With Martin Luther King, Jr. day coming up on Monday, Jan. 21, I’m reminded of how his words are still very relevant today, not only in the black community but in Northern Indigenous communities as well.
In terms of income and economic prosperity, it is still difficult for many Indigenous people in the North to earn as much as a non-Aboriginal person. This is partly due to a poor education system but that is just one of the reasons. When Mr. King said that the black community had been a victim of economic injustice for so long – the last hired and the first fired – I couldn’t help but think of how these words still ring true today, particularly for the Indigenous people of the NWT.
When it comes to jobs, the biggest employer in the territory is the GNWT, which operates using an outdated affirmative action policy that was initially created to serve Indigenous Aboriginals in order to relieve inequality in the workplace. However, the policy also includes space for Indigenous non-Aboriginals, who are defined as people who have lived more than half their lives in the North or who was born in the NWT.
Indigenous Aboriginals on the other hand are defined as descendants of the Dene, Inuit or Metis people, Indigenous to the present boundaries of the NWT. Even though these people are given priority, they are often working entry level positions with limited opportunities for advancement, making it difficult for them to earn enough to rise above the poverty line.
Half the people of the North are Indigenous Aboriginals yet a disproportionate number of management positions in the GNWT are filled by Indigenous non-Aboriginals.
Some of these managers have no understanding of Northern Indigenous culture and heritage, yet they are policy makers whose decisions impact our lives. This has to end. Cultural awareness must be held in higher regard.
Last time I checked there was no appetite to rescind the affirmative action policy and adopt an equity policy any time soon.
Sadly, human resource statistics in the mining sector looks very similar to the government with low numbers of Indigenous Aboriginals working in management positions. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that one of the reasons behind this is that Indigenous Aboriginals are
determined to be unqualified for the positions due to a lack of experience. This is where putting more money into Northern education and training would pay off.
Mr. King fought for equality and many Indigenous Aboriginals are following in his footsteps in addition to other change-makers like Rosa Parks, Roy Wilkins and John Lewis. They were American champions of the civil rights movement in the 1960s but their messages remain relevant to the present day.
They were not politicians, yet they made tremendous advances in their communities by putting their freedom and lives on the line for equality.
The Indigenous people of the North may not be fighting the same fight, but they are standing up for many of the same principles by putting their livelihoods and reputations on the line when speaking out about discrimination in the workplace and trying to make the case for income equality, which is something that should not be up for political debate.
There will be a territorial election this year, so maybe new leaders will emerge who will be willing to tackle this issue once and for all.