He’s been the Premier. He’s been the Grand Chief twice. He’s been Speaker of the House.
And now Richard Nerysoo is taking a run at deputy Grand Chief for his third time among the heads of the Gwich’in Tribal Council.
“A number of people had approached me about the idea of running,” he said. “I decided to participate in the election, not to take a leadership role but to be part of the leadership team that would be able to provide the experience and knowledge I have as a tribal leader, as a chief and as a person who had been doing significant work on First Nations work over the past eight years.
“Returning back to Fort McPherson to work in the community, I saw many of the challenges our communities are facing and I thought there was an opportunity for me to play a role and bring back a sense of involvement and responsibility within the GTC and hopefully make things much better in terms of how we build relationships, address issues and build communities.”
He brings a lot of experience in governing to the table — he was the youngest MLA in the history of the Northwest Territories when he was elected in 1979 at age 26, then re-elected to the legislature in 1983. He was the first aboriginal premier in Canada, the first aboriginal speaker of the Legislative Assembly and was twice elected GTC Grand Chief, first in 1996 and again in 2008. He also has served as Chief of the Inuvik Native Band and Nihtat Gwich’in Council, and has held several positions as chair of a board and negotiator. On top of all that, he’s also worked a substitute teacher.
One area he said he wanted to address was the communication between the various governing bodies in among the Gwich’in, noting many different pieces were at play and several documents were guiding governance and that it was important to get all those pieces moving in unison.
“A big challenge for us is bringing our people together, keeping them together and moving forward with them together,” he said. “It requires us to think about the fact we’re not only guided by the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (GCLCA), but also Treaty 11. We have the Designated Gwich’in Organizations (DGOs) that are responsible for the implementation of the Gwich’in Final Agreement, we have Chiefs and Councils responsible for Treaty 11 and registered treaty Indians, then we’ve got the Métis locals and organizations — all of which have Gwich’in participants.
“One of the key parts of our success, historically, has been our ability to bring all of those bodies together and particularly have the chiefs as a key part of the leadership team. I thing we need to get a sense of where we need to go, what we need to do and how do we get there. That’s a key part of the conversation we need to have.”
Nerysoo notes that the GTC has a specific role to play in implementing the GCLCA , but needs to recognize how tribal chiefs are required to implement Treaty 11. He also suggests bringing older leadership back into the fray to put together an Organization Review and Strategy, and then put together a strategy to work together on. He also called for developing an Economic Plan, noting the economy is struggling. He said he want to go back to a fiscal road map developed in 1984, which he said set the way forward.
From his time working as a substitute teacher in Fort McPherson over the last few years, Nerysoo said he’s gotten a first-hand look at the challenges facing educations and youth in the area. Noting it wasn’t the fault of teachers, he said he saw how the system is failing First Nations and Indigenous youth.
“Seeing it right in the classroom, at the same time I can say we have incredible students,” he said. “If given the opportunity and tools, they could become successful students. But having said that, we also need the involvement and support of families and parents. We can’t overlook the recent auditor general’s report on education in the NWT.
“Living in a community, you can see how critical Chief and Council and First Nation programs are. If we have a strong relationship between the DGO and Chief and Council, they could be more successful in moving programs in. We need to be able to find ways in which we have more contracts and programs being pushed out to our smaller communities.
“The more programs we have being delivered by the First Nation and the DGO, the more jobs they create. So it’s better for them.”