[ See earlier story ]

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 05/97) - The speaker at a Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce business club luncheon lost the floor to his audience midway through his presentation.

Albert Howard was interrupted by questions and disgruntled comments during a sometimes heated exchange on traditional knowledge.

Howard, of Howard and Associates, co-wrote an article in the public policy journal Policy Options with Frances Widdowson, a senior policy analyst with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development for the GNWT.

He believes government should not coerce individuals to "affirm a specific religious belief."

Incorporating the spiritual beliefs associated with traditional knowledge has disturbing implications for environmental management, he says.

Widdowson was suspended for one week without pay for writing the article, which was deemed in conflict with GNWT policy. She attended the chamber luncheon but did not make a presentation. She has said previously that imposition of spiritual beliefs without prior debate is unacceptable.

Howard told about 30 people attending the luncheon that "all this money is going to endless (traditional knowledge) programs with no conclusions."

He contends that when he talks to aboriginal people, they're not that interested in it. And to put the debate in the context of aboriginal versus non-aboriginal is wrong, he says.

Members of the lunch crowd spoke up loudly.

One woman said Howard was making money on this by writing a book about the topic. Howard responded that it's not a topic that would make a great deal of money for him.

Others had difficulty with Howard's definition of traditional knowledge. Many felt it should be "respected" at the very least, even if it couldn't be understood.

Howard said the government has asked him to follow a policy he doesn't believe in.

John Bekale of BHP said respect is what's missing and Fred Sangris of the Yellowknives Dene Band said they should call traditional knowledge itself "respect" Many others at the luncheon agreed.

Sangris added: "Government and industry is going to have to work with indigenous people or the country's going to break up."