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Deadly combination
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, Sept 26, 2012

For generations, young people have been hearing messages about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse from parents, teachers, peers and police officers. It's not working.

Last week, the chief coroner of the NWT asked everyone in the community to face the grim facts.

Cathy Menard took the unusual step of releasing information about the fatal overdose of 20-year-old Jessica Koe prior to the publication of a complete coroner's report.

Koe, who was found dead in a cabin off Highway 3 near Yellowknife last spring, died from a lethal mix of alcohol, morphine and cocaine, according to a toxicity report conducted as part of a coroner's inquest.

Koe's death is part of a tragic trend and Menard is making sure Yellowknife residents are aware of the long-term statistics.

Between 2001 and 2010 in the NWT, almost half of suicide deaths were drug- and alcohol-related, while 57 per cent of accidental deaths and more than 75 per cent of homicides involved drugs or alcohol during the same period.

The coroner also regularly finds drugs, particularly alcohol, in the system of people who die from natural causes.

"I think when you look at the statistics, there's proof that more work is needed to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol and drugs and mixing them together," Menard said.

The wide variety of drugs being mixed with alcohol is nothing short of disturbing. Earlier this year Menard concluded that 29-year-old medevac nurse Tara Osmond died in 2009 from a mix of alcohol, narcotic pain relievers, minor tranquilizers, an antihistamine and an antidepressant, some of which had been taken intravenously.

Osmond's death prompted Menard to recommend that "Stanton Territorial Health Authority complete an independent audit during the lifetime of all medevac services contracts to ensure policies and proper procedures are being followed for quality assurance."

Koe's death underscores the need for institutions and authorities to take swift and serious measures to restrict the illegal flow of medicinal drugs into the community.

Health education should reflect the reality that Yellowknifers are being exposed to a wide variety of illegal drugs so at-risk individuals become aware that such substances are deadly.

The rest of society also must take a sober second look at ways the community at large can guide people of all ages, but young people in particular, away from self-destructive drug and alcohol abuse and toward more healthy ways of coping with stresses and struggles.

Midget hockey might never return
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, Sept 26, 2012

It's hard to believe it's already been eight years since peewee hockey was last played at the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in 2004 at Fort McMurray, Alta.

For a sport many Northerners are supposedly so passionate about, the outcry over dumping the peewees was surprisingly low key.

There were some complaints and a few letters written, but, overall, it was more than a little tame.

The lack of resistance to losing the peewees had more to do with political correctness than the kids who, arguably, best exemplified the true spirit of the Games.

The popular consensus at the time was that the choice of who was to be dropped came down to the peewees and female hockey.

And in a world of political correctness gone mad, nobody was going to say it should be the girls let go.

It was also pointed out the peewees still had four more years of AWG eligibility, so they'd get their chance to compete and at a higher level.

Fast forward to today and after Fairbanks, Ala., in 2014, Nuuk, Greenland, is set to host the 2016 Games.

It's been announced Nuuk will not have curling, figure skating, shorttrack speed skating, dog mushing, gymnastics or midget hockey.

Nunavut is trying to help, with Iqaluit to host bantam and female hockey.

Some involved with gymnastics and speedskating have cried foul and intend to protest the decision to the highest levels of government.

But still not a whisper from the Northern hockey world, despite its creme de la creme of minor hockey being axed from the AWG.

Apparently, even when it's their showcase event, hockey folks are loathe to speak up for fear of angering the funding agents or getting a nasty letter from a Gloria Steinem disciple.

This is not to knock female hockey - a wonderful sport in its own right - but if the AWG committee has decided a hockey bracket must go, eliminating its premiere spectacle is pure folly.

Many of these midget players will have spent up to 10 years in their minor hockey system, only to have the biggest event of their hockey lives ripped away from them.

With peewee hockey long gone, many of those in the 2016 age group will only have the chance to play in the AWG once as a bantam.

Hardly seems fair does it?

The move also puts a great deal of pressure on female hockey to ice a competitive division in 2016 (sorry, folks, it's not just about fun at this level), something it's rarely been able to do.

When one looks at the numbers (only 25 of 314 midgets registered in the NWT and Nunavut in 2011-12 were female, and only 474 were registered in total for all ages) it's easy to see why.

At the 2012 AWG, the Nunavut females lost three games by a combined score of 42-0, while the NWT went 1-4 and were outscored 34-5.

The Nunavut midget boys won bronze in 2012, while the NWT took silver after losing 2-1 in the final.

Dropping the midgets in 2016 has nothing to do with sportsmanship, competitiveness or fairness.

