Last week I sat in a meeting with several Northwest Territories farmers, producers, and growers, and a common thread was how much further ahead Yukon is in terms of agriculture than the Northwest Territories. Many agricultural businesses are hindered by regulations and limited access to resources that should be readily available.
Then over the weekend, I was having a conversation with another Yellowknife entrepreneur where we noted that Whitehorse and Yukon were much further ahead than the Northwest Territories in terms of their technology, startup and innovation sector.
Which also reminded me that for years we have talked about how the Northwest Territories is so far behind Yukon in terms of territorial tourism efforts.
And just the other day I read about how High Level, Alberta – read: very small town in Northern Alberta – has an Accommodation Levy of 7% yet Yellowknife is having a hard time getting one at all to support our ever-growing tourism demand.
Ah yes, and then there is the arts sector, which is made up of the most creative people, but they are limited by grant options, gallery space, practice venues and all around support. But when they look at Yukon they see a much more developed arts sector. One that even has a University program in a small town.
What I see and hear is that those people in those sectors care about what they do, and want the NWT to be better, but feel like the NWT is so far behind and that there is simply nothing they can do about it. And don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think Yukon has everything figured out, probably far from it, but they are ahead of the Northwest Territories.
I actually wonder if Nunavut looks of the Northwest Territories with envy and awe the same way the NWT seems to look at Yukon?
It is great to talk about these things, and look to Yukon for guidance and inspiration, but when is talking enough? When should action be put in place? And what is that action? How can we make the Northwest Territories be ahead of the Yukon for a change, or at least feel that way?
As an individual, or even within one of the sectors mentioned above, our voices seem to get lost and never taken seriously. These little pockets of people, passionate about one thing are often not loud enough voice to induce change at any rapid rate.
To an average resident of this territory, someone not within the Government of the Northwest Territories, it seems like most officials just talk about the issues facing the Northwest Territories with little to show for any *actual* change or progress.
It is heartbreaking and exhausting as a resident who loves his community and this territory to feel as though we are being held back. Spending time with these different groups – tourism, agriculture, technology, startups, arts – has opened my eyes to all the passionate people that reside here.
It is easy to say our territorial government needs to step up, loosen the rains, and push forward some change for the better. Change that would allow food producers to get off the ground without being overly regulated, or would allow for a municipal government to collect a levy to support its own tourism industry, or would allow the arts community real resources to take them to a national level, or would allow for entrepreneurs the ability to create a space and the resources to expand innovated ideas that could change the landscape of the Northwest Territories.
But at what point are we as individuals, and organizations, responsible for pushing and creating this change and saying enough is enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel exhausted on a daily basis because it seems like every new idea I have has a giant roadblock in its way and I need to become some sort of Government lobbyist just to do anything. That isn’t right. Residents should not have to lobby against its own government just to do simple things. The Northwest Territories should not be reinventing the wheel every time someone wants to do something that has never been done here before. May I point you in the direction of the NWT Brewing Co.
Maybe a solution? A step forward?
When I say we the residents, innovators, artists, growers, farmers, and tourism operators need to create the change, I mean this in the sense that we need to work together. Our voices are spread too thin when we are all lobbying for our own cause when in reality we all want similar change. We all want our regulating bodies to work with us, and not feel like their working against us, stifling our innovation, stifling our ideas.
There are organizations for food producers, the arts community, the business community, potentially the local tourism sector, and if the territorial tourism association could look past their government funding, them too. If all these organizations and any individual willing – because I believe everyone should have a voice even if they’re just one person – got together, showed up at the Legislative Assembly, wrote a letter, or simply said enough is enough and took action, maybe then we can change. Maybe then we could open the NWT up for innovation, new ideas, more creativity, a sustainable food system and who knows what else. Maybe we could attract even more tourism, develop more experience based products that showcase the territories history and culture, attract more Universities to conduct research here.
It just seems like the weight of the territory sits on the shoulders of a few, and those few sit in silos and don’t talk with one another. Maybe if they talked their collective voice would be loud enough to be noticed and effect change.
Maybe it would but maybe it would all be for not.
But at the end of the day, there are passionate people in this territory, in each of those sectors, and others – sports, sustainable energy, fishing, etc – who will get tired. Who will burn out. Who will just find a job and stay quiet for the rest of their career. Who might leave the territory altogether.
We need to stop that from happening.