A week into 2003, a question comes to mind: does Ottawa really care about the Northwest Territories?
After all, we're only 41,000 people, we only have one Member of Parliament and very little clout on the national political stage.
Our MP, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, would have us believe the federal government cares. She jumps on the government Challenger jet now and then with a fat cheque for literacy or some other program in her pocket.
Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault would, too.
Sure, DIAND put up $3 million to build bridges on the Mackenzie Valley winter road a couple of years back.
He appoints prominent Liberals or ex-bureaucrats to highly paid jobs as negotiators for devolution and natural gas pipeline.
In both cases, there's lots of talk but no cash.
Infrastructure funding? We asked for $130 million. We might get $20 million.
Ask territorial Finance Minister Joe Handley. He's looking at a $104 million deficit and says bluntly "we're getting screwed" by Ottawa.
Look at health care. The GNWT tried to hold the line on expenditures, but we get a system that has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese.
Our roads are falling apart faster than we can build them. Every economic gain puts money in the federal bank.
What do we need? A beefed up education system that trains our young people with skills needed to build and support the NWT: nurses, doctors, engineers, truck drivers, welders ....
We need modern roads, and social programs that can take on the demons of booze, drugs and despair.
Premier Stephen Kakfwi, Handley and the rest of cabinet are starting to realize that the federal government prefers the status quo -- us wholly dependent on their largesse.
If we have any advice to give territorial politicians going into this election year, it's this: make Prime Minister Jean Chretien really notice the North.
Because money talks, that's the best way.
When budget time rolls around next month, don't let Ottawa's penny-pinching hold you back. Go and run up the deficit. Spend the tens of millions we need to go build up our schools, roads, health centres and everything else.
Ottawa will have to take note then.
Banning the import of alcohol into communities during the holiday season was the right thing to do. It gave children and families the chance to have a safe and non-violent Christmas.
Let's face it -- alcohol causes an untold number of problems in communities during the rest of the year.
Officials repeatedly estimate that upwards of 90 per cent of all crime committed in Nunavut is alcohol-related. From petty crimes of property theft to brutal rapes and murders, alcohol is the root of the evil.
Take away the booze and you take away much of the crime. It really is that simple.
Kugluktuk handled the situation in a very wise manner this season. On Dec. 16, hamlet councillors unanimously voted to ban the import of alcohol into their community.
That ban began the very next day. Struggling lately with severe alcohol consumption, the immediate prohibition meant bootleggers and heavy drinkers would be unable to stockpile for the season. The Christmas games could proceed without incident.
In Rankin Inlet, the situation unfolded differently. There, residents were given about two weeks notice prior to the prohibition.
Alcohol sales skyrocketed so the notion of a dry and safe Christmas season in the Kivalliq hub wasn't exactly true. Drinkers may have been unable to order booze in on Christmas Eve, but there sure wasn't a shortage of the stuff in the hamlet.
The situation is more perplexing in Cambridge Bay.
Mayor Keith Peterson voted against the temporary ban. He said the actions of 15 per cent of the population -- those who commit nasty crimes under the influence -- shouldn't punish the majority of residents. In that Kitikmeot community, the ban was scheduled to last for just seven days. And yet, the leader of the hamlet did not support it even though the actions of 15 per cent of the population jeopardize the safety of 85 per cent of his constituents.
It is unfortunate that alcohol causes such intense problems in our communities.
But the writing is on the wall -- the rest of us are safer and happier when the temporary bans are in place. If going dry for a few short weeks means children will be warm and fed and women left unbruised, then sipping juice over the holidays is the way to go.
The next step is to tackle the problem for the rest of the year.
Rankin Inlet's Jordin Tootoo delivered a wonderful Christmas gift to the Kivalliq region and all of Nunavut this year.
Tootoo's selection to Team Canada's world junior team left faces beaming with pride and admiration across the territory.
Having an Inuk on the national squad made the 2003 Christmas season a special one of unity for Nunavummiut.
From Boxing Day on, people across the territory gathered in front of their television sets to cheer Tootoo and his Team Canada mates on to victory.
In his own way, Tootoo sprinkled a little magic dust across Nunavut this Christmas season.
His being named to Team Canada caused such an impact in Nunavut, it was as if each and every youth in the territory opened a special card on Christmas morning which said, quite simply, "You can do it!"
The rugged winger's selection to Team Canada was the latest chapter in his follow-your-dreams legacy.
With each successful step in his career, Tootoo undeniably reinforces the message to Nunavut youth that if you work hard, and give it 110 per cent all the time, dreams can become reality.
Tootoo's successful season this year is also a strong testimonial to the young man's internal strength and fortitude.
There are many who would not have found the inner faith and desire necessary to carry on so determinedly, as Tootoo has, following the tragic loss of a loved one.
Those in the know realize there is much more that goes towards making the NHL than simply a player's talent.
His character, desire to succeed, leadership and overall attitude are all traits measured carefully by NHL owners, coaches and general managers.
