The NWT On The Land Collaborative is a collective of partners from government, industry, philanthropy, and beyond, working together to support land-based programs and projects in the NWT. Each of these partner organizations has a representative that participates in quarterly meetings and annual funding decisions. This is the ninth in a series of profiles of the people and organizations that make the Collaborative possible. You can read the other profiles here.
Kyla Kakfwi-Scott of Health and Social Services has the ideal slate of experiences for the NWT On The Land Collaborative. As Dechinta’s inaugural Program Director she helped to shepherd the fledgling bush university from concept paper to program delivery, so she knows the demanding cycle of applying for funding and reporting, while also trying to deliver meaningful programming. Kyla has also sat on the other side of the table as a funder: managing Ekati Diamond Mine’s community investment and Aboriginal engagement program; serving on the board of the NWT chapter of the United Way; advising the Small Change Fund; and chairing the selection committee for the Arctic Inspiration Prize. Perhaps most importantly, through her time at Dechinta and more recently through her involvement with Dene Nahjo, an NWT-based Indigenous leadership collective, Kyla has experienced the transformative power of being on the land and seen the same in others. It’s no wonder that Kyla was handpicked by Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Debbie Delancy, to coordinate the Collaborative, a role she shares with Steve Ellis of Tides Canada.
Kyla joined the department in May 2013, shortly after Paul Andrew, Chair of the Minister’s Forum on Addictions and Community Wellness, released the Forum’s final report, Healing Voices. The Forum, which was convened in November 2012 to hear directly from NWT residents about how best to address addictions and promote community wellness, travelled to 21 communities over four months: “What the Forum heard more than anything else during its travels is the land heals…So strong is this belief, with so many examples of its success, that the Forum is making on-the-land programming its number one recommendation.” The Forum’s findings were re-iterated in the weeks and months that followed at anti-poverty workshops, at gatherings of community representatives, and in meetings between the Minister of Health and Social Services and Indigenous governments.
The people spoke and Health and Social Services listened, devoting 1 million dollars that year to supporting land-based healing programs. It was not an insignificant amount of money. However, given the expense of on the land programs and the demand, it was inadequate in meeting community needs, so the department was looking for ways to leverage other funding. If you read Steve Ellis’s profile, you will recall the serendipitous meeting that happened between the Northern Lead for Tides Canada and the Deputy Minister in 2014 and the November 2014 meeting on funding collaboratives the two organizations co-hosted to “stimulate thinking on the art of the possible,” as Debbie describes it. Of particular interest to the Deputy Minister was the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture, and Community Collaborative, a collaborative with a provincial government at the table, which could serve as a model for a NWT-based initiative. (Engaging in these kinds of projects can be tricky for governments because of the legislative and policy frameworks that regulate the spending of public monies.) It was at that meeting that Health and Social Services officially committed to starting a collaborative fund to support land-based programs in the territory.
The collaborative model appealed for a number of reasons beyond attracting additional dollars. By offering a mechanism for government departments supporting land-based programs to talk to one another about the work they are doing, a collaborative could help to break down government silos. Likewise, a collaborative had the potential to facilitate connections within and between communities, all with the aim of “combining strengths and combining resources,” in Debbie’s words.
While there was much that was attractive about the models presented at the workshop, it has been important to both women that what was to become the NWT On The Land Collaborative reflect local priorities and ways of working. For this reason, from the beginning, community representatives have been at the table. Kyla explains, “The people who are actually applying for funding and running the programs have had a really important voice in both articulating the need for a collaborative approach to funding, but also what that approach should look like.” Through dialogue between the partners, which consist of community advisors and funders, the Collaborative will continue to evolve: “It’s not just about developing a process that will then be set in stone…It’s about continuous improvement, how we are working, how we might work differently, and how that changes over time.”
To date, both women are happy with the progress that has been made. Kyla notes, “We started with a giant leap of faith on the part of all of the partners and so our first critical measure of success is coming out of the first round, we’ve maintained all of the existing partner relationships... and we’ve brought in a couple of new partners.” Debbie adds, “It’s been very positive the engagement that we’ve had from communities and Indigenous governments. The ability to get government departments involved, as well as NGOs and industry and to get everyone to agree. We didn’t really have a lot of templates in Canada for that, so that it has been successful has been very exciting.”
While much of our interview time was taken up with discussing the history and mechanics of the Collaborative, both Kyla and Debbie have personal reasons for wanting to support land-based programming in the NWT. Debbie, who is originally from upstate New York, lived for eight years with her partner in his home community of Fort Good Hope, during which time she spent extended periods of time on the land: “I had the opportunity to experience the power of the land and to see the impact that spending time in touch with the land had on people…The land is the most powerful tool that we have to support healing at a community and individual level.”
Kyla’s response to the same question hints at the variations and complexities in the relationships that people have to the land in the NWT and also the importance of land-based programs for Indigenous youth: “My own personal connection to land has been one of needing to find it having grown up [in Yellowknife] rather than in either of the places that I would consider myself to be from…I’m trying to learn by doing and creating opportunities for myself and other people to be around that.”
The NWT On The Land Collaborative depends on partners like Health & Social Services to support land-based initiatives in the NWT. If your organization is interested in becoming a partner, please contact Steve Ellis (firstname.lastname@example.org).