories is taking steps to ingrain these principles into our legislation, policies, and institutions. In December, we announced the results of our work with the Intergovernmental Council: an innovative legislative development protocol, the first of its kind in Canada, that provides opportunities for the collaborative development of land and resource statutes and regulations for the Government of the Northwest Territories and Indigenous governments.

Mr. Speaker, the decisions we make as a government must reflect our commitment to reconciliation and the affirmation and advancement of Indigenous rights and self-determination. We must foster constructive and respectful government-to-government relationships with Indigenous partners and seek ways to advance reconciliation, recognize and affirm Indigenous rights, and support expanded program and service delivery. We also continue to respond to the calls for justice in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, we are firmly committed to addressing systemic racism in the Government of the Northwest Territories. We are committed to learning from the mistakes of the past, and moving on from colonial and outdated ways of thinking. We must embrace the principles of the United Nations declaration and the principles of anti-racism in the way that we approach all of our mandate commitments.

There are some instances where the path forward seems more obvious, like when we talk about settling and implementing treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements or in our ongoing work with justice, education, and health; but we must also be vigilant in everything that we do, to ensure we do not inadvertently continue to perpetuate the past.

This Cabinet has and continues to update the way we review, discuss, and consider the items that come before us. Mr. Speaker, we have formalized and strengthened the presence of gender and diversity in our financial and policy decisions. I encourage every Minister and every Member of the Legislative Assembly to embrace the principles of the United Nations declaration and the principles of anti-racism in every decision that you make.

When I worked in social services, I could see the impact that systemic racism has, and eliminating it is a cause that I fully endorse. I do this knowing that the path ahead will be long and difficult. Undoing years of systemic racism against Black, Indigenous, and people of colour will take time. Change will be incremental, but I am determined.

I know there is a lot of great work happening across government, and I look forward to my colleagues sharing examples of the work they are doing to address systemic racism. I am encouraged and inspired by the progress being made, but I acknowledge there is much more to do. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 126-19(2): Systemic Racism
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Honourable Premier. Ministers' statements. Minister of Finance.

Minister's Statement 127-19(2): Anti-Racism Campaign
Ministers' Statements

Page 2299

Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to providing a safe and inclusive workplace for all its employees. This includes educating our public servants on how racism can manifest itself in the workplace. Racism is a belief in a hierarchy of human value. It is a belief, conscious or unconscious, that some people are worth more than others. Racism is easy to see when it takes the form of specific acts of hate and violence, but systemic racism hides in plain sight. It is the kind of racism where the power of one racial group is exhibited and upheld over others in institutions, including schools, law enforcement, healthcare, and a workplace.

By contrast, anti-racism is about acknowledging the inherent privilege held by certain racial groups over others. Anti-racism is about speaking up when you see racism in action and educating those around you about the benefits of diversity within our communities and workplaces. It is about yielding positions of power to those who are otherwise marginalized, advocating for policies that break down systems of oppression, and promoting not only equality but equity. In addition to the work under way to implement mandatory cultural awareness training, the Department of Finance will launch an anti-racism campaign.

The Department of Finance will launch this anti-racism campaign to run between March 16th and April 21st that will encourage all GNWT employees to challenge their beliefs and attitudes around racism. The goal of this campaign is to encourage employees to learn about anti-racism so they can take steps to stand against systemic racism and stand up for marginalized persons within our communities. We recognize that, in order to eliminate systemic racism in the NWT, we must build a culture of anti-racism within the public service.

[English translation not available]

Minister's Statement 127-19(2): Anti-Racism Campaign
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Minister's Statement 128-19(2): Anti-Indigenous Racism in Health Care
Ministers' Statements

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to voice my commitment as Minister of Health and Social Services, as a Member of this Legislative Assembly, and as a resident of the Northwest Territories to address racism in all its forms in the NWT Health and Social Services system. Throughout the Northwest Territories, the Health and Social Services system works to provide quality services for all NWT residents: care that is respectful, responsive, and accessible. However, research shows that Indigenous peoples experience a disproportionate amount of negative health and social outcomes in comparison to non-Indigenous people. It is our responsibility as a government to address this inequity directly by making sure that all aspects of the Health and Social Services system are culturally respectful and safe for Indigenous peoples. This also includes respecting Indigenous understandings of health and wellness and finding ways to accommodate traditional healing in our system.

