Editorial page

Friday, June 08, 2001

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Blowing smoke on yet another study

Smoke Alarm, the latest report on smoking in the NWT, tells us precious little we don't already know. Released last week on World No Smoking Day, the report yet again hammers home the brutal fact that Northerners lead the nation when it comes to nicotine addiction.

Health Minister Jane Groenewegen says the report takes a more in-depth look at smoking in the NWT and that it "offers us the insight as to where we should be targeting our efforts."

Sure, it's a little more detailed than previous studies. We now know that the number of adolescents smoking is on the rise -- to the point where some 25 per cent of teens 13 and 14 years old are smokers. (Compare that with California, where only six per cent of teens smoke.) We also have learned that the Department of Health figures it's cranking out $31 million a year to treat smoke-related illnesses.

Not surprisingly, we're not surprised. What the report doesn't do is answer the most important question: what are we going to do to get Northerners to butt out?

Smoking rates across the country as a whole are at the lowest in 40 years, with just 24 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 smoking. But as the national scene cleans up its act, we, in the North keep puffing away.

According to the report, 42 per cent of NWT adults over the age of 17 are smokers, while more than 60 per cent of aboriginal adults between the ages of 25 and 44 smoke. These are basically the same numbers found in the 1999 NWT Health Status Report.

The bottom line is the government can throw statistics at us until we're blue in the face. What we need is action, not more numbers. We suggest community-based education programs and tighter restriction on smoking in bars and restaurants may good places to start. A box of free nicotine patches to any Northerner who wants to quit might also go a long way.

Action needed on training

In the middle of the Barren Lands there's a classroom.

It's a trailer full of computers at the Diavik Diamond Mine construction site, a place where workers can link into online courses.

The training shows Diavik's commitment to Northern workers. But it's also a necessity because the NWT's education system has failed to meet the needs of an entire generation.

It's not all the government's fault: until recently most jobs in the high-wage resource industry in the past went to southerners who flew in, worked their shifts and went home with bags of cash in their pockets. Aboriginal people continued a traditional lifestyle, hunting, fishing and trapping to fill their needs.

Today's social consciousness has rightfully resulted in First Nations' demands to be compensated in cash and jobs for resources taken from traditional territories.

While the average Grade 9 education may be good enough for construction jobs at Diavik now, it's not good enough for much of the work that will be available when the mine begins production.

Diavik knows that and understands the fact that if it doesn't provide training, it will be hard-pressed to meet hiring quotas in the future.

The company's commitment to training is admirable, but it shouldn't be up to industry to provide basic literacy training or push people into apprenticeships.

It is government's job to ensure people have access to training. Education, Culture and Employment Minister Jake Ootes introduced a training plan last year, but it depends on government dollars.

A National Round Table on the Environment and Economy report released this week says millions of federal dollars are needed to train aboriginal people for resource jobs.

The reports and promises are fine, but without immediate action by senior government, Northerners may be left on the sidelines.

Completing the cycle

Editorial Comment
Malcolm Gorrill
Inuvik Drum

Last week parents were registering their tots for Kindergarten for the upcoming school year.

Meanwhile, last Friday graduation exercises were held at Samuel Hearne school.

Obviously, students don't just enter the school system one day and graduate the next. They have to start somewhere, and Kindergarten and Grade 1 are important first steps.

That point was driven home during the graduation by James Anderson, director of the Beaufort Delta Education Council. Anderson told those assembled that he was principal at Sir Alexander Mackenzie school in 1988, and that nine members of that year's Kindergarten class were on stage with him, receiving their high school diplomas.

It's worth thinking about all the adventures those nine had from their days in Kindergarten up to and including last Friday. The math problems in class, the homework (done and not done), the schoolyard games, friendships made and crushes felt -- school life is full of triumphs and pratfalls.

Plus, imagine all the teachers who helped those nine along, by giving and repeating instructions and advice, wiping noses, and just being there when needed.

Ditto for all those volunteers who supplied cookies, or rides, and any other valuable help.

Let's not forget the administrators who hire the teachers, address parents' concerns and do a hundred other necessary tasks. As it happened, the Beaufort Delta Education Council held a regular council meeting last weekend.

Those nine (plus the other graduands) made it onto the stage last Friday due to skill and hard work, but it must not be forgotten that they had a lot of help along the way.

This was touched upon by the valedictorian. Kristine McLeod thanked all the parents for making the graduands get out of bed on school days. She also noted that while teachers sometimes asked a lot from them, it was because they knew they are capable of great things.

