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Masters of destiny
Devolution far too important for leaders to boycott

NNSL photo/graphic

Ethel Blondin-Andrew, left, alongside Minister Jackson Lafferty and Premier Bob McLeod, participated in a ceremonial signing committing the Sahtu Dene to the evolution Agreement-in-Principle. - Danielle Sachs/NNSL photo

NWT News/North - Monday, June 4, 2012

"It's always better to negotiate your own fate."

Those are the words of Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya and they represent a shift in thinking.

Two years ago, when talking about devolution, Yakeleya's words were polar opposite. It was then he said the Devolution Agreement-in-Principle was "a watered-down agreement" that degrades aboriginal organizations.

He also said aboriginal people did not want to be in the backseat during negotiations while the GNWT sat in the driver's seat. To keep with the analogy, leaders in the Sahtu have now decided to hop in the car.

Last month, the Sahtu Dene became the first Dene group to sign its name to the agreement-in-principle; that signature joins those of the Inuvialuit and Metis. For Premier Bob McLeod, himself a Metis, the signing represents what he hopes will be a series of endorsements from the Dene.

The four other NWT Dene groups - the Tlicho, Deh Cho, Gwich'in and Akaitcho, still stand opposed to the agreement-in-principle. The Gwich'in are planning to take the GNWT to court over the matter. The Gwich'in Tribal Council reaffirmed that position last week at its board of directors' meeting. The council's stance not only combats the recent Sahtu signing, it is an attempt to gain support from its members as the council heads into a June 22 election. Richard Nerysoo, council president, told News/North he fears a candidate who does not support the lawsuit could, if elected, undo the council's work.

Aboriginal leaders were right to protest the lack of consultation involved in the formation of the agreement-in-principle, but McLeod has made it clear the process of negotiating devolution is moving forward. He has also invited all aboriginal groups to come to the table to help shape the agreement.

Though the process got off on the wrong foot, the premier has extended the olive branch and First Nations leaders might as well accept. It appears Ottawa is inclined to negotiate terms on devolution, so aboriginal leaders might as well be part of it, even if their land claims take precedence in their respective regions. These leaders may be able to point out flaws in a proposed AIP that others may not see.

Despite McLeod's efforts, it's easy to understand why aboriginal governments and leaders are mistrustful of the government. However, in this case, they have some very influential figures already at the table, leaders who have always been stalwart defenders of aboriginal rights, people such as Nellie Cournoyea, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Frank Andrew and Betty Villebrun. One would think their support of the devolution process should bear enough clout to attract the holdout First Nations to the table.

What will be interesting to watch is whether Michael Nadli, MLA for Deh Cho, maintains his seat in the legislative assembly. In his May 23 member's statement, Nadli made reference to historical assimilation and extinguishment of aboriginal rights before going on to warn that the GNWT "wants to take control of lands and resources" through devolution.

With the premier having invited aboriginal groups as partners at the devolution table, and with Nadli collecting an MLA's paycheque, at what point will the Deh Cho representative refuse to continue working for an employer he cautions is attempting to wrest control from the rightful owners of the land?

Watch what you eat
Nunavut News/North - Monday, June 4, 2012

Country food is often thought of as the most nutritious food one can get in the territory.

A traditional diet - foods such as seal, walrus, Arctic char and caribou - is full of vitamins, minerals, protein and fats required for good health; but students in Pond Inlet are worried there might be growing dangers from eating marine animals.

Greenland's Dr. Henning Pedersen has seen mercury levels on the rise in people who stick to a traditional diet in his country, very similar to what's eaten by many of Nunavut's Inuit.

Mercury is a heavy metal which, when consumed by people, can cause serious damage to kidneys, the brain and liver.

The results of a study titled Human accumulation of mercury in Greenland, which Pedersen helped research, show mercury intake significantly exceeding European Food Safety Authority guidelines, noting that the levels are high enough to possibly affect brain function, and subtle behaviour deficits linked with brain function have been observed in Greenlandic children in the country's Thule district.

Greenland is right across the bay from Baffin Island, and its people pull their food from the same body of water as Nunavummiut.

The Pond Inlet students, who are enrolled in Nunavut Arctic College's environmental technology program, heard Pedersen speak at the International Polar Year conference last month in Montreal. He even went as far as saying it is "unethical" for the GN to be encouraging pregnant women to eat seal. The students in Pond Inlet have begun to look at contaminants in marine organisms near their community, working with Environment Canada.

