Back to the drawing board
Constitutional committee decide where to go next

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Apr 25/97) - After an almost universal panning by residents, the authors of the draft constitution for the Western Arctic are going back to the drawing board to determine their next move.

The Constitutional Working Group presented its draft during a public tour last month. Most residents argued the document was flawed, pointing particularly at a clause that would give aboriginals two votes and non-aboriginals one, a move the group hoped would unify interests of claim groups and the territorial government.

The group met two weekends ago in Yellowknife to review the results of the tour.

Bob Simpson, a committee member representing the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit, said the group reviewed a three-page summary of statements heard during the community tour last month.

Besides sentiments opposing the two-versus-one idea, Simpson said residents also pointed out it wasn't properly informed enough to make educated points of the document. "People said they wanted to be more knowledgeable about the package" before the next round of community consultation, said Simpson.

Another sticking point was the critical deadlines the draft constitution hoped to target. Many residents felt the process shouldn't be rushed, said Simpson.

So where does the group go from here? Simpson said the committee did not discuss what direction the process should follow now.

"There were no hard and fast decisions on that," said Simpson. He said the only conclusion reached on the future of the constitution is that the process should continue. "Nobody said the process should halt," he said.

He said the group debated whether it should get "back to the basics," by warming up the public first with more background information and preparing them for difficult decisions and dialogue in future sessions.

"We have to work more on the education side of why we are doing this," said Simpson.

He said the group will likely meet again in the summer, revise the package and fine tune it, and hope to have a new package ready for another road tour in the fall. If the public is more accepting of the new proposals, Simpson said a vote on the issue could come about six months after that.

While the timing set forth by the last package is now clearly out (the last package called for an October plebiscite), Simpson said he's not worried if the new phase takes more time.

The only date he hopes the group can beat is 1999, when Nunavut is spun off from the NWT.

"We'll take it as we go, and spend the time (necessary) to make sure we have confidence that the package addresses everybody's interests," said Simpson.

The next meeting for the group is set for May 12 in Yellowknife.