With just 30 minutes to go before the nomination period for territorial candidates closed on Friday morning, Nigit’stil Norbert celebrated her 30th birthday by filing to run against premier incumbent Bob McLeod.
“It was a last-minute push, but definitely not a last-minute decision,” said the self-described artist and activist.
“It’s my birthday today, so why not transform things and go big or go home?” she said with a laugh.
Born and raised in Yellowknife, Norbert comes from a family with a long political legacy in the territory. Her great grandfather, former chief Paul Niditchie of Tsiigehtchic, was signatory to Treaty 11, while her grandfather, Napoleon Norbert, was also elected chief of the Arctic Red River Indian Band, as it was then known. Her father Lawrence Norbert has worked as a public servant for 31 years, including stints with the Gwich’in Tribal Council, the Justice department and the Tsiigehtchic community government.
An act of resistance
A first-time candidate, Norbert said her decision to run for MLA in Yellowknife South is an “act of resistance” and a “call to action” still rippling from the 2012 Idle No More movement that saw indigenous people across Canada rise up collectively in protest of government policies deemed harmful to the environment and Aboriginal rights.
“This is part of that resistance and these are the voices that are going to be coming to the forefront: young, indigenous, women,” Norbert said. “This isn’t by chance. This is a conscious decision. It’s an uprising of the next generation.
“I have great respect for the people who have gone ahead of us, and that is what has allowed me to take this step and where I gain my power: from the people, my family and the land, the earth that we are here to protect,” she said.
“There is room for young people to have a voice within this system and to help shake things up and bring a new perspective; a vision of how we see our future going forward.”
Norbert said she specifically chose to challenge McLeod out of respect for the constituents of Yellowknife South, who were not given a chance to vote in the 2011 election when McLeod was handed a second term as MLA — and ultimately premier — by acclamation.
“Not only am I running to win, but I also see that the constituents within Yellowknife South haven’t had a vote in eight years. That’s eight years where people’s voices have not been listened to and have not been heard,” she said.
“I think in order to have some of those voices heard, we must have some open dialogue within these three-and-a-half weeks. We need to speak openly about the issues. If this forces Bob (McLeod) to come out from behind those walls he’s been behind for eight years, then all the better for it.”
For Norbert, key issues that need addressing include violence against women and indigenous people, generally, as well as the environment. When it comes to controversial practices like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, she believes the people need to have the final say before industry is given approval.
She also wants to see improvements made to the consensus government system so that it is working effectively and upholding the intended spirit behind it.
“We need to have a huge discussion about consensus,” she said. “There’s lots of closed doors and secret deals happening. This is very, very important to the future.”
A history of engagement
Norbert said she first became politically engaged at the age of 18 when she travelled the world working with organizations like Canada World Youth and the United Nations. She then did her post-secondary at Ryerson and OCAD University in Toronto, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Since then she said she has used her art as a platform for researching and discussing complex issues like colonization and residential schools, and for envisioning a better future. Now, she said she wants to harness that vision as a “servant of the people.”
“I am an activist and an advocate,” she said. “I have a street-level view of what is going on. I haven’t been behind closed doors working on my own agenda. This isn’t technically about me; this isn’t the Nigit’stil show. I want to be a conduit for what people in that riding and the people of the North would like to see happen. We’ve seen a federal shakeup occur and I think there’s room to have a territorial shakeup as well.”
Along with Norbert, Samuel Roland also entered his name for Yellowknife South MLA just before deadline. EDGE plans to catch up with him and his priorities as part of our ongoing election coverage.