Commissioner sworn in
DIAND ignored government's recommendation

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 21/99) - Surrounded by his family, friends and colleagues, Dan Marion was sworn in as Commissioner of the Northwest Territories on Tuesday during a ceremony that also held an air of controversy.

The controversy originated when the western caucus selected a candidate for commissioner late last year. MLAs chose Tony Whitford -- executive assistant to then-commissioner Helen Maksagak as their preferred candidate.

But the caucus' recommendation was only that, a recommendation, while the responsibility for naming a commissioner lay with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

People, like Mackenzie Delta MLA David Krutko, have speculated that in choosing to ignore the government's recommendation, DIAND Minister Jane Stewart opted for the candidate backed by Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew -- who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Perhaps to soften the blow, DIAND then limited Marion's term of appointment to be for one year, instead of the usual five, claiming its reason was to take into consideration that an election should have taken place by next April and that a new government may be in place.

Krutko said Tuesday he was not pleased by what he described as Blondin-Andrew's influence on the process and suggested that since DIAND ignored the advice of the current NWT government, "why should they follow the advice of the next one?"

Speaking before the ceremony, Whitford refused to comment on DIAND's decision but did say he would leave his position as executive assistant later this week -- a position he's held under three commissioners.

Whitford said after travelling to Washington state to attend the wedding of his adopted daughter, he would continue to work as a "free agent" -- providing consultation for both the NWT and Nunavut governments. But he conceded he may also reapply next year for the commissioner's post.

"If I'm honoured to be invited, I would consider it," he said.

Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus, who took over as western caucus chair March 29, also refused to provide any official reaction to DIAND's decision.

"I can't speak about confidential decisions that are made, but I'm sure Mr. Marion will make a fine commissioner," he said. "He's a long-time Northerner, and he knows the people and the aspirations of all of us, and he's certainly got the support of his community -- the Dogrib communities are here in full strength."

Indeed, Marion's supporters, including three busloads of school children from his home community of Rae-Edzo, filled the legislature's bright and colourful Great Hall as Marc O'Sullivan, deputy clerk of the privy council, swore in the new commissioner.

After a congratulatory telegram from Minister Stewart was read and Premier Jim Antoine had introduced him, Marion himself addressed the crowd and struck a chord of harmony -- speaking of working toward a unified NWT where people of all backgrounds can find a common home.

"I am very mindful that many of us do not share the same past, but we can share the same future," he said.

Speaking outside the legislature after the ceremony, Dogrib Nation Grand Chief Joe Rabesca said he had full confidence his old friend and partner would prove a worthy commissioner and dismissed concerns over the fact that Marion is non-aboriginal.

"I'm a full-blooded aboriginal person myself, and I've been chief for over 10 years," he said, "and if only people knew him like I do, they would change their minds."

Rabesca said the one-year appointment would provide Marion with the chance to show detractors what he is made of.