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Generating action
NWT News/North - Monday, July 4, 2011

The NWT Power Corporation's reputation has been hit hard in Inuvik. Considering the numerous power outages that plagued that community over several months, it's easy to understand why.

However, comments made in Inuvik late last month by power corp. president and CEO David Axford demonstrated a commitment by the utility provider to not only address long-standing issues relating to its generation system but also to be more accountable to its customers.

Axford didn't sugar-coat the power corp.'s responsibility concerning 24 hours worth of power outages - one that lasted for 13 hours - between September and January 2010. He was frank in his criticisms, which spanned the corporation's in-house communications, employee training, equipment, management and staffing.

The CEO's public admonishment of the corporation was supported by more than repeated apologies; in his report to Inuvik town council, Axford detailed recommendations to address the factors that led to the outages.

Among those recommendations was a desire to focus on Northern hiring in co-operation with Aurora College, to avoid the problem of transient staff, while also contributing to Northern employment.

To date, Axford said the corporation is already working on converting the solutions outlined in the report into reality; new skilled tradespeople and technologists have already been hired and improvements to address some of the technical issues have either been made or will be made over the next several months.

Axford admitted the issue of assessing training programs and hiring Northern-trained staff will take more time, but he added it's a commitment the power corp. will keep.

Back when the power failures occurred, the Town of Inuvik demanded an independent audit of the power corporation's generation equipment in the community. According to Axford, his latest report shows that from a mechanical standpoint the Inuvik generation system is sound. Also, he said the power corp. has a detailed 50-year replacement plan and investment schedule to ensure aging equipment is replaced in a timely fashion.

Axford characterized the problems that contributed to the power outages in Inuvik as technical and management related. Perhaps the most impressive of the CEO's comments to follow the Inuvik meeting was in his defence of the power corp.'s staff. When asked if the outages were caused by personnel problems, he was quick to place the responsibility for the utility's failures and successes squarely on the shoulders of its managers.

In the past, the power corp. has been criticized for paying rich bonuses to its corporate managers. While the public will probably never accept such costly perks as acceptable, at least if they are tied to an impeccable track record then they would be easier to justify.

We encourage Axford to continue his accountable and candid approach. His words bring hope that changes will be made for the better, but, ultimately, only improvements in service will be the measuring stick of his leadership.

The simple act of listening
Nunavut News/North - Monday, July 4, 2011

"You should talk to us here before you start formulating your plans."

Those are golden words of advice from John Amagoalik to the federal government, spoken last year during a dispute over a proposed large-scale seismic program in Lancaster Sound.

It seems Amagoalik's recommendation was not heeded as developments on an unrelated issue would show later in the year. Without consulting Inuit in advance, Ottawa banned the export of narwhal tusks in 17 Nunavut communities in December, citing concerns that some of the mammal's populations may be at risk, and therefore imperilled by hunting.

Cathy Towtongie, president of land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), called on the government to reverse its decision. A legal challenge by NTI followed in January.

Going to court is not the ideal route. It's costly and it usually takes years to get a resolution. Yet, it's the strongest counter move Nunavut can make when faced with unacceptable conduct by the federal government.

In the case of narwhal, the two sides recently agreed to start talking again and NTI has withdrawn its court action. Hopefully a compromise will be reached, but, more importantly, Ottawa has to learn that Nunavummiut and their land claim are not to be taken lightly.

Amagoalik's chastising of government officials last June for pushing ahead with a seismic program in Lancaster Sound did not end with further discussion. That issue wound up being settled in a courtroom. Some Nunavummiut were worried that sound from the seismic blasts - intended to determine the mineral and energy potential in the ocean bed below - could do harm to marine animals.

Amagoalik, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association's director of lands and resources, has acquired plenty of experience working with the federal government; he was a key player in the formation of Nunavut as a territory during the 1990s. His fight for Inuit rights is legendary.

