Well-known Northern broadcaster Dëneze Nahehk’o is taking a step back from his work with CKLB Radio in Yellowknife to run for MLA in his home riding of Nahendeh in the Dehcho region.
The 38 year-old radio program director with the Native Communications Society of the NWT said he had been mulling over the possibility of running for office for a long while, and decided to take the plunge with encouragement from his family, community members and even NWT MP Dennis Bevington.
While part of the move is certainly following in family footsteps – his father, Jim Antoine, was premier of the NWT from 1998 to 2000 – he said his main motivation is a strong desire for change at the territorial level.
“I just don’t have a lot of faith in the current crop of leadership there, and I don’t think they’re taking us in a good direction,” Nakehk’o told the Journal. “There’s so much opportunity and potential in the North and I think there’s so many voices that are not being listened to. I would like to step up and try to be the voice of the people that are not being heard when it comes to a lot of the big decisions being made on everyone’s behalf.”
Nakehk’o said he feels the territorial leadership has been “cowtowing to the Conservative agenda” on issues like regulatory reform, resource development and land claims.
“Although it is important to work with our federal counterparts, we still have to listen to the people,” Nakehk’o said.
If elected MLA, Nakehk’o said he would be a strong advocate for the completion of unsettled land claims in the territory, which he thinks should warrant as much dedication and effort by the GNWT as was afforded the devolution negotiations that wrapped up early last year.
“One of the main things I see is to bring to some sort of completion our outstanding treaty rights and obligations, meaning completing the Dehcho Process,” he said. “I think that’s a huge thing that would bring about some certainty in a lot of different areas… Everything is connected to that, everything that affects people’s lives in the community when you talk about housing, education, health, resource development… but also it will be a huge piece of the puzzle when you talk about the rest of the territory.”
As well, he wants to see major improvements to the highways system in the Nahendeh region, especially Highway 7 to Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte and the B.C. border.
“There’s a huge discrepancy. When you’re coming into the territory from Alberta, we have this huge sign, there’s a place to pull over, there’s an interpretive centre, and when you come into the NWT from British Columbia, the pavement ends. It’s a big gravel road and a little sign,” he said. “So I think we need to put a whole lot more effort into that area.”
Though he now lives and works in Yellowknife, Nakehk’o was born and raised in Fort Simpson, or Liidlii Kue, and said he continues to consider the community home.
“Some of the good advice I got was that if you’re going to be an elected official, then you should represent the people you believe in,” he said. “I’ve always believed in the people from over there and even though I live over here, my heart’s over there. All the work I’ve done in my life, I’ve kind of done it with my people and community in mind… The people I believe in are the people back home in Nahendeh. If they would have me, I’d be proud to represent them and relay their voices at a territorial level.”
Nakehk’o was in Fort Liard over the weekend for a youth hand games tournament and said he will now be visiting the communities of the region over the next 14 weeks until the election. The district consists of Fort Liard, Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, Nahanni Butte, Trout Lake and Wrigley.
“I’m going to be hitting the road and the river and the air,” he said. “Nahendeh’s got six communities, and I’d like to spend a significant amount of time in every community to hear the concerns of the people and see what they really want.”