Editorial page

Monday, December 14, 1998

Get serious about high costs

There was discussion at the recent Meet The North conference in Edmonton about the high cost of air travel in the NWT.

To begin dealing with the problem, three distinct parties are going to have to agree the goal is achievable -- the airlines, their customers and government.

The airlines are going to have to look for more revenue from increased volume rather than higher ticket prices. They also have to look at reducing route duplication and other cost cutting efficiencies. Northern airline travellers, if they are serious about cheaper airfares, may have to accept a level of in cabin services different from those offered in the south where most planes fly with full payloads. They may also have to accept schedules and routes altered in the cause of efficiencies. If fares go down it will be justified.

The government role in the North is two-fold. The territorial government is a major airline customer. As the bureaucrats flying are not footing the bill, they would resist any reduction in the frills. Government is going to have to decide which is more important - free lunches or cheaper travel costs.

The federal government collects money for air services through Nav Can, that so-called not for profit organization responsible for Canada's air traffic services.

Nav Can's questionable cost revenue analysis resulted in a $100 million fee reduction in the South. But they are planning to gouge the North a further $7.5 million!

Recognizing that every job in the North creates 1.8 jobs in the south, the federal government should put the arm on Nav Can to rethink the Northern hikes. Judging by the ad run in the Dec. 3 Globe & Mail, Nav Can is patting itself on the back for screwing the North.

All parties are going to have to get serious about reducing the costs of air travel in the North to a level that will encourage growth. The sooner the better.

Preventable tragedy

Once again this past week the chief coroner and Northern RCMP members were forced to comment publicly on a senseless and completely preventable death.

The combination of freezing cold Northern temperatures, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of common sense is a deadly formula for an untimely demise.

Maybe, just maybe, some will finally get the message after the senseless death of a Taloyoak man this past week.

Sadly, with seven such deaths since January 1997, too many Northerners are learning this lesson the hard way.

Cheer up!

With less than a couple of weeks to go, there's a good chance you are beginning to feel a little bit of that annual Christmas pressure.

Feeding family and friends, buying presents for relatives you wouldn't recognize in a police line-up, trying to decorate the place without spending a fortune, spending a fortune decorating the place, watching your credit cards melt from overuse, these are the things that can ruin that already frail feeling of Christmas cheer.

There's only one solution and that's to give it back as good as you get it. When the collection agency calls about the overdue bill, wish them all a merry Christmas. Same to crabs behind you in the line-up at the Post Office.

Don't forget to wish the cops who tell you to turn it down a happy holiday and save a special season's greeting for the landlord who's confused about when the rent's due.

Who knows? By the time you're done, some of that Christmas spirit may have rubbed off on you.

Phone power

Gary Guy is the kind of man who gets people to listen -- especially when it comes to municipal politics.

During a trip to Nunavut's capital last month, the mayor of Resolute Bay learned that the territorial government had re-prioritized his capital plan and delayed an enclosed skating rink he thought his community would see next winter.

Never one to give up a fight, Guy asked High Arctic dwellers to repeatedly phone in and tie up the lines of the department of municipal and community affairs with questions about the rink.

Guy has since been asked to put the campaign on hold while the matter is re-examined. That's a point scored for the little guys. Maybe more people need to pick up their phones to get the government to listen.

Joy of giving
Editorial Comment
Glen Korstrum
Inuvik Drum

Each year when Christmas approaches, people act differently.

Usual friendliness and general good will increases and people take the opportunity to feel the joy of giving.

At least that's the theory.

In practice, Christmas can increase stress and increase feelings of inadequacy among those who are less well off but share the same desire to give what they have.

Now, I'm not one to hang out in bars around town, but some people who do tell me they see people both limiting themselves more and staying away so they can better afford to spend on their children.

Money is tight in many homes, but Christmas is a time for children.

Much anticipation for the big day, excitement when it comes and thrills when opening gifts.