Saying the GN is acting unethically is going a bit far; with high food prices and low average wages, country food is vital in keeping communities fed. It's also an important part of the battle against diabetes, which affects nearly 30 per cent of Inuit in Nunavut, according to Statistics Canada, and is largely the result of modern treats and high-sugar foods entering Nunavummiut diets. However, while the government can, to some degree, guarantee the nutritional content of country foods, it can't guarantee what else might be lurking in the meat.

The government should recognize that even normal fluctuations in climate can change the environment and can affect the integrity of Arctic food chains. Causes for rising levels of mercury in sea life could be anything from erosion, thawing permafrost, melting sea ice and climate change, to human and industrial activity.

The current Nunavut Food Guide states, bluntly, "All country foods are healthy." Well, the GN needs to be able to back up that claim, and should probably hold off on such guarantees unless it's closely monitoring the integrity of country foods. Greenland and Nunavut are close neighbours, both geographically and culturally. This could also be an opportunity for both jurisdictions to work together to monitor the food in the ocean we share.

The work of these students should be applauded and supported by both the GN and the federal government, and built upon. A lack of access to quality food is, by far, one of the biggest issues Nunavummiut face but the integrity of the food people can harvest in the North can't be overlooked, or else there could be widespread health issues in years to come.

A helping hand to home ownership
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 1, 2012

In a more harmonious world, Yellowknifers might not begrudge black bears ambling down the road or a bull moose grazing in the backyard.

Being that this is a city of more than 18,000 people, however, such scenarios are more often met with consternation when they do occur. Realistically, the city makes poor habitat for most wild animals. No less is true for the humble beaver, as adored and noble a creature as this water-dwelling rodent may be.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem warns the beaver and its supposed trampoline-like tail can be dangerous when cornered. Beyond that, what makes beavers bad citizens, at least as far as the Niven Lake subdivision is concerned, is its habit of chewing down trees - especially the trees buffering neighbouring properties from the walking trail that surrounds the lake. Niven Lake beavers were also blamed 10 years ago for the roller-coaster effect on Franklin Avenue as it descends into Old Town.

A beaver dam allowed water to pool under the road, causing frost heaves during the winter.

The city and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have been trying to remove beavers from Niven Lake for more than 15 years with limited success. They've disappeared at times only to return. No doubt, it is otherwise nice to have the beavers around - if all you have to do is look at them while out on an evening stroll.

For their destructive habits though - the cutting of trees and building of dams that can flood land and property - it's becoming increasingly obvious that Niven Lake is a less than ideal place for the beavers to call home, especially, now that it's almost entirely surrounded by residential development. It's not reasonable to simply say, "Well, they were here first," and expect homeowners to put up with the damage year in and year out.

Yellowknifer itself adopted that stance in an editorial 10 years ago, back when Niven Lake was a burgeoning residential area just starting to encroach on the animal's territory. However, a decade ago the beavers were not regularly gnawing down trees that property owners were claiming as their own. The situation is increasingly becoming untenable. Something has to go, and it won't be the humans.

It also doesn't help that there are people interfering with the government-set traps to catch the rodents. Not only is this an unsafe thing to do, it may result in the beavers being trapped later in the season, and thus give them less time to store food for winter.

It would be great if there could be a happy coexistence but people have to accept their beaver-watching may have to take place elsewhere. Fortunately, being that Yellowknife is an island of civilization surrounded by wilderness, they won't have far to go.

Lots of pride in planting
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 31, 2012

Signs of summer are now all across the Deh Cho. Lawns are green, the leaves have come out completely on most trees and the insect populations are increasing.

One of the most encouraging summer signs is the preparations that are underway in gardens.

In Fort Simpson, the soil in many backyard gardens has been worked over and, in some cases, seeds and bedding plants are already in place in tidy rows. Similar evidence of gardening is likely underway in other Deh Cho communities.

The importance of gardening shouldn't be underestimated.

For one, as all Deh Cho residents are well aware, fresh vegetables are not the cheapest things to buy in local grocery stores. Not only does buying nutritious vegetables take a chunk out of your pocketbook, you can never be quite sure how long ago the vegetables were harvested and what sorts of fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides they were exposed to.