We cannot imagine, at this point, Tootoo having anything less than straight A's marked in those categories by those looking on in the Nashville Predators organization.
But while the NHL may still be a year or two away, Tootoo sent a bolt of excitement across Nunavut by making the national junior team.
The word used most often by Nunavummiut in describing how they felt when they first heard the news was "pride."
And that pride reaches far higher than simply Tootoo the hockey player -- that pride is, above everything else, for Tootoo the person.
Thanks for the gift, Jordin.
Looking back through the news of the year, it was a pretty bumpy ride, but that's the way it goes when you're breaking trail.
There is so much going on here, that's never been done before, and we should take some real pride in what's being accomplished here.
I spend a lot of time filling this space with what's wrong with our corner of the world and maybe not enough congratulating the ones who have made positive changes here.
The town's mayor, Peter Clarkson ran unopposed in last October's election and it's not a wonder. This guy works so much, I wonder sometimes if he has a clone.
While the job is only paid for half a position, he does the work of three.
Peter is everywhere, all the time. I run into him at all the places he should be, like council and at the usual ribbon cuttings, but he's also selling tickets, working on the greenhouse or showing tourists around town.
Nellie Cournoyea is another who works tirelessly for her people and for the entire Delta.
Nellie was instrumental in getting this giant pipeline deal moving and it can't be easy to wake a giant who's been asleep for 25 years.
Nellie worked hard and long days on that deal and many others and she's still at it. When you dial the IRC after hours, it's always Nellie answering the phone.
When a feast is being held, organizers call on Nellie for a couple of char or some muktuk. When she travels out, she returns laden with fabric, beads and notions that can't be bought here.
The pipeline is a huge deal and sewing notions maybe not so huge, but knowing that she gives her time and energy to make someone happy makes them all seem equal.
Fred Carmichael is another omnipresent force here in the Delta.
Another who is there for all the stately functions that go with the job, I've also seen Fred behind the scenes, sharing his time to celebrate a birthday or visit with an elder. Taking over from Nellie on the pipeline has been a courageous gesture on Fred's part and he was thrown a curve ball on his first pitch from federal Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal.
He's shrugged it off and soldiers on, as he has had to do with other controversies that erupted last year, but Fred's been a rock.
I know there are times when he'd much rather be on the stick of his Cessna than fighting with DIAND or calming quarrelling chiefs, but he perseveres for his people, because that's what good leaders do.
These are the traits that history writers look for in the pages of their books and all the bickering back-biters are always forgotten.
Selfless sacrifice is what good leaders are made of and we have three in this town, but we have dozens of others whom aren't recognized as leaders, but certainly do more than their part in other areas.
The precious handful of people running our sports programs and volunteer agencies are equally important and their hours are long.
I'd love to thank them all here, but I'm running out of space.
You know who they are and make sure you let them know how much their efforts are appreciated.
Deh Cho Drum
The Acho Dene Koe First Nation is about to up the ante in the oil and gas game.
The Liard band wants royalties.
For the past several years, multi-nationals and junior companies have extracted enormous volumes of natural gas from the Liard area. That's not to say Acho Dene Koe (ADK) has received nothing in return. With the advent of industry, the First Nation has supplied a steady supply of jobs and training for its people. It has built businesses and joint-ventures (ADK Holdings reported $38 million in revenues in 2000). Admittedly, there has been a learning curve as well.
Oil and gas companies have also been tapped for all kinds of donations, such as a $50,000 contribution to Echo Dene school's literacy program a few years ago.
Now, more than ever, the Liard band realizes the value of the abundant natural resources within its traditional lands. The ADK is demanding a percentage of the federal government's oil and gas royalties. But why should it stop there?
The federally levied royalties in the NWT are among the lowest in the world. The ADK should not only fight for its fair share of those royalties, but a profit-sharing deal directly with industry. The band can't drive the price too high for fear of driving away the bidders, but there surely must be room for the wealthy oil and gas companies to negotiate.
That additional money could be used to bolster existing ADK businesses and create new ones. It could be applied to housing, education or health and social services. Although these sectors are largely the responsibility of the government, it makes sense for aboriginal peoples to enhance existing programs wherever possible. It's their own people who will gain.
When it comes to royalties, let the free market bear what it will.
It's a long ride
Let's hope Deh Cho and federal negotiators are right when they say that few people attended some of the consultation sessions because they're already in tune with what's going on.
Self-government decisions being made today, even in these initial stages, will have a profound impact on the Deh Cho.
There is a long way to go in Deh Cho Process negotiations, but now is the time to get involved.
Merry Christmas to all readers. Hopefully you enjoy warm, joyous and relaxing holidays.
Please try to keep in mind those who are alone or who have lost family members. By extending an invitation to share in your festivities, you may not be providing a solution to their problems but it might be greatly appreciated.
The next edition of the Deh Cho Drum will be on Jan. 2.