When parents lack the means to provide a happy Christmas for their children, gloom can set in.

But it need not be like that.

And the wonderful thing about Christmas is that there are so many opportunities to help others.

Many residents from groups such as the RCMP, the volunteer fire fighters, the Legion, the Lions Club and several businesses are now involved in a project called Santa's Elves.

The aim is to help provide happy Christmases for kids while allowing residents to adopt a child for the season and put weight behind the phrase, "It takes a whole community to raise a child."

For example, Northern Store manager Brian Gladys says a Christmas tree has been put up in the store bearing more than 50 "angels" complete with the age and sex of a child written on them.

If someone picks an angel off the tree with "four-year-old boy" written on it, that person can buy a gift with a four-year-old boy in mind and then give the gift to the Northern Store cashier.

The angel will be taped to the gift for Santa's elves to wrap and then distribute to children named by social services as deserving.

Many other stores in town will similarly have trees with the angels.

Losing a sun

One woman greeted me last week with the news, "We've lost our sun."

Hearing this, I immediately thought something tragic had happened and wondered what kind of accident had befallen her family.

Then she clarified things -- that the sun had dipped below the horizon for what will be about a month.

But despite the darkness, Inuvik is beautiful this time of year. A reddish sky slowly appears and then fades during midday and Christmas lights often remain bright throughout.

Some are already raising money to buy fireworks for the annual sunrise festival either Jan. 5 or 6 -- an event likely to dramatically mark the start of a new cycle for all of us.

At a critical juncture
Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

When a muscle isn't used it atrophies, withers away. The same thing could be said of languages.

Last week, a group of people convened in Fort Providence to see to it that the South Slavey language receives a thorough work-out in the near future to ensure it not only survives, but proliferates.

It's a challenge that must be taken up soon. Judy Tutcho, the languages commissioner for the NWT, said only three aboriginal languages are expected to survive over the next few decades -- those being Inuktitut, Cree and Ojibwa. Some languages are in dire straits, such as certain Gwich'in dialects which have only about 15 elders remaining who speak them fluently, she noted.

"Some of the languages are in their 11th hour. For some it's closer to quarter-to-12," she said.

Fortunately, South Slavey, which is predominant in the Deh Cho region, hasn't yet reached such a critical stage. Hopefully, it never will.

The delegates discussed ways to make the Dene language a key component of every day life. It has virtually been eliminated in most workplaces, they agreed. So, how can it be revived? Well, the idea of using modern technology is a step in the right direction. Kids today live in a visually-stimulating environment. Television, video games and computers have become a prevalent part of their daily lives. It has been proven that education can be incorporated into these mediums and it can hold their interest. That is crucial because learning another language requires great resolve and desire. Getting them started early just might cultivate the desire they'll need to pursue learning the South Slavey language.

Joachim Bonnetrouge questioned the language commissioner about how Dogrib communities have retained the Dene language to such a strong degree. He said she told him that some of those communities are still relatively isolated, and the young people are exposed to the language through drumming and sports. There are an abundance of Dogrib teachers in their schools and the leadership is committed to using the language in meetings, she added.

The conference's subsequent resolution to have Deh Cho leadership communicate through the Dene language will make an impact as well. Youth are quite impressionable. Introducing them in traditional camps where they are immersed in the language would also be constructive.

The conference delegates touched on the past -- the trials and tribulations of their peers and elders who were treated with blatant indignity by government officials and clergy for conversing in the Dene language.

"If you speak your language, your a heathen. If you come from out in the bush and you're not like us, you're almost like an animal," Herb Norwegian said. "Those kinds of things we were labelled with and we had a hard time coming out of those shackles. Many of us have shaken ourselves loose from that... The healing aspect is a major, major barrier."

Bonnetrouge concurred. While the past should never be forgotten, it shouldn't be permitted to condemn the future.

"We have to get beyond blaming and take it on like we should," he said.