There’s only one new territory


The time is fast approaching when residents of the western Northwest Territories will be obliged to recognize a difficult and unfortunate reality:

On April 1, 1999, one not two new territories will emerge out of what we now call the Northwest Territories.

Yes, we’ve all seen the well-known line on maps of Northern Canada that shows the two sections into which the current NWT will be divided.

And for years, we’ve all heard the unrelenting talk about how the people of the NWT are engaged in the process of creating “two new territories.”

A few years ago, this may have made sense. But now it no longer conforms to reality.

Now, it’s just an empty rhetorical fiction, sustained by the government of the Northwest Territories in an attempt to soothe the petty resentments of western residents, many of whose leaders are growing increasingly jealous of Ottawa’s generosity toward Nunavut.

As such, the “two new territories” concept also serves as a convenient crowbar that western leaders may routinely use to pry more loot from the federal treasury.

For a while, the fiction worked. But if Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger’s recent braying and bellowing about Nunavut health care funding is any indication, it’s not likely to work for much longer.

The time has come, then, to admit the obvious: only one new territory will be created in 1999.

At the same time, the old Northwest Territories will continue to exist, albeit with a smaller population and a reduced land mass. And what’s left of the Northwest Territories after division will not be “new,” at least not in the sense that Nunavut is considered to be new.

Since 1982, western leaders have tried time after time to bring western residents into a consensus on what kind of government they will have after division.

And time after time they’ve failed to reach consensus. Not for lack of talent and good intentions, but simply because the western NWT’s ethnic groups have never really learned to understand one another’s fears and aspirations, and have never really learned how to live together.

After division, slightly more than half of all NWT residents will be non-aboriginal, the vast majority of whom live in Yellowknife. Slightly less than half will be aboriginal, living in small communities scattered throughout various regions outside Yellowknife.

Most non-aboriginal residents bristle at any proposals designed to strengthen aboriginal representation in a new western legislature, and at attempts to incorporate aboriginal-exclusive ideas into a new western government.

Aboriginal residents in the West have as many ideas about how to design a government as there are languages and dialects. Some are cutting their own deals with Ottawa. Some still cling to the preposterous idea of creating a third new territory in the Deh Cho region.

A group of western leaders known as the “Constitutional Working Group” the latest manifestation of the western NWT’s failure to find a common vision ­ have so far failed to produce a constitutional proposal capable of winning a majority of votes in a plebiscite.

And, as everyone knows, the winning name in the legislative assembly’s well-intentioned but ill-fated “name-the new-territory” contest was “Northwest Territories.” That’s a signal that, for the ordinary people of the western NWT, the way things are now is the way things always should be.

That may not be what the elite wants to hear. But if it’s the old NWT that the ordinary people want, then that’s what they should get. Besides, it’s now certain that the old NWT will emerge by default anyway.

In 1999, Nunavut residents expect to take part with other Canadians in a major celebration marking the creation of their new territory. People are now beginning to prepare for those celebrations, and expect the co-operation of officials in Ottawa and Yellowknife.

But the GNWT is still clinging to the nonsensical position that the birth of two new territories will be celebrated in 1999.

Western residents have nothing to celebrate. They’re not creating a new territory just coping with the remains of an old one, as they contemplate two decades of constitutional failure.

The GNWT should change its position and let Nunavut celebrate what it has to celebrate and stop pretending that what’s happening now in Nunavut bears any resemblance to what’s happening in the West. JB

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