Gardens mean, for a few months of the year, people in the Deh Cho can have access to inexpensive vegetables whose history isn't a mystery. Short of extensive canning, freezing or pickling, the vegetables won't last you all year, but things like potatoes and carrots can easily be kept for a few months in cool, dry places.

Not only do gardens give some relief to wallets and a boost to healthy diets, they also foster a sense of pride. Sure, if you buy a tomato from the store you know you worked hard for the money you used to buy it, but who really thinks about that while they are eating a slice of tomato?

On the other hand, if you planted a tomato seed in April, fostered the tiny plant indoors for months, carefully transplanted it outside and then kept an eye on it as it grew throughout the summer, you will have a connection to the ripe tomatoes you pick. Not only are they bound to taste better, but you can feel good knowing that this is something you grew.

For these and many other reasons, gardening should be encouraged in the region. This can happen in a few ways.

People who are experienced gardeners should share their knowledge and hard-learned tips with beginning gardeners. Helping new gardeners have a successful first few years will make it more likely they continue gardening.

Community garden initiatives like the one in Fort Simpson should also be promoted. As with many other things when people work together projects, such as gardens they are more likely to succeed.

Whether it's in backyard plots or communal areas, gardens will hopefully be growing in number this summer in the Deh Cho.

The times, they are a-changin'
Editorial Comment
Laura Busch
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 31, 2012

With its release of the 2012-2013 budget, the territorial government revealed its intentions to pursue devolution in earnest during the 17th Legislative Assembly of the NWT.

With $9.3 million in government funding going toward the "negotiation and implementation of the final devolution agreement," as Minister of Finance Michael Miltenberger said in his budget address, the territorial politicians are letting the rest of NWT residents know they mean business.

And for their part, Inuvik representatives in the legislative assembly, along with Inuvik's mayor, are toeing the line.

"I think it's great for the territory," Denny Rodgers told Inuvik Drum this week." I hope that through a meaningful negotiation all the aboriginal groups will sign on and will get that done."

The Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated was the first Dene government to sign the agreement-in-principal last Tuesday, May 22. Also, Premier Bob McLeod has hinted that the Dehcho and Ndilo governments could soon be on board. This could mean the tides of favour among aboriginal communities are also shifting in favour of a devolution deal.

Closer to home, the Gwich'in Tribal Council stands firmly opposed to the deal, at least in the form that it currently takes.

"Today, we affirm our commitment to oppose that unilateral effort, and to seek recognition of the legitimacy of our constitutional position in the courts," stated GTC president Richard Nerysoo last Sunday in a press release that re-affirmed the council's resolve to continue its Supreme Court lawsuit against the territorial and federal governments. This lawsuit alleges the GTC was not consulted properly during the drafting of the agreement-in-principle, and this failure to consult goes against the Constitution Act of 1982.

So, what does this all mean?

The GTC is treading a fine line here. On one hand, it is making a valiant effort to hold the territorial and federal governments accountable for their actions or, inactions in this case. However, it is beginning to look like sticking to their guns on this issue may put the GTC on the wrong side of a landslide victory for devolution in the NWT. One of the surest ways not to benefit fully from the devolution agreement is to stand against it when there is no hope of stopping it.

This is not meant to pass judgment on the issue of devolution itself, or on the legitimacy of the GTC's court case. However, in light of all these recent developments on the devolution issue, the landscape has changed, and a re-evaluation of tactics may be beneficial.

One can only hope that $9.3 million can buy sufficient negotiations among all parties involved this time around, and that in true Northern fashion a consensus can be reached in which all sides can walk away with their heads high.

Ridiculous rhetoric detracts from democratic debate
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Speaker Jackie Jacobson was wrong when he told Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins and Minister of Transportation David Ramsay that the legislative assembly "is not a theatre."

Jacobson made the comment last week while he gave the two politicians a tongue lashing for exchanging petty potshots during their debate about a $16 million negotiated contract being awarded to the Det'on Cho Corporation for the Ingraham Trail Realignment project.

Contrary to the Speaker's opinion, the legislature is indeed a theatrical stage through which politicians present a show to persuade the public and each another. The most powerful performances usually advance the political plot.

That said, what appears to be a long-standing feud between Hawkins and Ramsay, who began sparring publicly many years ago as city councillors, could cause legislative debate to deviate from the democratic script.