But strong words from him or any other leader in Nunavut sometimes have to be heard by a judge instead of a politician, if a meaningful response is needed.

It was Justice Sue Cooper of the Nunavut Court of Justice that granted the Qikiqtani an injunction last Aug. 8 and thereby put a halt to the offshore seismic program.

Nunavut News/North has praised the Conservative government for investing in Nunavut through housing programs, by focusing on sovereignty and by making Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq a cabinet minister. Regardless, the government has to stop trying to run roughshod over Nunavut's rights or the courts will be called upon to intervene.

Working together is always preferable to litigation, Aglukkaq said last week regarding the narwhal tusk dispute.

If she could just convince her colleagues in Ottawa to take Amagoalik's words more seriously, then litigation would never have arisen.

Think before you 'looky-loo'
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 1, 2011
NNSL photo/graphic

The above photograph ought to say it all: if you're close enough to see the pilot in the plane bearing down on you, you're way too close.

The image was captured June 19 as water bombers with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were scooping water from Back Bay to drop on the fire that erupted at the nearby city landfill, which is not an overly unusual occurrence on hot summer days. The last major dump fire was in 2009, and water bombers were called in to fight that fire too.

Fires draw crowds, and people often rush to get there before the action is over. In June 2007, a four-alarm fire in a duplex on Morrison Drive drew a crush of onlookers - many of them showing up in their cars - that backed up traffic along one-way, fire hydrant-less Otto Drive, and hampered firefighters' efforts to bring in water trucks. The potential for conflicts to arise between emergency crews and "looky-loos" - as they're often called - is great in many areas of the city. Can anyone imagine the chaos that could ensue if a fire broke out at J.H. Sissons School, which is bordered by the narrow and heavily used 51A Avenue, where there is parking on both sides?

The same goes for Back Bay, which has experienced increased boat traffic in recent years with the development of the Giant Mine boat launch. Boater-plane conflicts on Back Bay are not unheard of. It is, after all, a take-off and landing zone for floatplanes.

There have been several serious incidents there over the years, including one fatality when a plane and sailboat collided in 1982. That death led to the installation of a beacon on top Pilot's Monument that pilots can activate when taking off or coming in for a landing.

Still, that won't alleviate the dangerous situation that took place during the June 19 dump fire when several boaters - in canoes and motorized water craft -- were observed getting uncomfortably close to the water bombers swooping in to take water.

If there had been a collision then, who knows what sort of heavy-handed reaction there would be from federal government authorities, such as the Canadian Coast Guard. So far the coast guard has not exercised much jurisdiction over waters in and around Yellowknife Bay. The government would certainly have cause to do something drastic if a water bomber and boat collided.

People ought to be free to enjoy themselves on a nice, summer day, whether it be on land or water. But when an emergency does arise, it's best we get out of the way.

More than just Virginia Falls
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fort Simpson has been a popular place lately.

On Aboriginal Day six premiers joined in Fort Simpson's celebration as part of the Western Premiers' Conference. A day later the village played host to 18 ambassadors and high commissioners from around the world as part of the Northern tour organized by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

Both groups of officials shared some similar experiences while in the Deh Cho. Both groups saw or visited Virginia Falls on their way to Fort Simpson, and while in the village they sampled traditional food and saw and heard some drum songs.

The visits were well-received. Residents seemed to be eager to meet the premiers and the heads of mission, and the dignitaries in turn seemed interested in all the activities that had been planned for them.

The visits, however, also raise a larger question that deserves attention. What defines the Deh Cho?

The Deh Cho isn't Virginia Falls although that landmark often seems to be what draws dignitaries and visitors to the region. The Deh Cho also isn't traditional food or drum songs, although those two things are a part of the answer.

Aspects of what the Deh Cho is and what defines it can actually be drawn from the recent visitors. A number of the ambassadors and high commissioners on the Northern tour remarked that what they learned over the course of their seven days of travel is that the Arctic, or the North, isn't one homogeneous place, as some who haven't been here imagine it to be. You can't say you've been to the North if you've only been to one community or city in one of the three territories because there are many versions of the North.

