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Blanket drug-testing is bad politics
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Politicians should not be any different than voters when it comes to performing their jobs to the letter of the law, with their faculties intact.

Working without drugs and alcohol is an occupational requirement at just about any workplace, and elected officials should also adhere to that, of course.

However, drug testing for all elected officials, regardless of whether they are believed to be under the influence, is begging for a human rights complaint. After having promised to introduce mandatory drug-testing for chief and councillors, newly-elected Ndilo Chief Ted Tsetta has proceeded with caution, stating, understandably, that he would have to take his proposal through council first.

Tsetta meant well. He wants to ensure that his community's decision-makers are focused and serving the people who elected them, and that means their thinking cannot be muddled by intoxicants.

That said, councillors have rights and Tsetta's proposed approach of drug testing would be in violation of their freedoms.

But his sentiment need not be lost. Council should adopt a zero tolerance policy and demand the resignation of any councillor convicted of committing a violent crime, as most assaults are committed while under the influence of alcohol.

Serving as an elected official carries with it many expectations. While asking politicians for a sample of urine, blood or saliva would be going too far, demanding that they refrain from committing acts of violence is not too much of an added burden.

The greener the better
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's no easy task getting flowers and gardens to grow in Yellowknife, perhaps even more so this year after our less than stellar spring.

Despite that, 25 homes and businesses took part in this year's city lawn and landscaping contest. Brian Kelln, community services programs manager, says this year's crop was "right up there" in terms of quality with past contestants, although many have participated for years.

The contest, now in its 11th year, was born out of the city's desire to keep the competitive spirit going after Yellowknife opted out of the national Communities in Bloom competition.

But the contest provides more than just an avenue for a few green thumbs in the city to gloat over their rose bushes.

As participant Margaret Marshall puts it: "The nicer the town looks the better people will treat it."

Yellowknife has undertaken a bit of civic soul-searching in recent years as litter, urban decay, and a host of social problems have made some residents question the benefits of living here.

Those who attempt to beautify the city are answering back the best they can. Too bad there aren't more. Maybe the city should hold an ugly lawn and landscaping contest to drive home the point.

No point in asking
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I must admit to a smile of bemusement on my face earlier this month when a fax arrived from Baker Lake.

It told me of hamlet council's resolution to write a letter to Calm Air requesting information on when the airline will be reinstating the Aeroplan program back into its system.

It went on to say people in Baker who collect Aeroplan miles would like to be able use them. Go figure.

I get the distinct impression the good folks in Baker think it's a whole lot easier to use points if one lives in, say, Rankin Inlet.


My wife and I moved to Rankin more than a decade ago and, not that long after arriving, we applied for our Aeroplan Visa card and were accepted. We've been point collectors ever since.

Since that time, we've been able to use our points twice to get out of Rankin. Twice!

Like many in Rankin, we've long heard the rumours about who you are having more to do with getting seats on points than anything else. I don't know how that works and I don't care.

I do know every time we try to use points, the answer is always the same there are no Aeroplan seats available on that flight.

That can be pretty darn frustrating when you pay for two tickets and fly to Winnipeg in a halfempty plane.

In fairness to Aeroplan, I've never asked for tickets out of Winnipeg, Ottawa, Charlottetown, Halifax or Moncton without getting seats on the flight asked for. But that's not Kivalliq, is it?

This past winter, we called Aeroplan and tried to book two seats out of Rankin on a Friday and returning from Winnipeg on a Monday.

I told the cheerful voice on the phone to start that week and try every Friday after for a fourmonth period.

That will take a bit of time, I was told. No problem. I can type while I listen to that gawdawful guitar riff playing over and over again.

Long story short, there were no seats available during that time frame.

Another time, a local ticket agent referred to points travel as "free."

Excuse me! Those 50,000 points equal $50,000 spent on a Visa which carries significant interest for the right to collect points, but I digress.

When we returned from vacation a few weeks ago, I phoned Aeroplan looking for two seats in December (yeah right!) and early next summer, again travelling the Rankin to Winnipeg route and, again, the answer was no.

It's hard to feel sorry for "our" Northern airlines when they cry for support.

People in Yellowknife used to pay about $800 for round-trip tickets to Edmonton before the arrival of Air Canada Jazz and WestJet.

Now their average return fare is $200 to $250 to Edmonton, with seat sales under $100 not unheard of.

I bumped into a local airline employee this past week who was convinced we'll never see WestJet fly into Rankin.

Hopefully, that was nothing more than wishful thinking on their part.

But, if WestJet ever does show up, this is one consumer who has a whole closet full of no's saved up for "our" Northern airlines, if and when the day comes they actually need my business.

And each one is stamped return to sender!

Fighting the flu
NWT News/North - Monday, August 17, 2009

We all dread waking up with a raw throat and burning nasal passages.

If we're lucky, it's a mild cold that will pose a nuisance and cost us a great number of tissues, but it will pass after a week or so.

The swine flu has changed the equation as the symptoms are nothing short of nasty: body aches, a high fever, a nagging cough. Some who have contracted it say it is worse than any flu they've ever suffered.

It is a dangerous virus, no doubt. A pregnant woman in Nunavut perished from swine flu in July.

What's mystifying is that close to 500 people in the neighbouring territory to our east have been diagnosed with the flu while here in the NWT there were only 29 documented cases as of Aug. 7.

The explanation from acting chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Nuttall is that the Department of Health has done a good job of forewarning the public of the virus. The department has held a press conference and has done some advertising advising people to see a doctor if they have swine flu symptoms, to cough into their arm, wash hands frequently and to stay home if they become sick.

But the same message went out in Nunavut.

Are we to believe that NWT residents are much more receptive to such advice?

There are a number of parallels between the two territories: overcrowded housing persists (although it's widely accepted as a worse problem in Nunavut) and people commonly fly from community to community, spending hours in the confined space of an airplane, where germs can easily be passed.

It would seem that Nunavut's extensive testing for the virus is another major factor in the substantially higher number of documented cases there.

In the NWT, we've obviously enjoyed a stroke of luck, but we can't rely on that luck continuing. Numerous scientists and medical experts are predicting that a second, more potent wave of the swine flu will strike this fall.

The NWT Department of Health has ordered 80,000 doses of flu vaccine, which is in high demand across the country. It's expected to arrive in November or December. That may not be in time and nobody can afford to be complacent.

If this flu spreads like wildfire, then the delivery of essential services will be vulnerable and businesses will be hurt.

A comprehensive strategy would help counter that. Stanton Territorial Hospital just issued a request for proposals for an updated pandemic plan. There's no time to waste on getting this plan in place. It must be rolled out quickly and efficiently.

Swine flu's effects could be crippling to communities, services and the economy.

The Department of Health is going to have to be as sharp as a needle in tackling this virus and we should be prepared to get a few needles ourselves: the ones that will help keep us healthy.

A chance to teach
Nunavut News/North - Monday, August 17, 2009

Cruise ship passengers have become a seasonal resource in Nunavut, like geese or caribou. They flock north in the brief summer window of open water and flee at the first sign of ice.

Exploiting this new yet valuable resource is something Nunavummiut are getting better at, season after season.

Besides the economic benefits of passengers flooding communities and spending money on art, clothing and other souvenirs, the visits provide opportunities for Nunavummiut to take on the role of teacher to educate tourists about Inuit, their history, their culture and their modern-day lives.

The guide program of Cambridge Bay's visitors' centre is one example of how to take advantage of these chances. The training helps guides gain confidence in their presentations, and helps visitors get the most information from their walks around the settlement. Communities on the cruise paths also often send artists, performers and storytellers and interpreters on board the ships to meet and greet visitors, and, in the words of Cambridge Bay guide Melynda Minilgak, talk about "what it's like to be us."

Like other seasonal resources, the visits are unpredictable. They're subject to economic ups and downs and the whims of the weather.

But they are excellent chances for Nunavummiut to talk face-to-face with hundreds of people from all over Europe and North America, who will go home and pass on what they have learned to their family and friends all over the world.

Providing visitors with more knowledge of Inuit than they came with can only help build bridges between Nunavut and the wider world.

Territories can learn from each other
Nunavut News/North - Monday, August 17, 2009

Though Nunavut's handling of the swine flu pandemic so far has not been perfect, it's not fair for the NWT to crow over having so many fewer confirmed cases.

Nunavut responded initially to the H1N1 outbreak by lab testing every person reporting symptoms to their health centre. This enabled the department to track the flu's spread most effectively, though the department refused to share this information with the public, instead issuing numbers of cases by region.

But this high level of testing on Nunavut's part meant the number of lab confirmed cases of H1N1 was higher here than anywhere else in the North.

The NWT has not been conducting such strict testing. That territory's acting chief medical health officer says he believes the "slow spread" of H1N1 in the NWT is due to his department's public awareness campaign.

But there are outbreaks happening in NWT communities, just as in Nunavut's. The only difference is the NWT is only testing hospitalized cases and people with moderate to severe symptoms.

Had Nunavut done that, it would have had much fewer than the 500-plus cases it has reported.

Both territories can learn from each other's experiences - NWT on the testing side, and Nunavut on the public information side - and these lessons can be applied to the second wave of flu expected this fall.

Time to redevelop Giant Mine
Yellowknifer - Friday, August 14, 2009

Yellowknife has all the potential to create a mining museum, but simply establishing one at the Giant Mine site, as the NWT Mine Heritage Society is doing, will not work until the entire area is transformed into a place people want to visit.

The city knows this well. It hopes to build a residential subdivision in the area, and has been approached by a local business with plans to build a marina at the dock.

Still, more must be done. Plans for the mining museum and interest from private investors will only take flight once the city - which holds the lease on the housing site and the dock - takes action, namely a cleanup of the site followed by the establishment of walking trails. The docks are also an ideal place to set up a commercial harbourfront, one that could help relieve the crowded government dock in Old Town.

Such steps are needed to attract visitors, investment, and future residents to the area. They would also accelerate funding for the mining museum, which, as Mining Heritage Society director Ryan Silke told Yellowknifer last week, has been slow in coming.

Uncertainty over Giant Mine's clean-up plan is not the ultimate reason why the museum is not attracting funds, as Silke has suggested. The site will only show promise once the city demonstrates it is not just a washed-out, abandoned remnant of Yellowknife's past - but an avenue of development for the future.

Harper's love of the North not mutual yet
Yellowknifer - Friday, August 14, 2009

Stephen Harper's love affair with the North continues as the prime minister prepares for his fourth consecutive summer trip to the territories next week, including a visit to Yellowknife.

Undoubtedly, purse strings will be loosened as Harper makes stops in all three territorial capitals, although where the big prize - the headquarters for the newly created Northern Economic Development Agency - goes will likely be a big factor in determining how NWT residents receive him and his Conservative government.

If the agency goes to distant Nunavut, home of Harper's star MP Leona Aglukkaq, it will signal to Yellowknife and the rest of the territory that the Conservatives are more inclined to crass political appeasement rather than common sense.

That said, up to this point, Yellowknife has been done well by the Conservatives, taking the lion's share of a $9.3 million territorial crime prevention funds, plus million in infrastructure money.

The expansion of Nahanni National Park, favourable noises about the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, and creation of a Yellowknife army reserve unit are moves that are also being viewed positively, for the most part.

Displeasure over a decision to place the new development agency in Iqaluit could change that. It could be argued that the NWT's loss of the agency will hurt Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington's chances at re-election, as his NDP is far removed from power, but Harper wades into a delicate situation. Wary of his tenuous support nationally, particularly in Quebec, every MP could very well count come the next election, maybe as early as this fall.

Much remains to be seen.

Gathering as one
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 13, 2009

I have to admit that when I drove into the site of the Petitot Gathering on Aug. 7 I didn't know what to expect.

I'd driven to Fort Liard that day to cover a totally different event but everyone I met asked if I was going to the gathering. It hadn't really been part of my plans but because half of the population of Fort Liard seemed to be there already I decided that I'd better join them and find out what all the excitement was about.

After leaving my truck in the makeshift parking lot and walking towards the collection of tents and awnings, the draw that the gathering has on people was quickly apparent. I immediately felt what people I talked with later during the afternoon pointed out as their favourite part of the gathering: the atmosphere and the people were noticeably positive and friendly.

