Outgoing Gwich’in Tribal Council deputy Grand Chief Jordan Peterson has a lot to reflect on over his four-year journey, but the impacts of his term are still coming to fruition.
“We focused on putting more support for the communities,” he said. “One of the things we did in our term is work collaboratively with each of the presidents of the Designated Gwich’in Organizations (DGOs) in the communities on creating more financial support.
“GTC took a big chunk of the hit for that, but it also provided equity across the communities. They received more core funding so they can focus on fulfilling their responsibilities instead of having to write proposals for funding just to keep operating. Before, GTC got 64 per cent of funding and the DGOs had to split the remaining 36, based on population.
“Now, the DGOs all have equal funding because their responsibilities are the same regardless of population. The DGOs now get 55 per cent of funding, which is still insufficient but brought them to the next step in not having to focus on writing proposals. Now they have core funding for core positions in their community organization.”
Peterson, who is not seeking re-election so he can focus more on his children ranging in age from two to 14 years old, said he learned a great deal during his term, but for now it was time to give someone else the reigns.
He said he was happy with what he had accomplished, highlighting the work accomplished helping move forward on several important legal documents, including modernization of the current dispute resolution procedure, which is now waiting on approval from the GTC Annual General Assembly in September and the Government of Canada and GNWT approval process.
But above all else, helping Gwich’in youth take control of their destiny stands out above all else for him.
“Involving the Youth Council in different things, whether that be at the international stage or with local communities, is an important piece to the work I’ve been doing,” he said. “Being able to support youth and elders in a political role has been one of the most rewarding things. We have our academic conference, our Gwich’in Regional Youth Council, the Gwich’in Internship pilot project and participation in self-government negotiations, Gwich’in Council International and the Gwich’in Steering committee and protection of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou.
“I mean, just emphasizing the importance of building that capacity amongst our youth has been one of the most rewarding things in the role.”
Looking forward, he said the biggest challenges facing the Gwich’in people remained the same — balancing economic development with protecting vital environmental resources such as calving grounds and also getting more control over projects within Gwich’in lands. Peterson noted current tender requirements need to change so the GTC can ensure projects in its territory employ the people that live there.
“It’s really important the government recognizes they have a treaty obligation on economic development in chapter 10 of our land claim to work with the GTC on creating economic opportunities and creating capacity,” he said. “That’s been one of the biggest challenges. The more we’re able directly negotiate with government on projects happening in the Gwich’in Settlement area and work with other Indigenous groups, that builds capacity and keeps revenue in the Northwest Territories.
“I think it’s time we need to look at the treaty obligations we all have, whether GTC, Canada or the GNWT and work collaboratively on being able to build that capacity so we’re creating jobs that are filled by local people, whether they’re Gwich’in or not, and really work on creating a sustainable economy in a region that’s been challenged for the last 10-plus years with not a whole lot happening.”
He expressed his thanks to everyone he’s met along the way, including his supporters but also the elders who advised him and the families of everyone who puts themselves forward to do public service. He advised whoever he passes the torch onto to make sure to set time aside for family, because while there is always important work to do, it can get quite overwhelming.
Getting out to communities and establishing strong relationships is also paramount to success, he added, adding he was going to miss being a part of a long-lasting tradition of leadership.
“Knowing you have millennia of past leaders and strong leaders who have got us to the place we are today,” he said. “Knowing the strength of your voice comes from that when you’re sitting across the table from the Prime Minister. Knowing what you’re saying is for the betterment of your people and being able to draw on the strength of your entire nation to speak very powerfully.
“That’s one thing I’m going to miss. That and being in a position where you get to go and listen to people in their communities and hear their concerns. I wish I was able to do more of that. Looking back, that’s one thing I regret not doing more of.”