Communities have their say
Northern News Services, Monday, March 24, 1997

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Paulatuk says no thanks

About eight people showed up for the constitutional meeting in Paulatuk. Deputy mayor Andy Thrasher said many criticized the idea of the two-tiered legislature where aboriginals would have two votes and others have one. People were afraid the two-versus-one idea would create division among cultural groups. He also said many panned the idea proposed by the NWT Status of Women Council, which proposes giving women 50 per cent of the legislative seats.

Sachs Harbour asks, why bother?

About nine people showed up for the constitutional meeting in Sachs Harbour. Mayor Bradley Carpenter said most at the meeting showed support for keeping the NWT Act the way it is. "Some people said they like the government structure that's now in place with the GNWT. It's a structure they're familiar with." He criticized the meeting for being "hurried," and not well advertised.

McPherson meeting poorly planned

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. By the time he heard about the rescheduled meeting and rushed over, it was too late. The meeting was already over and had been very poorly attended.

"If I missed it, how many other people missed it?" said Blake, blaming poor communications on the poor turnout. "What's the idea of sneaking in a meeting without telling anybody? The time should be taken, and people should be made aware of when the meetings are."

Tsiigehtchic band discusses document

A meeting was planned in Tsiigehtchic for 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 anybody. Tour co-ordinator Fred Koe instead sneaked in a half-hour presentation with the band council, who were busy with their own meeting that day.

Inuvik rejects draft

The draft constitutional proposal got a rough ride at poorly attended meetings in Inuvik March 11.

The town council and the NWT Chamber of opposed the document as did members of the crowd.

"Some people based on race get two votes, while others based on race get one," said David Connelly. "I'm shocked that at the turn of the ... millennia, we're here debating the basic rights that all of us should have," he said. "Someone should have the guts to stand up and say what this really is."

Opposition to the idea was not unanimous. Richard Nerysoo, an Aboriginal Summit member and the president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, defended the two-tiered concept. Nerysoo pointed out many examples in Canadian politics where representation by population -- one vote for each person -- is not upheld. Nerysoo pointed to smaller provinces such as P.E.I. that enjoy larger political voices than their populations merit. Quebec wields extra powers other provinces don't enjoy because of linguistic and cultural concerns, he said.

Some residents also questioned why none of the 10 committee members had come to Inuvik to hear their concerns, leaving committee co-ordinator Fred Koe to run the session. Koe said the meeting was being recorded and concerns expressed would be passed on to the committee.

Thumbs down in Fort Simpson

Twenty people showed up for constitutional meeting in Fort Simpson. "The meeting was terribly advertised," said Fort Simpson Mayor Norm Prevost. "With such short notice, people couldn't make it."

Others said job creation was more important. "People are more or less worried about putting bread on the table," said Jean Marie River resident Stanley Sanguez. "The constitution is more important for the youth, but the youth are worried more about jobs."

"With all the government layoffs, you should be looking at the communities," said Fort Simpson resident Rita Cazon. "We need jobs."

Marilyn Napier, president of the NWT Native Women's Association, told the delegates a new constitution should include a social charter, a code of conduct for MLAs, and a guarantee 50 per cent of the seats will be held by women. "It's the only way women will be heard and fairly represented," she said.

Residents also said the constitutional package is too complicated. "I don't think anyone knows what the hell is going on," said one elder.

Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte

In one of the stronger showings among the smaller communities, 17 people showed up in Fort Liard for the constitutional meetings. There was still concern about lack of participation from residents largely due to short notice. According to radio reports, no one showed up at the Nahanni Butte.

Erasmus defends proposal in Yellowknife

About 140 people showed up for the constitutional meeting in Yellowknife where Dene Nation chief Bill Erasmus bravely took up the cause of the embattled proposed constitution.

"What we have to do is recognize we can't have one-man-one vote," said constitutional working group member, Bill Erasmus, also national chief of the Dene Nation.

"Bullshit!" called out Erasmus's neighbour Terry Jordan.

That summarized the initial reaction of a vast majority of non-aboriginal territorial residents to the package.

Erasmus was not the lone defender of the contentious provision.

"This is the first real piece of work that represents aboriginal peoples' rightful place in government," said Metis Local 64 president Bill Enge.

Others, including former MLAs Bob MacQuarrie and Brian Lewis, backed up Jordan's comment. Speaking on democracy, MacQuarrie said, "if it doesn't always work properly, fix it, don't throw it out. I'm afraid that's what's happened here."

"I find it cuts so deeply into my soul ... that I will fight it to my dying day," said Lewis in response to Erasmus's two vote comment.