Mr. Speaker, leadership at all levels is critical in taking the steps necessary to address racism in the Health and Social Services system and is essential to sustain it. The need for coordinated leadership is one reason I appreciated the opportunity to participate in recent national dialogues to address Anti-Indigenous Racism in Canada's Health Care Systems. The meeting included 500 people from across the country and offered a powerful opportunity for governments and organizations to listen, reflect, and consider ways to advance this work at the national, provincial, and territorial level.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Health and Social Services established a division dedicated to addressing Indigenous health disparities and included a priority focus on cultural safety eight years ago. Staff conducted research and worked collaboratively with Indigenous residents, knowledge holders, and leaders to set our strategic vision to meet our overall goal of ensuring that clients and their families feel safe, respected, and free from racism and discrimination when they access our Health and Social Services system.

Mr. Speaker, in 2019, the department advanced this work with the release of the Cultural Safety Action Plan. Grounded in community voices, the action plan took a "nothing about us without us" approach. Over 30 meetings were held across the NWT over about nine months. The action plan includes 27 actions organized under four key themes:

  • create an organizational culture of cultural safety;
  • strengthen staff capacity to deliver culturally safe care;
  • honour traditional knowledge and healing approaches in care; and
  • improve client and community experience.

Mr. Speaker, since the release of the action plan, the department has worked to pilot 13 cultural safety training sessions. The pilots included content on Indigenous medicine teachings, Indigenous experiences of residential schools and inter-generational impacts, and understanding racism at interpersonal and systemic levels. Approximately 225 Health and Social Services system employees participated in these pilots.

The department is now developing an NWT cultural safety framework, which will be reviewed by the Indigenous Advisory Board and Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Leadership Council. Once finalized, I will share it with Members.

As a final point, Mr. Speaker, we've heard that cultural safety and anti-racism work must be led by Indigenous people. Much of the work that I have just outlined will be led by a new cultural safety and anti-racism unit dedicated to leading our system's efforts to embed cultural safety and anti-racism into the fabric of our Health and Social Services system. The existing team is comprised almost entirely of Indigenous staff from multiple nations and regions in the NWT. As the team expands, we are committed to ensuring that positions are open to applicants from any community in the NWT and that the senior positions are all filled by Indigenous staff who have been mentored and supported to take on leadership roles to advance this work.

Mr. Speaker, we have done the research and the collaborative development with Indigenous peoples and communities in the territory to set our strategic vision and the action plans to guide this work. Now, the focus is on embedding cultural safety and anti-racism in a meaningful and sustainable way to achieve our vision of a territory where Indigenous peoples, families, and communities enjoy physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister's Statement 128-19(2): Anti-Indigenous Racism in Health Care
Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Member for Hay River South.

Systemic Racism in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

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Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We only have to watch the news; it is often charged with stories of racism. The last four years of government in the United States has shown us the reality of racism when it is allowed to rear its ugly head from the shadows without consequence. It showed us what happens when those inner feelings and beliefs that one is superior are allowed to surface and be liberated. People are now finding racism acceptable, and some are wearing it as a badge of honour.

Mr. Speaker, the enthusiasm of the racial divide in the United States spilled over into Canada and charged both sides of the debate. We as Canadians, although more accepting, continue to have a facet of the population that believes racism in Canada is exaggerated and that everyone has the same opportunity and is treated equally. In the NWT, we as Indigenous people know this, in fact, is not reality.

The NWT is predominantly Indigenous peoples. We have a government that is predominantly Indigenous, and we still fall short in the make-up of our workforce, in our education levels, in our access to business opportunities, and treatment when seeking medical and other services. This shortfall can be attributed to a number of reasons, with racism being one of them.

For some of us who have been in the North longer than others, we have seen and experienced the effects of what racism can do, both subtly and in its extreme form. When we look at the statistics related to the number of Indigenous children going into foster care, the number of Indigenous people being incarcerated, the number of Indigenous people who are victims of violent crimes, the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, we see a pattern that proves our system continues to fail Indigenous people. This failure commenced years ago through racist government policy.

