Government worker suspended
Her article questioned use of traditional knowledge

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 24/97) - A woman suspended without pay from her GNWT job for her views on traditional knowledge says the government's policy violates the Canadian Charter of Rights.

"To have a policy in place that imposes spiritual beliefs without public debate is unacceptable," said Frances Widdowson, a senior policy analyst with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

Widdowson was suspended for five days in January after publishing an article in Policy Options, a respected Canadian journal on public policy, last year. In the article, which she co-wrote with Albert Howard, she questions traditional knowledge use in government policy.

Widdowson said she didn't write the article as a government employee and shouldn't be disciplined for her views.

"I didn't ask permission to publish the article because I wrote it as a private citizen," she said. "I thought their (GNWT) concerns were irrelevant."

A letter from Andrew Gamble, deputy minister of the department, reveals that Widdowson was suspended because she violated the GNWT code of ethics. It states that an employee must have permission to engage in outside activities that could involve a conflict of interest.

Gamble couldn't be reached for comment.

Widdowson said she has support from co-workers and a petition asking the government to clarify what exactly traditional knowledge means is circulating, but she still fears for her job. "I'm not sure as to what is going to happen next," she said.

She also filed a grievance with the Union of Northern Workers, but it was denied.

Widdowson said she would like to see a study on what traditional knowledge entails so employees required to implement it know what it means.

GNWT policy defines traditional knowledge as "knowledge and values ... acquired ... from spiritual teachings."

According to Widdowson, however, "the government and the consultants who promote traditional knowledge stonewall any attempts to clarify or discuss the validity of using this unscientific sources of information to develop environmental management policies."