An invite for Deline wasn’t even on the radar when a round table of Indigenous leaders and MLAs gathered last week, according to the community’s leader Leeroy Andre.
The Sahtu Dene Council also never received an invite, he learned, though the tiny community of Colville Lake did attend the Oct. 23 meeting for “some odd reason.”
Sahtu Dene Council executive director Brenda Baton confirmed the body didn’t receive an invite, despite having a grand chief and a vice grand chief available to represent the region.
A spokesperson for the legislative assembly stated the council was in fact invited, and pointed to Colville Lake’s Chief Wilbert Kochon’s attendance.
However, Baton hasn’t seen any evidence of an invite.
“I didn’t see anything,” Baton said about the invite. “If we were invited, who did they send it to?”
She explained Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated (SSI), which did attend, is a land claim organization, not a government.
Sahtu Dene Council is the vehicle of the community’s elected leaders, said Andre. SSI largely administers land and money but doesn’t act a government overseeing the communities’ day to day affairs, according to Andre. Only sending out representatives of land claim groups is “not right,” he said.
For Andre, it comes across as saying, “You’re not even on our radar. You’re a government but, OK, well, you’re not that important.”
Andre said the lack of communication been an ongoing issue for years and it wasn’t “new to being shunned by the territorial government.”
That’s why negotiating self-government is appealing, he said. “You just get fed up to the point where, well, we’re just going right straight to Ottawa.”
“It’s a big kerfuffle that’s happening within the government and we’re always left out. We’re getting tired of that. We’re getting tired of being left out,” Andre said.
Had he attended, Andre said education would be a priority. Deline’s students are at least two to three grade levels behind when graduating high school, he said. On top of that there are early childhood issues “that don’t seem to go very far,” social housing, and health — “the list goes on and on,” Andre said.
“We need people to go to school. We need people to go to get their education. We need people to come back,” he said. “But on the other hand, we don’t have any houses to house them – the infrastructure that we require to do a proper job.”
Consultations are needed with smaller communities, he said. While new schools and hospitals are being built all over, Andre said the smaller communities are “left behind.”
“Just because we have self-government doesn’t mean we’re running the show here,” he said, estimating that 80 per cent of the programs and institutions in the community are managed by outside agencies.
He referenced an incident where a vehicle fell through the ice, which fueled concerns over shortening winter road seasons.
“And yet GNWT doesn’t want to sit down and talk about it. They got better things to do,” he said. “We’re not happy with that.”
Ultimately, “the ones that squeak the most get the grease,” he said. “We have to stop this charade of doing things ass-backwards.”