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Ignorance is the real threat
NWT News/North - Monday, August 10, 2009

One of the simplest things to do in life is label somebody.

Political science professor Tom Flanagan of the University of Calgary, did just that last month by referring to First Nations as a threat to oil sands expansion.

For an academic, Flanagan shouldn't be so quick to throw around an inflammatory word like "threat." By dictionary definition, threat means "a menace" or someone who poses a harm or danger.

Yes, First Nations have raised concerns about the real and considerable impacts of the enormous oil sands development in Alberta. Water levels in the Athabaska River, for example, have been under enormous strain because of the growing needs of oil and gas companies. The Alberta government actually had to order the companies to cut back their consumption from the river earlier this year as it was depleted to a level considered alarming.

In 2006, a year of high production, oil sands projects required twice the amount of water - 359 million cubic metres - as used by the entire city of Calgary.

In addition, it was initially reported this year that hundreds of ducks died in toxic sludge at one oil sands site. It was later revealed that close to 1,600 of the birds perished.

The real threat here is obvious: the oil sands are a means of incredible wealth, but also pose a worrisome danger to the ecology.

Aboriginal people have every right to oppose development that fails to involve them and harms the environment.

That doesn't make them a threat. Instead it proves what many First Nations people have said all along: they are the true stewards of the land.

No 'lucky' leaders
NWT News/North - Monday, August 10, 2009

A game of poker; rock, paper, scissors; rolling dice.

These games of chance are fine pastimes, but none of them is a way to choose a leader.

As hard as it is to believe, Fort Good Hope's chief was decided July 20 by having his name drawn from a box.

It was permitted because it's actually in the election code.

Arthur Tobac was the lucky winner of the draw, beating Ron Pierrot, despite the fact that both men each received 64 votes from band members. Can you imagine if the same tie-breaking formula were applied at the Assembly of First Nations' election for national chief three days later in Calgary?

It would have rightfully been described as a mockery. Instead, delegates in Calgary endured runoff election after runoff election until a new leader was finally decided on the eighth ballot. The process took close to 24 hours of voting.

"This is a very small effort when it compares to the plight of our people and what our people go through every single day," said Shawn Atleo in the midst of the voting.

Atleo went on to triumph.

It's clear that the community must amend its election act to remove the element of chance from the selection of a leader, and all communities would be wise to follow suit.

Voters deserve better.

More hotdogs not the answer
Nunavut News/North - Monday, August 10, 2009

Nunavut offers challenges in policing not found anywhere else in Canada.

The new commander of V Division, Steve McVarnock, knows this and he has a number of proposals to try and alleviate some of the major issues.

The biggest is the lack of connection between officers from the south, who are posted to Northern detachments for brief stints, and the communities they serve.

The history of RCMP as agents of the federal government in the North and recent acts of violence against RCMP officers in the territory have created a deep divide between communities and the men and women sent there to enforce the law.

McVarnock believes the current two-year length of a Mountie's term in Nunavut makes it difficult for officers to develop a strong relationship with the people they serve.

The short timeframe of the current tours of duty means that by the time an officer has learned the layout, culture and characters of a community, enabling him or her to perform their duties most effectively, it's time to go.

And no matter how committed or gregarious the officer, or how many hotdogs they serve up, communities are understandably reluctant to invest in a bond with a worker who will be replaced in a matter of months.

A posting longer than two years, paired with a financial incentive for longer stays, would hopefully reduce turnover among officers.

In recent years, the RCMP has focused on recruiting more Inuit into the regular force, with some success.

But for many Nunavummiut interested in careers in law enforcement, the prospect of being posted far from home is unattractive.

McVarnock's proposal to reintroduce the special constable program is another idea worth looking at. In the past, special constables acted as bridges between a community and the RCMP detachment, using their knowledge of language, culture and logistics to help officers perform their duties.

Special constables, though not receiving all the training and benefits of a regular RCMP member, remained in their home communities and provided some continuity in the detachment amid the ever-changing roster of officers.

So it seems the new V Division commander has good ideas to address the issues of Northern policing and is already moving to implement them. He is off to Ottawa this week to discuss restoring the special constable program nationwide.

We wish him well and support his efforts to improve relations between Nunavut's RCMP detachments and their communities.

Bring business to Yellowknife
Yellowknifer - Friday, August 7, 2009

With the decline in exploration for minerals, oil and gas in the NWT, and prospects for new projects being few, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce has rightfully sounded the alarm that city council is doing too little to promote the city's business interests.

Chamber President Patrick Doyle told Yellowknifer last week that the chamber is concerned "there's a lack of vision for economic development."

He charged that council is spending too much on consultants for projects aiming to promote energy efficiency, a clean environment and increased recreational facilities. The price tag for these initiatives, he stated, is high.

Council has indeed done little to promote business, but this is, at least partly, a product of our democratic process. Environment, recreation and social concerns are what voters put highest on their list of priorities in the last election for city council. Business interests were not.