Hawkins opened his member's statement last Wednesday by coining a new alliterative nickname for the transportation minister, calling him "Reverse" Ramsay. Later in the day his questions to the minister maintained a similar tone of irritating immaturity.

Ramsay followed suit, parrying with juvenile jibes, to which Hawkins responded with more name-calling. That's when Jacobson intervened like a kindergarten teacher policing the playground.

Hawkins' questions are important, because they demand the transportation minister justify his position as he finalizes the deal with the Yellowknives Dene. For it or against it, the project is a massive contract for which Ramsay must account.

Unfortunately, Hawkins has chosen to indulge a personal conflict rather than embrace his role as a public advocate, and Ramsay seems more than willing to tussle with him in the school yard.

Both politicians are free to debate with passion and intensity, but should stop short of acting like children.

City obligated to solve problem
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pity the politician or the municipal administrator tasked with finding a meaningful solution to problem dogs in the city.

Case in point is the troubling story of a Ballantyne Court resident whose neighbour has two to seven dogs in their yard. She says her neighbour's pets are left outside unattended to bark at all hours and their feces is left to pile up. The mess was cleaned up last summer after complaints to the city, but the problem has recently resurfaced, she says.

She has asked city council to update the dog bylaw, particularly to limit the number of dogs on a residential property. Coun. David Wind questioned whether there is a problem with the bylaw, which hasn't been revised since 2002, or whether the city was doing a poor job of enforcement.

It is not unusual for Yellowknife residents to have more than two dogs. Many pet owners are responsible - they care for their animals, clean up after them and don't leave them to bark incessantly.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem says the city's bylaw has to be in sync with the territorial government's Dog Act and the NWT SPCA president Nicole Spencer is against setting restrictions on the number of dogs a person can own.

Yet, there is always one bad apple who can ruin it for everyone and we're of the view that there should be a method for authorities to act against dog owners who cause a nuisance by not looking after their animals.

It's not unreasonable for residents to be able to turn to the city for a solution. No one said it was going to be easy, but the municipality does have an obligation to revisit its dog bylaw to force a few scofflaws to clean up their act.

Forcing Pinocchio into the light
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It will be interesting to see what effect the fed's move to start paying closer attention to the activities of registered charities will have in the real world.

But, if early indications count for anything, the overdue commitment to transparency may slam the door on some clandestine efforts to influence public opinion.

Registered charities have no business trumpeting anyone's agenda or being politically active on any front.

None other than the David Suzuki Foundation helped prompt (some would say force) the government to take action against any registered charity that puts politics high on its todo list.

It's OK to want to be political or influential in the court of public opinion.

Just do it on your own dime and with a platform that spells out loud and clear what you're all about.

It's OK to draw attention to the fact you believe a heavy beef diet might not be a very healthy decision.

But not by using cash 'donated' to you by the intergalactic chicken eating association that gives you the same tax break as the Salvation Army.

Hypothetically speaking, it would be no different than if someone had a problem with the policies of the Kivalliq Inuit Association or the Government of Nunavut in regards to uranium mining in the territory.

If a group is being provided help to attack (or support) a government or regional Inuit association policy, it should never come from an entity using money gained through charitable status.

Charity is all about helping those in need, not fighting political battles.

Even if the activity isn't political in its purest sense, no group should be able to use money given to it by the feather pillow manufacturers to produce an 'independent study' condemning foam pillows.

It just isn't cricket unless everyone knows who provided funding for the study.

Suzuki's resignation as a board member of his own foundation in response to the fed's unwanted attention doesn't change the fact the Suzuki Foundation has been politically active for years.

And Mr. Suzuki and his legion of followers have shown themselves not to be shy about using hard-ball tactics to make their point.

As national spokesperson Jordan Graham recently pointed out in a piece by National Post columnist Kelly McParland: the essence of the David Suzuki Foundation "appears to be one big testament to the personality, vision, goals and cult of David Suzuki."

It is an opinion I totally agree with.

Differing opinions, and the ability to express those opinions in public, are a democratic right.

However, public opinions, hidden agendas and playing outside the rules are very different things.

The playing field must be balanced and transparency paramount for informed choices to be made.

There are far too many puppet masters in today's world, and any initiative that forces them into the open to play by the same rules as everyone else is a good step.

If we can't totally cut Pinocchio's strings, we can at least make sure he's not dancing to a tune meant to be enjoyed by those helping the less fortunate among us.

It's the charitable thing to do!

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