In the same way the Deh Cho isn't just one place. Each community in the region is its own unique entity and each brings its own strengths and assets to the Deh Cho.

The dignitaries also noticed the struggle for balance between traditions and modernity in the North. The Deh Cho is not exception to this.

While traditional lifestyles and pursuits, traditional foods, songs and teachings are a core part of what the Deh Cho is, so too are schools, technology and the pursuit of economic development. The Deh Cho is both a region working towards self-reliance and self-government but at the same time a part of the larger North and Canada.

While it would be difficult to encapsulate the Deh Cho and present it to visitors who only have a few hours or days in the region, it's important for residents to consider what the Deh Cho is to them. By looking at what it is and isn't, residents can help shape what the Deh Cho will become.

Put aside expectations and attend the TRC
Editorial Comment
Samantha Stokell
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, June 30, 2011

The biggest surprise at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission northern national event is the laughter and smiles next to the tears.

At an event where the goal is to purge oneself of the demons of the past, tears are expected as survivors of the residential school program recount their stories. But the smiles and joy these survivors are experiencing from seeing old friends is uplifting.

It sort of all makes sense now. Seeing the event in action makes it understandable for how hard it is for officials and organizers to actually explain how the event will work. It's not just the official sharing circles, private statement gatherings and commissioners panels that are helping survivors to deal with the past. It's the other students who also went through the same experiences and the comfort of knowing they're not alone in the pain.

The smiles are signs of resilience, because even though they went through the painful experiences, they are still here, still surviving and their culture is experiencing a resurgence with the help of the current school systems.

The cultural support workers, those caring individuals dressed in green vests, are also doing incredible work, providing a shoulder to lean on or a tissue to cry in. They do their job compassionately for whoever needs help, whether it's a survivor, a volunteer, a translator or simply someone attending the event.

And that is something that needs to be addressed. When this paper comes out on June 30, there will still be one more day of the TRC. If you have not attended a single session or event, you must. As a Canadian, you must attend this event. You have to hear the stories so you can understand what was done to the people who were here when the Europeans colonized this country.

Canada often stands proud for its work in human rights around the world, but what about its own history of human rights abuse? Stealing children from their families, abuse and assimilation?

How does this history fit into the proud history of Canada? Why are these stories not told in Canadian history classes? Why do school programs focus on the glories of Canadians fighting in the Second World War but neglect to mention that residential schools continued until the mid-1990s?

Perhaps its shame, guilt or ignorance. Put aside those feelings and face them head-on to discover the truth of what happened in those schools. Even if you think you've heard the stories before, go and listen to them from the people courageous enough to share their deepest fears and darkest memories.

It's the truth of a country they're sharing and everyone living here should hear it.

A costly attitude
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A "not-in-my-backyard" attitude is standing between Yellowknifers and a lower cost of living.

NPR Limited Partnership, formerly known as Northern Property REIT, wants to build a 28-unit apartment complex, and five six-plexes on empty, gravel-covered land near the Ptarmiganand Shaganappy apartment buildings.

Some neighbours in the area have taken a firm stand against the proposal and they are vocal in their opposition.

Yet this type of development is the direction the city needs to go to broaden its tax base while maintaining green space and avoiding urban sprawl in the coming years. Of more immediate concern to the city is the lack of land available due to Yellowknives Dene land claims.

The phrase "infill" - developing underutilized space within the city - was littered throughout the city's 2004 general plan, which is in the process of being updated. The city also has an overarching 50-year strategic plan called Smart Growth. The term infill appears in the Smart Growth plan much less, but when it is used, the plan refers to the policy as being "controversial." It proposes to alleviate the negative connotations of "infill development" by shifting the focus from natural areas to "sites or buildings which are vacant or underutilized." One would think this sort of shift would be welcomed, and the proposed NPR development near Shaganappy and Ptarmigan apartments - a proposal which, it should be noted, does not require public approval - falls right in line with this direction.

