N.W.T. Election 2023: Hans Wiedemann’s Hay River North interview

With a focus on unity in his community, Wiedemann says the economy, housing, and social issues will be his priority. In partnership with Indigenous leadership, Wiedemann says he would advance negotiations directly with the federal government to secure funding for infrastructure in the North.

With an abundance of natural resources, Wiedemann says northern communities have to prepare for the international attention they will receive as climate change impacts clean water, food, trees, and minerals. Wiedemann also sees a unique opportunity to develop tourism in the town.

"The community has so much untapped potential. With attention and with advocating, that potential can be exploited by the community," he said.

More information: Hans Wiedemann's Facebook page

Greg McMeekin, incumbent RJ Simpson and Michael Wallington are also running in the district.

This interview was recorded on October 25, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Simona Rosenfield: Can you start by sharing why you're running for MLA?

Hans Wiedemann: We're at a very dangerous time in the history of the Northwest Territories. As a consensus government, we're bordering on autocratic oversight. It seems like the MLAs are starting to lose the balance of power to senior bureaucratic management.

And having said that, on a community level, it's about unifying the community. It's not about just being the voice in Yellowknife. It's about unifying the community so that everybody's heard – everybody with a concern has that attention, has that empathy to understand them, and to research and to move forward with them.

My opinion is: they're all somebody's children, and our children deserve better. Our parents taught us better and our grandparents expect better.

Economically, the community has so much untapped potential. With attention and with advocating, that potential can be exploited by the community.

And in terms of housing, the answer's right there. But we need government participation. We have a big project going on in right in the centre of our community and what have we got for participation from government? Zero to practically nothing. And this is something that I've been advocating for, this is something that I've been dragging over the last two years, trying to convince the board that this is the place to invest your money in.

So in terms of housing, it's more than just government programs. It's touching base with industry, it's advocating with industry right across the spectrum, from economy to housing to social issues.

It's not just the voice in Yellowknife. It's a voice here in the community. It's an ear here in the community. It's helping the heart and soul of our community – the people, the children, everybody.

Q: If elected, what would you bring to the next assembly? What would you do differently to address the issues you named?

A: First of all, when we talk about social issues, we're in the time of reconciliation. And that's more than just talk, that's more than just sitting around and coming up with a report or an action plan.

It's actually doing. It's giving an informational program out there on intergenerational trauma. It's about getting an informational program on adverse childhood experience.

We've got so many youth sitting out there, sitting in the dark, counting breaths, because they think they've got an inherent character flaw. And they don't have a character flaw. This is a direct result of residential schools. This is a direct result of intergenerational trauma. This is a direct result of adverse childhood experience.

So, I think once we really grasp reconciliation and really roll up our sleeves and do something in terms of informing the victims and the intergenerational victims of residential school, I think – and I know – we'll be better off as a territory.

Q: I'd like to zone in on some of your priorities and get a sense of how you envision implementing these goals. Can you speak to that?

A: I think we have to have – not a working group, but a partnership with Indigenous groups, with the treaties, with everybody. And when I say treaties, it's Indigenous tradition to be inclusive of everybody, regardless where you're from.

I once had a nice conversation when I was living in Fort McPherson with Chief Johnny Charlie. He said: "You see all this, you see all this community? I'm the Chief of this community. Not just the Gwich'in, but everybody in the community. I have to look out for their betterment. I have to look out for them, everybody."

And so when we talk treaties, we've got to strengthen and embolden. You've got to capitalize on how they're implemented. Not to be subservient to the territorial government, but to work in partnership with. Treaties are a nation-to-nation agreement, internationally recognized, but yet we have a bureaucracy that's trying to make it subservient to a territorial government.

And when we look at the treaties and how they're recognized, more and more in the Supreme Court of Canada, in terms of their rights and implementation, we have a chance to capitalize on bringing programs, resources, federal dollars to the territory. We just have to look at things just a little differently. You know, the definition of craziness is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.

Q: Moving on, you mentioned the economy. What are your plans to strengthen economic activity in the area?

A: Let's examine the current time frame we're in. Climate change is here. It's here. And having said that, the world will be coming to us. They'll be coming to us for resources such as water, such as farming land, such as trees, not just minerals in the ground, for our fish, for resources like that. We have to start preparing. We have to start preparing for that attention that we will be getting from the world.

Let's look at tourism. Already there's places in southern Canada that are getting too hot for tourism. So, we have to start preparing here in Hay River. We have one of the most pristine waterfronts. But the government seems inherently locked on keeping those in their possession. When we look at other jurisdictions such as London, Vancouver, Toronto, and what they've done with their waterfronts, I think we've got to reexamine, here in the community, not only our tourism potential, but our whole riverfront system.

Q: You touched on climate change just now. The last few years, there have been multiple evacuations in Hay River due to forest fires and flooding. Do you have any plans to support community members affected by the impacts of climate change?

A: Whenever the GNWT initiates a state of emergency, there should be a mandatory inquiry immediately afterwards. Not to find fault, but to find what worked, and what didn't work, and change those.

Climate emergencies are here and they're only going to increase over time. The nature of the climate emergency is yet to be determined.

So let's look at this last climate emergency with the fires. Are we getting our water treatment centres ready for all the runoff this spring? That's going to affect our drinking water.

There's a lot that has to be looked at. We have to look at it not just from the same old perspective, but we have to look at it from different perspectives. And that's why working shoulder to shoulder with Indigenous organizations is imperative. Not only for the betterment of the people but, if we're looking at climate change and instituting changes to infrastructure, we have to work with Indigenous organizations to approach the federal government for funding for that infrastructure. And not ask these organizations to be subservient through legislation, through devolutions, etc.

Q: How do you envision that partnership between the GNWT and Indigenous Nations when approaching the federal government for this kind of funding?

A: First of all, it wouldn't be a partnership between the GNWT and Indigenous organizations. It would be a partnership between leaders.

Every Indigenous organization has a leader, and when we put the GNWT into a category like that, it has an unaccountable overtone to it. So when you say leaders, then there's a sense of accountability as to agreements, as to partnerships, as to funding arrangements.

I don't like to use the word GNWT. It's too broad. Many things can be hidden in that meaning. Many bureaucrats hide in that meaning. So I prefer to use leaders, because that's what it is. That's what we need. Leadership, true leadership.

Q: If elected, how do you envision implementing that work? How would you work with Indigenous leadership to approach the federal government? Can you give a sense to readers how that would look, approaching the federal government in that dynamic?

A: Even before that happens, there's a lot of work that has to be done to repair the relationship between governance and Indigenous organizations.

Q: Final question. Can you share with voters why you are the right candidate for the job?

A: Why am I the right leader for the job?

Every day I'm amongst the people. Every day, people feel comfortable enough with me to ask me to advocate on many different issues and to get results. It's nothing that's splashed across the front page. It could be as simple as a health issue, could be as simple as a medical travel issue, could be as simple as a tax issue. Not only people from this community, but Sachs Harbour, Inuvik, etc.

I generally have a good working relationship with people. Listening to people, talking to people, interacting with people, and that's what it's about. It's about community. It's about unity. It's not about one person.

Why am I a good candidate? Because I believe I have a strong working relationship with many people in our community, from various backgrounds. I, like them, at many times struggled, counted change for the next meal. So I can empathize with them. And I know what it's like because I've been there, and I'll probably be there again at some point in my life. But for now, I feel entrusted enough to carry those concerns forward and to get resolution.

Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.

Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio