Editorial page

Monday, May 29, 2000

Banishment as punishment

The road to rehabilitation can sometimes be a long one.

In Rae, that journey can -- and has in recent weeks -- include banishment.

It's a form of punishment that may, for some non-aboriginals, seem unusual and not particularly harsh, but community justice should not be viewed through European values.

It must, instead, be viewed in context: an aboriginal community seeking greater control over its affairs and trying to re-establish traditional values and honour systems.

Important, as well, to try to understand the cultural differences that certainly exist.

For people accustomed to our court-based justice system, to be tried by a judge and jury of our peers, and to be represented by a lawyer is natural.

That system has been imposed upon aboriginal people, who may not fully understand or appreciate what it all means.

They are more likely to take heed when elders or peers from their community imposes punishment.

Imagine what it must mean to be exiled from your community, from family and friends, to not be able to come home for months or a year.

Such community justice initiatives could also result in a new level of reverence for traditional culture among aboriginal people.

Instead of being hauled to a territorial court in Yellowknife, Hay River, or Fort Smith, offenders would have to face their own community, which itself can be punishment.

It will drive home to offenders the full implication of what they've done to themselves and their communities. Hopefully, it will also help them more fully understand what it means to be a member of a First Nation.

For the aboriginal communities, taking control over justice gives them a greater sense of independence and self worth, a key to rebuilding the sense of community that's so important.

No, banishment from Rae is not getting off easy. It's a building block to a healthier community.

Raising the bar

Efforts are under way to create a law school in Nunavut.

Members of the Akitsiraq Law School Society recently held their first annual meeting in Iqaluit. They hope to set up a law school here in cooperation with the University of Victoria.

Their purpose is to make it easier for Inuit in the territory to become lawyers.

One potential student said the mere creation of a law school would help Inuit gain more confidence in their abilities and what they could accomplish, even if they had no interest in becoming lawyers.

Certainly there could be many benefits for all Nunavut residents if this society has its way.

Keeping an eye on contracts

At first, second and even third glance, the new contract the Department of Health and Social Services signed with the Ottawa Eye Institute looks good.

It looks really good.

All of the old services - those formerly offered by the Stanton Yellowknife Hospital eye team - are in place, new laser services are already being offered and perhaps best of all, Nunavut health officials said the three-year contract will result in Inuit being trained as eye technicians.

Any new service that brings beneficiaries into the work force for training is to be applauded.

The more varied Nunavut's labour market becomes in the years to come, the more likely it is that our heavy dependence on federal financing and territorial income support will decrease.

What we must watch for, however, is that the service providers, both the Department of Health and the Ottawa Eye Institute, live up to this promise.

Because of the distance the doctors or patients will have to travel, and because of the extensive waiting list that has developed during the absence of the contract, it may be tempting to simply forge ahead with southern-trained eye technicians rather than live up to the contract ensuring Nunavummiut are hired on.

This is where the new hamlet-based health committees can flex their newly won powers.

Established by Health Minister Ed Picco's department following the dissolution of the regional health boards, the committees have a mandate to represent health-care issues to residents and in turn, represent residents' views to the government.

If it comes to light that Inuit are not being hired to work with the new eye team, the committees are obligated to approach the Department of Health and see to it that the situation is rectified.

The government needs to know that someone is keeping an eye on the promises they make. This is the perfect situation for the committees to cut their teeth and to illustrate that point.

Pulling together

There is nothing like a crisis to pull people together. Recently, Sanikiluaq went through one of those community-defining experiences.

A fire in the powerhouse destroyed the diesel generators that provide power to the entire community, leaving the 650 residents without lights or heat.

While authorities worked like fiends to restore power, the people of Nunavut's most southerly community rallied to help one another.

The school, which had back-up power became a dormitory, a day-care centre and a cafeteria. Students made sandwiches while others attended to children.

It is events such as this that bring the best out in people and no where was that more evident than in Sanikiluaq.

You can't buy that kind of community spirit. We're all lucky that it is a trademark of Northern living.

Kids in the Hall

If only these walls could talk.

Akaitcho Hall opened in 1958 to serve as a residence for students from the communities who had come to Yellowknife to continue their education.

The institution served as a training ground for many of today's Northern leaders.

Today that historic building is threatened by demolition as the city of Yellowknife considers the construction of a new arena.

As more and more communities expand their own schools to include higher grades, the need for a place like Akaitcho Hall diminishes.

However, the memories will endure. As a monument, Akaitcho Hall probably isn't worth saving, but it's contribution to Northern life is.

Buried wealth

'Stromatoporoids found in Norman Wells quarry'

That's the kind of headline that can send chills down the spine of small children.

But as fossil hunter Walt Humphries explained in last week's News/North, Stromatoporoids are harmless little creatures that have been dead for a very long time. They have been preserved forever in the rocks around Norman Wells as fossils.

Humphries is going to be writing about such ancient creatures in the weeks running up to the Great Norman Wells Fossil Hunt this summer (July 1 to 7). Once the word spreads farther, Norman Wells, aside from the oil capital of the NWT, could become the fossil capital.

Just another promising resource Mother Earth has located in the NWT.