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Monday, April 07, 2008
Bad planning

The territorial government's effort to cut $135 million from its budget may be justified in order to balance the books. But who can deny the need to do so is the result of bad planning?

Without that recognition, what confidence can the public have that sweeping job cuts across the North won't waste more money?

The Arctic Tern Rehabilitation Centre for teenage girls is just one example among many.

Built in 2002 at a cost of $6 million, it is difficult to argue in favour of saving the centre which only houses an average of five youth in comparison to its 21 staff. With a staff to inmate ratio of more than 4:1 it is obvious the facility has never lived up to its intent.

Now we see the government has issued a request for proposals to operate a new youth group home in Inuvik. Has any thought been given to using the Arctic Tern centre and staff for the group home? We hope so. It would be a shame to see the multi-million dollar structure go to waste and some staff from Arctic Tern out of work when such skills are hard to find and keep in the North.

It seems many of the proposed cuts are aimed at soft social programs. We say soft because such programs are designed to serve the less advantaged and less fortunate people who lack the influencing pull of industry and the privileged professionals in the bureaucracy.

All too often we hear communities complaining youth are getting into trouble because of a lack of healthy activities. Diabetes, obesity, alcoholism and drug addiction are prevalent social issues in the North. With all that in mind, it makes little sense for the government to be making cuts in areas that may further limit healthy choices.

Our own territorial sporting organizations have, on more than one occasion, spoken about the social and health benefits that accompany a healthy recreation program. Improved overall health and positive choices will save the GNWT money in both healthcare and justice.

Finally, there is a lot of speculation about what may happen to the female young offenders if Arctic Tern closes. Hopefully, the government has a plan to provide safe accommodations for the young women housed there - perhaps the purpose of the group home. However, one rumour is the girls may be moved to North Slave Correctional Facility, a jail built to house both adult and young male offenders.

We sincerely hope this is not the case. Incarcerating men and women together would be a mistake which could put the physical and emotional safety of the young women involved at risk.

The GNWT has some tough choices to make in May and we hope the ones they do make do not result in fewer services and higher costs. It's up to the MLAs to make sure that doesn't happen.


Taming the U.S. bear

Unlike a polar bear, the U.S. government is hibernating. It's resting on a decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species due to climate change.

While the American bureaucracy slumbers, Inuit hunting guides in High Arctic communities are losing sleep.

Polar bear sports hunts are largely a luxury enjoyed by rich U.S. hunters.

Things have become much more tentative among that affluent crowd since the American government has been speculating over the fate of polar bears.

Listing the predators as threatened would mean American hunters couldn't bring trophies back across the border to mount in their dens.

More importantly, it means hunting guides would go without their income from polar bear sports hunts, which commonly have price tags in the range of $25,000.

Each hunt means several thousand dollars to Inuit outfitters - that money pays their bills and puts food on the table.

In 2005/'06, 86 bears were taken by visiting sport hunters. Other trophy hunts were held, but were unsuccessful.

All told, 449 polar bears were harvested that year.

The industry is worth approximately $1.5 million to Nunavut, where there are an estimated 15,800 bears out of a global population pegged at 25,000.

One irony in all of this, as has been noted by media sources, is that a U.S. goal of decreasing the total number polar bear harvested won't be achieved because while some sports hunters come back empty handed, sustenance hunts by Inuit are almost always fruitful.

Therefore if Inuit use all the tags instead of selling some, the harvest will rise.

The Americans have been dithering on the threatened species label since Jan. 9, when their decision was supposed to be announced.

Cynics point out that the delay allowed U.S. oil giants to scoop up vast tracts of land in Alaska for oil and gas exploration with fewer complications, as that land is also prime polar bear habitat.

Perhaps that's sheer coincidence.

Maybe the real reason the U.S. government is taking so long to decide is because the science isn't conclusive.

While well publicized studies of polar bears in the M'Clintock Channel, east of Victoria Island, and in western Hudson Bay have revealed dwindling numbers and decreasing body weight, populations in other areas of Nunavut have not shown any startling signs of dropping. It's believed a few may even be experiencing a modest rise.

While the Government of Nunavut was criticized by conservation groups for increasing the total number of hunting tags to 518 from 403 in 2005, it didn't turn a deaf ear to the alarm bells sounding in western Hudson Bay, where it slashed tags to 38 from 56 last year.

As they have with the seal hunt, it's time for Inuit to make their views known to foreign governments so they have a better grasp of all points of view.

A march on Washington, something Nunavut Tunngavik could organize, would help get that message across.


Strength from small beginnings
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum
Thursday, April 03, 2008

There's a phrase from an unlikely source that describes many people's hopes for the economic future of the Deh Cho.

The Latin phrase "deus ex machina" comes from the study of literature. It literally means God out of a machine and can be used to describe any improbable device is introduced suddenly to untangle a plot.

If a character is fighting off enemies and is down to their last bullet when suddenly a group of marines arrives out of the blue it's a case of deus ex machina. In the Deh Cho the same phrase can be applied to the idea that the construction of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will, if not solve all the economic woes, at least provide the economy of the region with a shot in the arm.

The pipeline, however, has never looked like a sure bet. Now as more and more time goes by while the project sits with the Joint Review Panel and construction prices continue to rise, the project is looking more like an unlikely hero.

All, however, isn't lost. The real source of future hope for economic develop in the Deh Cho lies with small businesses and entrepreneurs.

In Fort Providence, the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation is poised to enter into the timber industry. Staff and band members have recognized that there's a demand for lumber and plan to meet some of that need by operating a sawmill.

