Current Problems

Call to Action # 57: Training for Public Servants (57)

MLA questions what’s stopping N.W.T. gov’t from hiring more Indigenous people

February 16, 2023

‘We need to know what those barriers are prior to developing something that we may or may not need’: Simpson

Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson questions Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek on why the affirmative action plan isn’t working. He said the government should identify specific barriers before replacing the program. (Travis Burke/CBC)

CBC News: Before the N.W.T. implements a new plan, the territory should understand why its affirmative action policy isn’t working, says Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson.

Affirmative action is a government policy that prioritizes hiring Indigenous people and Northerners. It was implemented in 1989 with a goal of creating a public service that represents the people it serves.  Last week, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek announced her department is looking into replacing the policy, which she said had not evolved since it was first developed.

Simpson said before the government revamps the program, it should understand its obstacles.  “Is it because of education levels? Because of the type of positions available? Because of location of potential indigenous employees? Because we have a young population not of working age? Is it because we have settled claims and people are working there instead?” he asked in the legislature Wednesday.

“Whatever it is, we need to know what those barriers are prior to developing something that we may or may not need.”

Simpson asked the minister how the department has measured the success of the current policy and how it’s engaged Indigenous governments, non-government organizations, communities and residents in the review process for the new policy. 

Wawzonek pointed to an analysis of the labour force conducted in June 2022 and research the government conducted ahead of the Indigenous Recruitment and Retention Framework. “So there’s been much research done,” she said, though she did not identify what barriers that research found. 

Wawzonek said that the affirmative action policy is not the only one working towards increasing Indigenous representation in the territory’s workforce.  (Alex Brockman/CBC )

Wawzonek agreed it’s clear the current system isn’t working. 

“We all know it hasn’t delivered because the needle hasn’t moved,” she said.  

Wawzonek said the affirmative action policy is not the only one working toward increasing Indigenous representation in the territory’s workforce.  She said the territory also has Indigenous training and recruitment programs, as well as the aforementioned framework that, in part, sets Indigenous hiring targets within territorial government departments. 

As far as engagement, Wawzonek said her department has already heard back from some Indigenous governments on the policy review and will be hosting public engagement sessions in nine communities through February and March.  She said there is also an open survey on the policy for feedback, and welcomed further feedback through email. 


Natalie Pressman, Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. Reach her at: