Constitution hearings in trouble

by Glenn Taylor
and Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 17/97) - Public hearings on a western territorial constitution got off to a shaky start last week.

Despite $300,000 in federal and territorial funding for the hearings, communities are complaining of little or no advance notice, attendance has been low and at least one member of the working group that wrote the draft constitution is critical of the entire process.

Bob Simpson, Inuvialuit and Gwich'in representative for the group, was criticized for skipping the Inuvik meeting. In fact, not a single member of the working group showed at any of the Delta meetings.

Simpson, however, said he only learned of the hearing the day it was held, and couldn't break an unrelated meeting in Tsiigehtchic that day.

"I'm kind of dissatisfied," said Simpson. "We've been talking about this for six months and suddenly there's a big rush." Only a handful of residents turned out for the first of the public meetings, held in Nahanni Butte and Fort Liard early last week.

And just 20 attended the Fort Simpson session, where, according to Mayor Norm Prevost, "the meeting was terribly advertised."

MLA and working group member Jim Antoine was the only working group member at the Deh Cho sessions.

Meetings in Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic later in the week were also poorly attended, some say because the public was not properly informed.

A meeting was scheduled for March 11 in Fort McPherson, but was rescheduled for March 13. Mayor Phillip Blake said nobody told him of the change and, by the time he heard about the meeting last Thursday at 8 p.m. and rushed over, it was over.

"If I missed it, how many other people missed it?" said Blake, charging working group organizers with poor planning.

A meeting was planned in Tsiigehtchic for Wednesday, March 12, but was hastily rescheduled the following day. "We expected them Wednesday, but they didn't show," said Chief Morris Blake.

A public meeting was scheduled at the community gym the next day, but failed to attract an single resident.

Tour co-ordinator Fred Koe, who is the working group's executive director, instead snuck in a half-hour presentation with the Tsiigehtchic band council, which was holding its own meeting that day.

Koe could not be reached for comment.