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Ferry service up in the air

John King
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Jan 30/06) - Relinquishing the Arctic Red River ferry service contract is more a question of aboriginal self-government than a question of a mere ferry contract, says Richard Nerysoo, Inuvik band chief.
NNSL Photo/graphic

The future of ferry service at Arctic Red River is now up in the air, now that the Tsiigehtchic band no longer holds 50 per cent interest in the management and operation of the service. - NNSL file photo

NNSL Photo/graphic A fully functional aboriginal government is at stake. NNSL Photo/graphic

"If we can't get the process right for 12 people, how are we going to get it right when more people are involved," said Nerysoo.

"A fully functional aboriginal government is at stake," he added.

Nerysoo does not want to give up his band's 50 per cent interest in the management and operation of the ferry service.

After the Tsiigehtchic band washed its hands clean of its 50 per cent stake in the partnership, Nerysoo and the Inuvik band have been talking with GNWT officials about what steps to take next.

"Because they're out (the Tsiigehtchic band), that is the extent of the deal," said Nerysoo. "The partnership is over."

Nerysoo feels the previous contract with ferry workers was more fair than any contract they'll receive from the territorial Union of Northern Workers (UNW).

"Workers will receive no housing benefits like they did under our contract," Nerysoo said.

Nerysoo also said his band was never contacted by the Public Service Alliance of Canada about unionizing ferry employees.

"Someone should have had the courtesy of telling us what was going on," he said.

At this stage, the UNW has placed a Notice to Bargain with Tri'ih Choo Alaa Limited, the controlling partnership that included Tsiigehtchic before they pulled out, said UNW spokesperson Barbara Wyness.

"Negotiations for a contract have not yet commenced," Wyness said.

There is currently a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding for contracting between the Gwich'in Tribal Council and the GNWT that comes up for renewal in 2008.

The document says "the MOU is to establish a process toward improving the participation of Gwich'in businesses in GNWT contracting, within the Gwich'in Settlement Area."

Charlie Furlong, Aklavik band chief, feels the Arctic Red River ferry service is an opportunity for the Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic bands.

"Under the MOU, the bands could take advantage of the situation because the service provides training and jobs for the Gwich'in," Furlong said.

When asked whether unionizing the Arctic Red River ferry crossing will have a negative impact on the Gwich'in pursuit for economic and political independence, Bob McLeod, deputy minister of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development at the time the MOU was hammered out, said there really isn't cause for concern.

"What we want is to provide employment opportunities - make sure people who have jobs benefit from those jobs," McLeod said.

Gwich'in leaders are now left wondering what's next, and how the future of their own governments are to be affected.

"What are the government's plans for these ferries?" questioned Furlong.

"Why are these services being unionized after all these years when the communities have been managing the services just fine?"