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Against changes to electoral boundaries
Fort Resolution argues to preserve Tu Nedhe district at public hearing

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, March 9, 2013

DENINU KU'E/FORT RESOLUTION
The people of Fort Resolution spoke out against proposed changes to the NWT's electoral boundaries at a March 4 public hearing.

NNSL photo/graphic

Patrick Simon, deputy mayor with the Hamlet of Fort Resolution, looks over maps of the proposed electoral boundary changes at a public hearing on March 4. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Every speaker opposed any change that would mean the disappearance of the Tu Nedhe district, which consists of Fort Resolution and Lutsel K'e.

"I don't agree with it. I wouldn't support it," Elizabeth Ann McKay told members of the NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission in a message echoed by others among the 10 community residents at the hearing.

The existing Tu Nedhe district has about 797 people, making it the smallest district by population in the NWT. It is 65 per cent below the average population of about 2,200 people per district.

The commission has produced an interim report proposing two options for a legislative assembly of 18 or 19 seats in which Tu Nedhe would be amalgamated with portions of Deh Cho and Monfwi districts. The resulting district would cover Fort Providence, Kakisa, Enterprise, Whati, Gameti, Wekweeti, Fort Resolution and Lutsel K'e.

A third option for a 21-seat assembly would see Fort Resolution and Lutsel K'e join Dettah and Ndilo.

McKay said Fort Resolution and Lutsel K'e have had their own district for about 40 years and the current 19-seat legislature is working.

"I don't know why the government wastes their time doing this," she said of the electoral boundaries review.

McKay believes the process is about putting more seats in Yellowknife.

"It's always Yellowknife, Yellowknife," she said. "That's how we see it from a small community."

Brandie Miersch said it is ridiculous for the commission to consider taking away Tu Nedhe's MLA and throwing Fort Resolution and Lutsel K'e into a pot with other communities.

Patrick Simon, deputy mayor of Fort Resolution, said Tu Nedhe has a distinct culture.

If anything, the South Slave should have more representatives in the legislative assembly, he argued. "Sometimes our voices are not heard and our issues are not taken up with vigour."

Lloyd Cardinal, a member of the Fort Resolution Metis Council, emphasized the importance of the Chipewyan language as a factor in the debate.

"The people within the Tu Nedhe riding require a representative in the legislative assembly that can speak the language, understand the cultural environment of the riding and address the day-to-day issues that plague the regions with an understanding that the residents need," he said.

The proposed changes to the electoral boundaries would infringe on Tu Nedhe people's constitutional right as a minority to preserve their distinct identity, he added. "The commission should note that we, as Chipewyan-speaking people, have the collective right to ensure that our language is maintained; and further to this, as a linguistic minority, we assert the right to ensure that we are not at a disadvantage because we speak a different language from the majority."

Cardinal noted current Tu Nedhe MLA Tom Beaulieu speaks Chipewyan fluently, adding it is a fundamental quality that the MLA must possess to represent and communicate with the people of the district.

The Metis representative said Tu Nedhe has the special circumstances that would allow a more than 25 per cent variation from the average number of people in an electoral district.

Chief Louis Balsillie of Deninu Ku'e First Nation also opposed the proposed boundary changes.

"I feel Deninu Ku'e needs our own MLA to speak on our behalf," he said.

All members of the commission NWT Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood, Charles Furlong and Ian McGrea were in Fort Resolution to hear the concerns of the community.

Smallwood said the legislative assembly has asked the commission to create three scenarios of 18, 19 and 21 MLAs, noting there are currently 19 members of the legislature.

One of the guidelines is effective representation, meaning each district would have a population within 25 per cent plus or minus of the average. With an NWT population of about 43,000 and the current 19 MLAs, that means an average of about 2,200 people per district.

"We know because of the Northwest Territories and its size and its geography, it's very difficult to get every electoral district at the same number, so you're allowed to have a variance of 25 per cent," Smallwood said. "But it's not just about numbers. There are also other things that we are required to look at and those are called community of interest considerations. Those are things that go beyond the numbers, beyond just population. It's also things like language links between communities, land claims, historic links between the communities, transportation links."

She noted of the current 19 districts, 10 are either below or above the 25 per cent target variance.

The commission intends to present its final report to the legislative assembly at the end of May.

The final decision on the issue will be made by the legislative assembly.

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