Was it that too few business-minded individuals ran for office?

Council has made solid headway on priorities like the fieldhouse, homelessness and its social plan, but the economic recession has changed the landscape. Our real cost of living must not be permitted to increase. Citizens, even those who are not pro-business, should not welcome further tax increases. A higher cost of living threatens to reduce our population base which will lead to even higher taxes and less services.

Yellowknife remains a city where government dominates as the primary employer, and this shows little promise for a territory whose stated objective is "devolution" - namely, to reduce its reliance on Ottawa and the rest of the country. Economic development and increased business activity are the only way to achieve this stated goal.

This should be a territory of opportunity, and as the capital city, Yellowknife stands to gain from all business activities. There is no excuse for this city to miss out on exploration and mining for rare earth minerals, and no excuse for it to let the diamond-cutting industry flounder. Industry is not the enemy, as social activists all too often would have us believe. Corporations are employers and contributors to society, and must be worked with to forge a prosperous future for the city.

Council's next step must be to make the city more amenable to business and entrepreneurs, with reasonable property taxes and services. It must show that we want investment, particularly for new technologies and resources that show promise for the future.

If the current council is not up to these challenges, new councillors better suited to the task must be elected. And we as citizens will have our chance to do so in October's municipal elections.

Follow the chipseal road
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 6, 2009

For some it's the ultimate dream - a completely chipsealed road connecting the Deh Cho to highways in both Alberta and British Columbia.

So a few cheers always go up when the Department of Transportation announces any infrastructure project that brings the chipsealed surfaces of highways 1 and 7 closer to becoming a reality. The latest project that's out for tender, an additional 70 km of chipseal starting at the junctions of Highway 1 and 3 and stretching back towards Fort Simpson, is bound to excite some motorists.

There's a thrill that comes with driving over new chipseal where an often bumpy gravel road used to be. But visions of breaking new speed records from Fort Simpson to Fort Providence aside, it's hard to overestimate the importance of highway improvement projects in the Deh Cho.

Highways and roads play an incredibly important role in the region because of the great distances between communities. Without the highway system, Fort Liard, Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Jean Marie River, Fort Providence and Kakisa would be fly-in communities, something that residents of Nahanni Butte and Trout Lake know all about.

The importance of the highways to everyday life is evident from the frequency with which they are raised in conversation. Drive between any Deh Cho community and the first people you meet are bound to ask how the roads were. Comparisons between road conditions can keep two people chatting for a long time.

Highways and roads are important and consequently, so is their upkeep. This was aptly illustrated last year when the Liard Trail was closed multiple times after it turned into a veritable bog, which trapped a few motorists.

Even after the highway reopened, tourist traffic to Fort Liard was lower than it should have been for that time in the summer. Tales of poor road conditions were quick to spread.

At the time questions were raised about the initial construction of the road and whether or not the bog-like conditions were the result of early problems in the highway's base. Road construction and improvement projects are important, but so is doing it right the first time.

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Deh Cho who's opposed to a road improvement project, as long as it's done well. If a newly chipsealed surface quickly develops potholes, motorists are fast to comment that the road was better off in its gravel state.

Although the complete chipsealing of Highways 1 and 7 can't come soon enough, the focus first has to be turned to reconstructing all the necessary portions of the highway and ensuring surfaces will hold. Done properly, the chipsealed connection will become the Deh Cho's yellow brick road, allowing more tourists and greater ease of travel for residents.

In defence of the Trapper
Editorial Comment
Andrew Rankin
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 6, 2009

Upon arriving to Inuvik last January, I was told the Trapper was a fun place, but I should be careful if I decided to visit there.

I heeded those words of advice, but after a few visits I realized there was nothing really to worry about. Of the times I have been there, I could count on one hand the number of people that have been visibly intoxicated. Those individuals were quickly escorted out. I don't know whether the Trapper is a magnet for violence, but I have never witnessed any of it. The live bands that play there on the weekend are very good and have a knack for getting people on the dance floor and facilitating a good time.

A bar is a bar, and most people who visit have a drink. Some people drink a lot. So you can probably see where I'm going with this.

By now most residents know that the Trapper was shut down by the Liquor Licensing Board from July 21 to 27 because someone was caught drunk in the establishment while drinking a beer. A police officer and auxiliary officer spotted the man, gave notice to the bar, and a NWT Liquor Licensing Board hearing in Inuvik was set. After that the penalty was handed down, which also included a $2,000 fine. The bar was closed last May for two days and fined $500 after a police officer found a man drunk and unsupervised at the bar.

There's no doubt that these infractions are worthy of a penalty. But consider how much money the owner lost while closed in July - up into the tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention employee layoffs. Think of the costs associated with transporting a lawyer and liquor licensing board members to Inuvik to hold a hearing.