A concern consistently brought up by residents along 54 Street and Con Road is over the current state of Shaganappy and Ptarmigan apartments. Neighbours complain of litter, rowdy people coming and going and frequent visits from emergency vehicles. Some are worried these occurrences will only be exacerbated by the new developments, which total 58 new units.

Company officials have stated NPR, which took over Shaganappy and Ptarmigan in April 2010 from Bond Street Properties, is working to fix up the buildings and beautify the area. It should be kept in mind that the buildings were previously in tax arrears and not in the best of condition when acquired from Bond Street last year.

NPR will surely want to make the new apartments and townhouses attractive. The units will also likely be priced so that they are affordable by Yellowknife standards.

It's uncertain whether NPR will follow through on improving the aesthetics of the area, but what is clear is that Yellowknife needs more housing, and needs it now.

The regional representative for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently pegged Yellowknife's rental vacancy rate as 0.8 per cent. The housing market has been hovering around one per cent vacancy for a few years.

As well, the neighbourhood could view the future occupants of the new NPR buildings as allies. The tradespeople, bureaucrats, service staff and other professionals - people Yellowknife needs -- who rent those units will want surely want the area to be clean and free of crime. They could bring support to the lobby to ensure action is taken.

If the "not-in-my-backyard" attitude continues, the rising property taxes on all of our backyards will continue to accelerate, while the workers we need to relocate here have no place to call home.

High price tag with old/new strategy
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

There's no denying the national strategy on Inuit education devised by Inuit leaders and released earlier this month by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon contains a number of valid points.

Simon chaired the development committee for the national strategy.

But, as valid as the points raised are, the hoopla surrounding the public release made it sound like the strategy was breaking new ground and that simply isn't the case.

Many Inuit leaders, and both Inuit and nonInuit educators alike, have been speaking to the necessity of having parents more involved with their children's education for many years now.

Like so many other things in life, a young person's desire to pursue a good education and attend school usually starts at home, especially in terms of the encouragement, involvement, support, recognition, approval and, yes, discipline they receive from their parents and other family members.

The strategy's call for more use of Inuktitut in the classroom is also nothing new.

Staff members in Kivalliq schools all of Nunavut for that matter have worked tirelessly for years to bring more Inuktitut and Inuit culture into their curricula.

A major challenge remains the lack of qualified Inuktitutspeaking teachers to implement the curriculum changes, as well as funding for resource materials and the hiring of elders in the schools.

And while we must greatly increase the number of Nunavut graduates, it can't be done in a way that sacrifices their Grade 12 credentials.

While increasing pride in and knowledge of Inuit culture it a great thing, if is becomes the totally dominant trait then nothing will change when it comes to our grads feeling they're not on an even par with southern students.

It was encouraging to hear Simon speak of standardizing the Inuit writing system among the 10 points of the strategy, but, once again, that's hardly anything new.

A number of Inuit leaders were looking for ways of doing exactly that for decades before Nunavut even came into existence.

Not only would it solidify curriculum insofar as students being equally at home using the system in Rankin Inlet or Gjoa Haven, but such standardization would also aid greatly in the development of resource materials for every classroom across the territory.

What remains to be seen, of course, is where the funding will come from to make this all happen.

Taking for granted the majority of parents get on board, and the natural evolution of our territory produces more and more bilingual teachers to deliver the curriculum, a great deal of money will still be needed for the development and production of resource materials.

As always, much of what can be accomplished, and in what time frame, comes down to the almighty dollar.

Simon has already called on the feds to provide support in all of Canada's Inuit regions, as an action plan is developed and funding sought.

But while the federal government should "support" the strategy, any hope it will cover the entire cost is tenuous at best.

The progression of strategy into bona fide action is badly needed, but the price tag that comes with it is going to be enormous in any language.

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