Mr. Speaker, how do we eliminate racism? Realistically, it will never be resolved, but it does not mean we give up the fight to lessen the harm it causes to those on the receiving end. As individuals and as a collective, we need to speak up against racism when we see or hear it, listen to others if we are to understand their pain, be respectful to others as one day it may be you looking for the same respect, be accepting, and, most importantly, be willing to help others. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Systemic Racism in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Kam Lake.

Systemic Racism in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

Page 2300

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Mr. Speaker, employment opportunities, programs and services, and education and training are concentrated in regional centres in Yellowknife. In short, we are an economically and socially uneven territory. To access healthcare, social supports, training, education, and employment opportunities or to flee living arrangements that risk safety or sobriety or to move home to reconnect with family, we first ask Northerners to commit to homelessness. The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation community residency policy requires people to live in a community for varying lengths of time up to one year before adding their names to the community's housing wait list. It can then take years to get to the top of the list and some might say a lifetime. The Housing Corporation stipulates that no local housing authority or organization shall set a community residency requirement that exceeds one year, that the policy must be applied to all applications, and that it is not fair to apply a policy to only some applicants and not others.

When we talk about migration to and from small remote northern communities, we are almost exclusively talking about Indigenous people and their ability to move within the territory for access to healthcare, education, family reunification, and home. Putting your name on a housing wait list could mean a path to safety, a road to opportunity, connection to children in care, or a journey home, and the cost of putting your name on a housing wait list should be an NWT healthcare card. This policy drives the demand for shelters, overcrowding in public housing, forces people to remain in unsafe living arrangements, risks child apprehension, holds people back from accessing education, prevents family reunification; the list goes on, Mr. Speaker.

Twenty-eight of our 33 communities are considered non-market-rent and are dominated by public housing, so if you want to live in a community, your housing option really is public housing. If you want to move to a market-rent community and do not have the financial means to access market rent, the options are couch surfing or a shelter. This means families cannot stay together and boys over 15 stand to be separated from their parents. There comes a time in the life of a policy where we need to cut our ties. That time has come, Mr. Speaker. It is time to cut ties with this policy that inadvertently does more harm than good and time to prioritize the opportunity, health, and safety of all Northerners. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Systemic Racism in the Northwest Territories
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Kam Lake. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

Systemic Racism
Members' Statements

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Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One of the priorities for the 19th Legislative Assembly is to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration establishes a framework of standards for survival, dignity, and the well-being of Indigenous people around the world. In the colonial state of Canada, systems were put in place during the formation of the country that mainly benefit the European or white settler. When a process or organization has racism embedded in its very structure, this is known as systemic or institutional racism. Systemic racism is often found in large institutional settings such as schools, healthcare, and the judicial and policing systems. It is different than individual acts of racism. Systemic racism puts Black, Indigenous, and people of colour at a disadvantage before they even start by rigging the system against them.

People of colour are underrepresented in the public service in Canada, and according to Statistics Canada, 23.9 percent of Black Canadians fall below the poverty line and are considered low-income. This is twice the rate when compared to white Canadians, at 12.2 percent. Indigenous people have a higher rate of incarceration in Canada, representing around 26 percent of inmates in correctional facilities, but only 3 percent of Canada's total population.

Systemic racism in our healthcare system creates a dangerous situation for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour when trying to receive treatment or care. It is well documented that health outcomes differ for non-white populations. A tragic situation highlighted lately by the numerous cases in the media of people dying due to being turned away by the system or from having their illness overlooked based on their race. In October, nothing spoke more to the horror of that racism than the video recorded by Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Indigenous mother of seven in Quebec. Joyce's last moments on earth were spent listening to the nurses who were charged with her care, who had sworn an oath to help her, disparage her with racist comments about her worth and intelligence.

It is crucial that the GNWT adopt a culture of continuously reviewing and analyzing its policies and practices for racial bias, in all departments. This is not just an issue that can be dealt with by human resources or the Affirmative Action Policy alone. It must be a whole-of-government approach with education at its core. The GNWT needs to update its hiring policies to include tangible targets and realistic action plans that will lead to actual change and not just lip service. Accountability must be part of this policy, or we will never see a GNWT that is reflective of the people it serves. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Systemic Racism
Members' Statements

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Great Slave. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.