Maybe you'll argue that the Trapper is a repeat offender and deserves to be penalized a little more harshly, which was the case here. But considering the infractions, it's a fine line to walk. The officers who caught the man in the latter incident arrived at the bar at about 1:30 a.m., a half hour before closing time.

There's a possibility that the individual felt fine when he ordered a drink and then halfway through it, he felt the effects of the alcohol consumed. Maybe something was put in his drink. Maybe he was on medication and the mixture caused a violent reaction. Of course these are all hypothetical situations, but it does speak to just how difficult a rule like this is to enforce.

In a case such as this perhaps a different approach is in order. Maybe fines should be issued and after say the fourth or fifth infraction a hearing would scheduled.

It's serious business, no doubt. No doubt it's also a hard rule to enforce but closing a liquor establishment for six days seems a little excessive for finding someone intoxicated while having a drink in a bar.

Social superheroes
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Many of us forget how it feels to be truly hungry, having gone days able to afford very little food.

Thanks to Ruby and Laurin Trudel, many Yellowknifers have been able to avoid those pangs of hunger.

For the last year, the Yellowknife couple has delivered more than 68,000 pounds of food to local organizations to help those in need. This doesn't include the 16,000 litres of milk, 1,800 litres of juice, 9,432 eggs and 6,500 pounds of meat they also distributed around the city.

While the numbers are incredible on their own, what makes the Trudels Yellowknife's own social superheroes is the fact they have done this out of their home at least six days a week.

In their two-car garage, which houses a freezer, fridge and cooler, all donated, the magic happens. With a blue van and cellphone, also donated by a resident, the Trudels regularly change the lives of hundreds of people.

Things were slow in the early months of the program because larger groups were hesitant to donate for fear of being sued over expired or rotten food. Thanks to a push by MLA Wendy Bisaro and prompt action by the GNWT, the NWT Donation of Food Act was passed in record time, allowing this program to flourish.

Because the program has grown exponentially over the last year, the Trudels are moving to a temporary food rescue facility on Old Airport Road. Again, Northerners are stepping up to help a good cause. BHP Billiton donated $10,000 to purchase two industrial-sized coolers for the facility. It's one of many helping gestures.

Stories like this encapsulate what it means to be part of a great community. Hats off!

Resurrection of Yk spirit
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The homesteaders, artists and merchants of Old Town created a marketing masterpiece this past weekend with the third annual Ramble and Ride.

A good number of Yellowknifers and tourists came out to stroll along the waterfront as the cream of our musicians, artists, artisans and Old Town businesses put on a fantastic show.

It was a warm, laid-back atmosphere that comes with vendors of hotdogs and whitefish, surrounded by a colorful potpourri of music, art and bush poets.

This is the side of Old Town that helps define Yellowknife, establishing a freewheeling, frontier flavour that makes us different from thousands of other small Canadian towns.

It's also a family-friendly opportunity to get out of the house and soak up some Northern art and tradition.

The fact that it is a community effort with corporate and government sponsorship gives it some staying power.

Yellowknifers can schedule their vacations around it and make sure their southern relatives and friends take this time of year to see Yellowknife at its best.

Perhaps their success will help fill the gaping hole left by the demise of Raven Mad Daze, if not inspire a return of the June festival to do for downtown what Ramble and Ride does for Old Town.

Never too old to learn
Editorial Comment
Kassina Ryder
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Trying to decide what to write for a final editorial is just as hard as trying to figure out what to write for the first, so I've decided to write about the things I've learned this summer.

I've been coming and going from Rankin Inlet over the past six years and I like to think that I know this town pretty well. But as time went on during my stay, the list of things I didn't know began to get bigger than the things I did know. Being a reporter for the Kivalliq region gave me the opportunity to learn new things every single week and it was an amazing experience to be able to call each community and find things out.

I thought filling this paper each week was going to be impossible, but the amount of e-mails and phone calls I received from people who had stories to tell kept this paper full of interesting articles.

I need to say thank you to Cecelia Autut, who helped me so many times throughout my stay in Rankin. She was always on hand to help me double-check names and she often gave up her time to join me while I covered community events. She also saved me from one of the most embarrassing mistakes I could have made which involved learning that if you accidentally insert an "s" between the "k" and the "t" in the name Tiktak, you end up with an Inuktitut word you don't want in the newspaper.

I also learned that Rita Nattar makes great pipsi and mikku. I ate her out of house and home on more than one occasion.

I also learned a lot of new things about myself through this experience. I discovered that I am one of those people who talks to themselves. A lot. I spent a large amount of my time alone in the Kivalliq News office preparing the newspaper and was horrified to realize one day that I was having an entire conversation with myself.

There were also some things I wanted to learn but never got the chance to do. I wanted to learn how to properly fillet a fish, how to make mikku and how to make bannock, but weather and other complications prevented me. Eventually, I'll be back and take the time to learn.

And last but not least, I've learned that no matter how long I'm here, there's never enough time. So to all the people I didn't get a chance to visit, I will be back again someday.