Cleaning up

Speaking of great things, lots of people have been busy cleaning up litter around town as part of community beautification efforts.

It's certainly a worthwhile project, because while it's nice to see the snow melt, it's not so nice for residents or tourists to see bottles and other trash scattered all over the place.

Of course, these efforts will need to continue to truly be effective. Plus those who are tempted to litter will need to change their ways and put their garbage where it belongs -- in cans and bins, out of sight.

Development question

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum, Fort Simpson

In this week's story regarding the next steps in self-government negotiations, DCFN chief negotiator Chris Reid suggests that First Nations are welcome to begin conducting seismic tests for petroleum deposits on their own lands if they so choose. Why then did Nahanni Butte receive such a cold reception when its leaders proposed a seismic project with Arcis Corporation?

The answer to that question, according to Reid, is that Nahanni Butte's joint-venture partners were giving the impression that they were moving quickly towards opening the lands to exploratory drilling, a process known as a "rights issuance."

Indeed, Bill Beaton, of Northern Projects Incorporated, had said during a public meeting in April that without a promise of a rights issuance, the Nahanni Butte seismic project would likely draw little or no interest from oil and gas companies. Those companies are inclined to pay for seismic data only in areas that they can bid upon to explore, not areas to which they can't have access.

The suggestion of a rights issuance was what had the DCFN concerned, Reid said. Other First Nations who share traditional lands with Nahanni Butte are worried about the affects of oil and gas development on their territory, he said.

It should be noted, too, that Nahanni Butte chief Leon Konisenta told his fellow leaders at DCFN leadership meetings last week that his community is not yet willing to open its lands to drilling, only to seismic activity.

Underwater mystery

The declining pickerel stocks in Kakisa Lake and Tathlina Lake, in particular, are cause for concern. The loss of commercial fisheries has been well-documented on Canada's East Coast, but the circumstances seem to differ so much from a couple of remote lakes in the Northwest Territories. Yet the levels of fish have fallen in both places.

The 20,000-kilogram quota for Kakisa Lake has existed for nearly 20 years with little in the way of adverse effects, according to fisheries biologist George Low. Nevertheless, stocks appear to have dropped to some degree.

In Tathlina Lake, a commercial fishery involving fishermen from outside communities had existed in the 1950s. A practice known as "pulse fishing" used to be employed, in which the lake was fished heavily for two years and then allowed to recover for four years. Later, a 20,000-kilogram annual limit was set, with Kakisa residents getting first priority, but it now seems that quota is too high. Of note, chief Lloyd Chicot said there has been additional fishing taking place that hasn't been applied toward the quota, but nobody knows how much extra fish have been taken. Let's hope measures taken to correct the situation prevent the seasonal livelihood from being lost forever.

Nothing more than semantics?

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

There's an old saying dealing with the concept of throwing good money after bad. Suffice to say, the adage implies it's not a very good idea.

Let's hope this is one lesson Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and its president, Paul Quassa, don't need a practical experience to learn.

In fairness to Quassa and the NTI board, they really didn't have much choice but to help bail the Sakku Investment Corp. out of its financial difficulties.

While it is fairly common knowledge in the business community that you can expect to lose money in your first few years in operation before turning a profit, Sakku has taken the concept to new heights.

The business development arm of the parent Kivalliq Inuit Association, Sakku is arguably one of the worst examples of an investment and business development firm in recent memory.

The corporation's financial woes have spilled over to adversely affect the plans of the association and have taken the parent organization from black to red ink quicker than a university professor with a freshman class of journalistic wannabes.

That being said, having cleaned house for the umpteenth time, Quassa says he has confidence in the new Sakku board and staff to right their badly listing financial ship -- confidence and an independent financial investment analysis.

Quassa says NTI cannot, and will not, be a babysitting service for the regional birthright organizations.

That's really too bad because if past history shows us nothing else, it shows Sakku's definite need for a babysitter in its day-to-day operations -- that and a well trained business personality at the helm.

We here at Kivalliq News sincerely hope Quassa has made the right move and Sakku finally gets its act together. After all, a strong and profitable Sakku strengthens the KIA which, in turn, helps strengthen our region.

However, other than putting a recovery plan together which NTI actually accepted -- no small feat for a corporation that rarely has its books ready in time for audits and annual general meetings -- we must still adopt a wait-and-see approach to deciding if NTI's confidence in Sakku in justified.

If not, this could be a wonderful time for investors in our region to buy up as many stocks in Pablum-producing companies as they can get their hands on. Sometimes the difference between babysitting and assisting is merely semantics.