When in production the mill will produce both rough lumber and firewood. The lumber is valued locally as a building material and the firewood is a hot commodity especially in locations such as Yellowknife where it's hard for people to cut their own.

The band also has plans to ensure the new business will benefit the whole community. Felled trees to be processed at the mill will be purchased from local residents.

A very different type of service was offered in Fort Simpson this week.

The owners of Janor's Guest House used their facility to host a spa. Two therapists from Hay River were brought in to offer services normally not available in the village.

If the pilot project runs well it could be offered regularly in the future.

Both the sawmill and the spa are being developed by small businesses that saw an unfulfilled need and are creating a service that will provide local residents with a valuable product.

While the Mackenzie Valley Gas Project may still go ahead it doesn't need to be considered as the saving solution for the region's economy. Economic development is more likely to come from enterprising small business owners than from the arrival of a giant project.


Drowning the muskrat
Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik News
Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's been a few days since the roaring of racing Ski-Doos died down and the jamboree wrapped up on the river ice.

The annual Muskrat Jamboree was a success and it couldn't have been better.

People gathered in town to have a good time during the day and enjoy themselves at night.

But how did binge drinking improve the weekend? I understand this is one of the busiest times of the year for parties, with the IRC Cup weekend still at number one. I was out driving with some friends on Saturday night when we passed some youth being pulled over on main street.

There were three police vehicles there, with officers surrounding a group of youth who were apparently drinking and driving, judging by the Texas mickey of vodka on the hood of the truck.

A Texas mickey? That is the largest container of vodka that you can purchase! I don't know what business those teens thought they had with so much booze, but the whole scene was ridiculous. Only a few days after the death of a young girl, we see reckless behaviour from people her age.

Young people need to realize that there is no desperate need to be drinking on par with the worst alcoholics in town.

I had to drive the ice road the next morning for a dog sled race.

Before reaching the racing site at the end of Carn Road, I drove past a box of empty beer bottles, a half dozen beer cans and an empty vodka bottle. In the last six years, I have gone from an unemployed party-goer, to TV producer, to my current role as a married man, expecting my first child this November.

I have been to the top of the mountain and drank with kings and queens.

I can say now, with all honesty, that I don't think I can totally beat alcohol.

The grip of the bottle is too much to deal with alone and anyone trying to beat it should seek help from their family and friends. In December, I tried to stop drinking cold turkey, but that only lasted about a month before I found myself back in line at the liquor store.

Still, things have changed. I might have a few beers with dinner, or pick up a 26 for the weekend, but I am nowhere near the excessive amounts of alcohol consumption that once made me infamous among my friends.

Too many of our young people are held down by booze and I don't know when we will see the end of it.

Turning 19 is still a rite of passage here in town and it's guaranteed people will drink their faces off every week, no matter how many people are hurt in the process.

Not all young people are mindless drunks, and not all adults are alcoholics, but there are very bad apples in our community tree.

I went to the bank on Sunday night to take out some cash. While I was there, I smelled the strong stench of body odour and what could have been mouthwash.

Huddled in the corner were two old men, obviously homeless, who were sleeping. Those men and women who spend their nights on the street and walk during the day looking like zombies need help, whether they think they need it or not.

I just hope the youth smarten up and stop following the lead of drunken misfits, but judging by what I've seen in town, I think they might share the same fate.


Study would give inside poop on sewage lagoons
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News
Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Government of Nunavut (GN) should be more than a little concerned about the number of Inuit who are growing uneasy about eating certain varieties of country food, especially in the Kivalliq.

With so many people dependent on country food to help offset the high cost of groceries at their local stores - not to mention the nutritional value - this issue has to be addressed quickly.

The problem stems from sightings of wildlife drinking waste water from sewage lagoons in a number of communities.

The issue was raised in the legislative assembly this past month by Baker Lake MLA David Simailak, who actually tabled photos showing caribou chowing down on facal matter in the Baker lagoon and quenching their thirst with waste water.

Similar concerns were raised by Arviat MLA David Alagalak, who noted that while fences may keep caribou away from the lagoons, they do nothing to stop birds from accessing their contents.

Simailak has called upon the GN to build a fence around the Baker lagoon to keep the caribou away, while Alagalak wants both the territorial and federal governments to conduct a study on what type of impact the territory's sewage lagoons may be having on wildlife.

On the surface, there appears to be a touch of humour associated with the request, but there's absolutely nothing funny about a significant portion of the population losing their appetite for birds and, especially, tuktu. They're simply too important to our normal way of life in Nunavut.

The Arviat MLA also suggested the GN look into an electronic means to scare birds and wildlife away from the lagoons and it's not a request Community and Government Services Minister Levinia Brown should take lightly.

Brown acknowledged the situation could grow significantly worse because a number of sewage lagoons in the territory are overflowing as the population continues to increase in many communities.

Could you imagine the outcry in the south if someone produced photographs of chickens and beef cows chowing down on facal matter before ending up in the local grocery store?

There would a news camera at every poultry and beef farm across Canada.

We're not scientists, so we don't know what the long-term effects of caribou and birds using sewage lagoons as a wildlife version of a fast-food outlet might prove to be.

But, it's an issue Brown should instruct her department to collaborate on with Health and Environment as soon as possible.

If the study shows the impact is negligible, fine. But, if not, let's find out what kind of health risk is associated with the animal's behaviour and move to address it quickly.

As it stands, it's become prevalent enough that people are growing increasingly afraid of eating the meat from these birds and animals.

And, that's not going to change if the government doesn't move quickly to commission a study that will give Nunavummiut the inside poop on whether there's a health risk at issue here.

If not, at least the slate will be wiped clean and people can go back to their normal dietary routines.