For the past four years, the idea to run for MLA of Inuvik Twin Lakes had always been in the back of Lesa Semmler’s mind.
“It had to do with living here, growing up here, going to school here,” said Semmler. “Experiencing the school system, going off to college, becoming a registered nurse, coming back, working in the front-line.”
While working as a registered nurse at the Inuvik Regional Hospital, she said that she was always curious as to how policies were being made – and why they were unable to meet the needs of the patients that she was serving.
“The people I’m taking care of are the people that I grew up being around. (The policies) aren’t that important to them,” she said. “But the things that are important to them – there’s no money or emphasis on those types of things.”
She experienced similar frustrations when she was chair of the Inuvik District Education Authority, where she said that education policies weren’t meeting the needs of local students.
“Things seem to work in Yellowknife, but it’s a city. It’s a larger non-Aboriginal population. Things seem to coincide there,” she said. “But in the communities, there’s not a lot of support. There’s not a lot of programming. There’s mostly Aboriginal populations. There’s gotta be a shift somehow.”
After hitting a number of ceilings throughout her various leadership roles, she said that she realized that she needed to take on a larger governance position to actually address the issues that she was passionate about.
“We can’t have a southern policy try and fix problems. That’s what’s happening a lot of the times. It’s being put on us. They don’t understand,” she said. “We can’t bring ourselves to the table because we’re not there, so we need to be there.”
This past June, following a press conference in Yellowknife on the final report of the inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls, Semmler announced that she was running for the Inuvik Twin Lakes seat.
“The only way we’re going to make things work is if we’re at the top and there’s more of us that are grassroots from the NWT communities that are going to give direction on how policy should be for the communities,” she said.
If elected, she said that her main priorities lie in working to improve the trust between community members and the healthcare system, addressing nursing shortages, supporting recent graduates and giving residents a reason to stay in Inuvik.
“For me, it’s not necessarily my issues. These are the things that I have had experience in. It’s what I can bring to the table,” she said. “Being from here, born and raised, grew up in the west end in the Twin Lakes side. Those are my family and friends that I grew up with. It’s bringing the concerns of that riding forward.”
She added that her decision to run for office and her tendency to fight for what she believes in is something that her grandmother would’ve done.
“She did run, back in the 70s. She fought hard for COPE and now we have the IRC. She fought hard for what the people wanted, the rights of the people,” said Semmler. “She raised me, and doing this is like I’m honouring that tradition and keeping it moving. I’m fighting for what’s right for us.”