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From devolution to education

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 3, 2011

DEH CHO - Devolution is on the minds of Fort Simpson residents while people in the smaller communities in the region are more concerned about housing and education, according to the Nahendeh MLA.

In advance of the six-week budget session that began in the legislative assembly on Feb. 2 Kevin Menicoche conducted a constituency tour visiting all seven communities in his riding from Jan. 17 to 29. The tour revealed that different issues are capturing the attention of constituents.

During the community meeting in Fort Simpson on Jan. 26, devolution was at the forefront. The five people at the meeting discussed the implications the signing of the agreement-in-principle will have on aboriginal groups in the territory, particularly Dehcho First Nations.

"This is like throwing a bombshell in the middle of something that isn't working to begin with," said Martina Norwegian referring to the Dehcho Process.

The territorial elections are coming up and the government is trying to create a legacy, she said. The territory is still dealing with the Deh Cho Bridge, the legacy of the last government.

"This is just huge compared to that," Norwegian said.

The agreement-in-principle is too big for people to wrap their heads around, said Chuck Blyth.

The territorial government should have a referendum on the issue allowing residents to vote on whether they want devolution, he said. As a result of that process there would be more information available on both the pros and cons of devolution, Blyth said.

Fort Simpson residents were the only ones to directly raise the issue of devolution during the constituency tour. Menicoche said he also questioned leaders and elders in other communities about the issue and got similar responses.

"It's still about clarity," he said.

People feel there has been a lack of information and public discourse. Menicoche said he'll be pressing the government to conduct a series of presentations throughout the territory so residents are better informed.

One common issue in many Nahendeh communities is housing, particularly accessing funding for repairs through the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

Menicoche said he's been approached by residents who've been turned down for funding for a number of reasons, some because of payment arrears. Many don't understand the letters they receive from the corporation explaining why they weren't chosen.

"They get frustrated with that," he said.

In these cases Menicoche said he's pointing people to the Housing Corporation's appeals system. Menicoche also plans to push for an increase to the corporation's housing repairs budget.

In Wrigley education is the main concern for a group of parents.

When older students from Wrigley come to Fort Simpson to attend Thomas Simpson School they often live in the student residence. Some of the students, however, haven't met the residence's rules and guidelines and have been asked to leave. The parents are looking for answers and are concerned because there's no where else for their children to live in Fort Simpson, said Menicoche.

Menicoche said the issue is new to him and he will raise it with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. Ways need to be found to better support the students because the government wants to see an increase in aboriginal student achievement, he said. Another issue of region-wide concern is the proposed new Wildlife Act. Menicoche is questioning the speed at which it's being dealt with.

Information sessions were held across the territory before the holidays but they didn't provide people with enough chance to review the act, he said. More consultation is needed.

"I think the government should go back again," said Menicoche.

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