Everywhere I turned there were groups of people smiling, laughing, talking and clearly catching up on what they'd missed since they'd last met. The gathering draws in people from across the NWT, B.C., Alberta and even Saskatchewan.

For some of the participants the only time they see each other is at the Petitot.

For those who didn't want to just talk there were a variety of activities offered including a session on knapping arrowheads, a watermelon carving competition and a birchbark basket making workshop, just to name a few.

Now, summer gatherings are nothing new in the Deh Cho. Around the region people have the pick of the Open Sky Festival in Fort Simpson, Mackenzie Days in Fort Providence and the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation Annual Gathering in Wrigley. All of these events are unique and worthy of merit in their own ways but the Petitot Gathering provides something that those festivals would do well to accomplish.

In the Deh Cho the bulk of the participants in any of the summer gatherings are always residents of the host communities. Sure a handful of people come in from surrounding communities but they're usually only there because of a large bingo, a handgames tournament, a dance or some other special event. The focus is generally on the events and less on personal interactions.

The Petitot Gathering seems to be more about people from different communities coming together and enjoying each other's company than it is about the events that go on throughout the day. Maybe the secret is in holding the gathering away from all communities so everyone feels equally comfortable joining in.

However they managed it, the organizers of the Petitot Gathering and the Acho Dene Koe First Nation and the Fort Nelson First Nation, who co-host it, deserve a round of applause for creating such a positive event. The Petitot Gathering is a reminder that people from different backgrounds and communities can come together and blend into a seamless whole.

Joining in the games
Editorial Comment
Andrew Rankin
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 13, 2009

There were probably two mom-ents during the four-day Circumpolar Northern Games that help define at least for me the importance of this long standing tradition.

The first incident occurred when 66-year-old Mary Kudlak of Ulukhaktok walked off the stage Saturday afternoon with three gold medals around her neck for her efforts in the tea boiling, bannock-making and best-tasting bannock events.

After I took her picture and recorded her name, she freely told me how this event had gone a long way in helping her cope after the death of her husband last month.

"People here have really helped me. I'm so glad I came," she said with a smile.

For a few weeks she had contemplated whether she should travel and participate in the event, but family and friends pushed her to come.

While covering the Games, I experienced a range of reactions to the events, from awe at the two-foot and one-foot high jump, to shock at the knuckle hop.

All along participants were saying that it was the energy of the crowd and the support of fellow competitors that made the event meaningful, as well as the fact that they were carrying on an aspect of their culture.

Those sentiments seemed to be captured most profoundly in that statement made by Kudlak.

It seems to me this tradition is about more than celebrating sport and tradition; it's about bringing people together and being part of something greater than oneself. Perhaps it's especially timely to celebrate such an event when you consider the arrival of technologies such as Facebook and text messaging that find many of us socializing from a distance rather than face to face.

So that brings me to my favourite moment of the games. It occurred Saturday evening during the performance of the Barrow Drummers from Alaska. Judging by the packed audience's reaction, I wasn't the only one mesmerized by their performance.

I don't pretend to know anything about the finer points of the art of drumming and dancing, or anything at all about it for that matter. But I was impressed by the quality of voice, the range and the pitch.

It was the first time I sat through an entire drum dancing session and though I wasn't familiar with the movements and what they meant, I recognized the grace and rhythm. You couldn't help but want to be a part of it, and dance yourself.

The atmosphere was electric and after an invitation, a crowd from the audience quickly filled the dance floor. It was the one time where I felt a part of the Games.

The music went on till the early morning hours of Sunday and it didn't bother me at all to stay until 2 a.m.

A photo caption accompanying letters to the editor in last Wednesday's Yellowknifer contained wrong information. A city council-supported resolution by the NWT Association of Communities called for a halt to new tar sands development in Alberta. Also, in the Aug. 12 Sports Check column the HBC Diamondbacks were incorrectly identified as the 2008 playoff tournament champions.

In last Friday's Yellowknifer the Yellowknife Catholic Schools board office was misidentified in a photo ("The straight and narrow," Aug. 14). And for clarification, information on the outcome of Premier Floyd Roland's conflict of interest inquiry came from the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act and not Legislative Assembly clerk Tim Mercer. Yellowknifer apologizes for any confusion or embarrassment caused by these errors.