Our trip to Yellowknife is off to a great start! We arrived on Saturday and took advantage of our free weekend to check out a local pub, have bison burgers, eat fish and chips at the famous Bullocks, check out the Visitors’ Centre, hang out in an igloo and walk around the Old Town.
Today we had our first introduction to legislative affairs of the Northwest Territories. We were warmly welcomed at the Legislature by Gail Bennett the Principal Clerk, Corporate and Interparliamentary Affairs. She had lots of tips for us about how to make the best of our week and presented us with our itinerary. We will be having such wonderful meetings and can’t thank Gail enough for all of her work in setting them up and hosting us here in Yellowknife.
Next up we had a tour with Public Affairs and Communications Intern Kaitlyn. It was clear Kaitlyn was passionate about her territory and the building she works in and her enthusiasm was infectious. We all loved learning about the symbolism that is everywhere at the legislature. For example, the mace here is called the talking mace and there is a stone from each of the communities inside. There is also a golden orb representing the midnight sun and the traditional crown that represents the monarchy is made of snowflakes, each one is different representing the diversity of people in the territory. In every room of the legislature there are aspects that represent equality, accountability and transparency.
One of the many interesting stories Kaitlyn shared with us was about the polar bear that lies in the middle of the Legislative Chamber. Some years ago, a member of Legislative Assembly was having issues with polar bears wandering into communities within his constituency and he brought it up to the minister responsible. The issue was overlooked and the problem continued. One day, this MLA stepped out of his home to discover a polar bear at his front door. Luckily, he had a gun nearby and was able to protect himself from the bear. The bear was brought to the Chamber to serve as a reminder to listen and to act on all issues in constituencies throughout the territory.
Afterwards we met with Clerk Tim Mercer and he gave us his famous “Inside the Sausage Maker” presentation. This gave us a good introduction on the ins and outs of consensus style government. Though we had done some research before coming, it was great to have the chance to ask him all our questions and get some additional background.
Continuing on with the fast pace of our day we were ushered into the Speaker’s office to meet with Jackie Jacobson. He spoke to us about his constituency and how he gets around his enormous riding of Tuktoyaktuk. His is the most northern of all the ridings in the Northwest Territories. He also shared with us that he sees his role of Speaker as one of “protector” to the 18 other members. We will be meeting Speaker Jacobson again throughout the week for dinner and dog sledding. We are of course looking forward to that quite a lot!!
For lunch, we went to the Dancing Moose Café with staff from the Research, Library and Information Services. Lee, Colette, Patricia and Megan were a wealth of knowledge and a pleasure to speak to. They talked to us a bit more about consensus style government and life in the Northwest Territories. Though the conversation was definitely the main event, the food was not too shabby either!
After lunch we popped over to the other side of the road and met with Mandee from the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning. As Program Manager, Mandee seems to have quite an interesting job. It was fascinating to hear about the programs Dechinta Bush University offers at their Ecolodge and Outcamp. Some examples of courses are; Community Governance, Research and Writing; Dene Self-Determination in Theory and Practice and Community Health Promotion. Dechinta allows for accessible education through childcare options, work exchanges, scholarships and student financial assistance. The idea is to use indigenous epistemology to inform their pedagogy. The land-based education acknowledges the role and stewardship of the land within its longer historical context. The courses at Dechinta can be attended as standalone training or used as credits at other universities in Canada.
For our last meeting of the day we made our way to City Hall. We met with Deputy Mayor Linda Bussey, City Clerk Debbie Gillard and Senior Administrative Officer Dennis Kefalas. Together the trio offered a range of perspectives and a lot of interesting information about the city. For example we were told that since Yellowknife is a young city it is governed in a progressive way. We discussed transit in the city, the rural/urban divide and main challenges that face Yellowknife.
All in all, a very informative and enjoyable day! We can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds for us.