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Assembly of elders
Seniors gather at legislative assembly to discuss issues

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

INUVIK
Things looked different at the legislative assembly of the NWT last week, as elders from around the territory descended on Yellowknife to show younger generations a thing or two about how to tackle major issues affecting those who live in the territory.

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Inuvik elder Lillian Elias speaks with Lyndsay Herman of Northern News Services last week during Elders Parliament. Participants were given the full experience of the life of an MLA last week, including dealing with media and presenting speeches to the legislative assembly. - photo courtesy of Jessica Fournier

Though one of the goals of the 2012 Elders Parliament may have been to take advantage of the wisdom and knowledge of the elders, the two participants from Inuvik left the capital city with more knowledge of how our territorial government works and a better appreciation for what the full-time members of the legislative assembly do.

"A lot of work they do, oh my goodness," said Inuvik elder Lillian Elias, 69, who served as MLA for Inuvik Boot Lake last week.

"We didn't even do half of what they do," she said. "I sure appreciate them after being there because I know what kind of work they have been doing all these years. It's a lot of work a lot of learning."

Elias served as Minister of Education, Culture and Employment during Elders Parliament, while Shirley Kisoun held the seat for Inuvik Twin Lakes and served as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations.

Kisoun, 55, said the knowledge of elders is not used as much today as in the recent past.

"Many years ago, if something didn't go right and our elders told us not to do it that way, we listened," said Kisoun. "Today ... they're not being utilized as well as they should be. That's why people my age don't even know our language."

Kisoun thinks the exercise opened the eyes of many who participated and watched the week's events to issues that affect elders in the territory. It also gave her a better understanding on what Inuvik MLAs have to go through to make changes in the territorial government. It's not about demanding what you want, she said, it's about working together and making compromises.

Kisoun, who originally applied to participate in the first Elders Parliament in 2010, said when she got the call that she had been accepted to the program this year, her first thought was about her mother.

"She was a very strong advocate," said Kisoun. "She had a lot of influence, she was a great politician. She was president of the Native Women's Association, a member of the Status of Women Council, and she paved the way for a lot of Northern women, including me."

Each elder who participated in the special session came with certain issues they wanted to highlight. For Elias, the issues she wanted to draw attention to through her participation was the importance of preserving language, culture and traditions of the various peoples in the North.

Elias, who is Inuvialuit, has worked as an interpreter between her mother tongue and English for most of her adult life. She also worked at Samuel Hearne Secondary School for about 10 years as an aboriginal languages teacher.

She said through her work, she has seen how meaning can be lost between Inuvialuktun and English, even though the words might be right.

"It's hard for us to sometimes even talk to each other," she said.

This basic understanding is the first step in being able to work together to govern the territory effectively, she said.

The main issues Kisoun brought to the legislature were housing and elder abuse. These issues affect elders all over the territory, she said, and were reflected in the three motions that were passed during the special session last week.

One motion regarded caring and respecting elders, another involved staying recent changes to housing for elders in the territory, and the third motion passed involved setting up an elders' ombudsmen to work full time in the legislative assembly on behalf elders' interests, said Kisoun.

While there were many serious issues dealt with throughout the week, there was also ample opportunity for enjoying the experience and the company of the other elders, said Elias.

"It was fun," she said. "I just enjoyed every minute of it."

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