It has everything to do with one thing and one thing only - politics.

Hopefully, we'll see the midgets back in 2018, but there's no guarantee once they're out the door.

GNWT financial priorities
NWT News/North - Monday, Sept 24, 2012

As summer fades and winter draws near, the often quiet NWT legislative assembly is entering into one of its most stressful times of year.

Between now and February, territorial politicians will be deciding how to spend taxpayers' money. A wish list crowded with infrastructure needs, programming desires and rising costs of essential and basic services will present the usual challenge of dividing too few dollars among too many pots.

The result is usually met with disappointment and protests as citizens disagree with such decisions. Although the outrage is often varied, it is frequently voiced the same way - "Why doesn't the government listen?"

Well, perhaps this year the GNWT will be listening. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger has embarked on a territorial fact-finding mission to discover what Northerners want their money - and about $1 billion of federal funding -- spent on.

Miltenberger's tour, which began in Inuvik on Sept. 17 and wraps up in Yellowknife on Oct. 23, is bound to yield a bounty of spending ideas. Among the items near the top of the list, at least in dollar amounts, will surely be helping Norman Wells and Inuvik out of their present energy crunch, implementing a territorial midwife program, addictions treatment expansion, long-term care for our aging population, and the perennial call for more health professionals, better schools, jobs, and a road up the Mackenzie Valley.

That small list alone is worth tens of billions of dollars. With an annual budget of a little more than $1 billion, the GNWT can't possibly hope to meet those demands.

Miltenberger said the tour is sincere and not merely a publicity stunt. When the final spending plan is released early next year, his statement will be put to the test. It's simply not possible for every item suggested to make the final cut. But, hopefully, the government will choose the best priorities with the information it gathers.

Come the next election this exercise should help voters decide if their elected representatives truly listen to them, and that should help them vote accordingly.

Collaborate to strengthen suicide prevention
Nunavut News/North - Monday, Sept 24, 2012

The numbers don't lie. There is an epidemic of suicides in Canada's North.

Strength and support can be summoned, however, by looking past territorial borders and learning from each other to stop these unnecessary deaths. Sharing observations, programming ideas and analysis of results will build better equipped armies working on all sides to combat the fierce pain and loneliness being felt by too many of the North's people.

Between 2003 and 2007, 39 people in the NWT took their own lives. In Nunavut, the stats are even more grim. As of Aug. 31, Nunavut has experienced 18 suicides this year and a staggering 379 since 1999. The territory has a suicide rate 11 times the national average.

The GN has failed to develop a mental health facility or addictions centre, and has made little progress in hiring more mental health professionals in the communities. Nunavut's Suicide Prevention Strategy was just launched 12 months ago after years of development, years of loss. The NWT is introducing its Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan this year. The initial steps to establish a sorely needed support system are being taken.

The similar programming the NWT and Nunavut show the territories are already moving in parallel directions. Both territories have been laying the groundwork for community members to acquire the knowledge to act in raw, emotional and high-pressure situations through the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program. This way, resources such as someone who knows the signs of a severely depressed person, someone who has intervention skills and someone who can aid in the healing and grieving process will be accessible right in the community, by someone who is invested in the place they call home.

The wounds have common root causes for aboriginal people throughout Canada's North: forced relocation and assimilation, poverty, a disruption of cultural identity and a healthy community, struggle with addictions and a lack of mental health support. The victims of suicide are similar as well. The victims are youth. The victims are men more than women.

Increased collaboration to guide our way through the darkness that has been plaguing the people of the North for decades would be wise. Governments play a key role, but cannot solely solve this problem. Looking to our neighbours for support, for suggestions and solutions is not an act of weakness.

We don't know all the answers to stop this often silent killer, but by sharing strategies across the North we improve the odds of saving precious lives.

Giant Mine is forever
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, Sept 21, 2012

There is little doubt, now that the obligatory public hearings for the clean up of Giant Mine have come to an end, that the 237,000 tons of deadly arsenic trioxide buried underground is going anywhere anytime soon.

Some opponents of the federal government's plans to freeze the arsenic in perpetuity complain that they haven't been properly consulted. This seems a bit rich considering the glacial pace at which the cleanup has progressed since Royal Oak, the mine's former owner, went belly up in 1999.

Along the way there have been endless dialogues and information sessions by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Affairs to tout its efforts in dealing with what it is now estimated to be a $640 million remediation project, needing an additional $1.9 million a year in maintenance costs, possibly forever.

Really, there hasn't been a lack of consultation, only an absence of will to pursue any other solution. The federal government made up its mind when it first proposed to freeze the arsenic in 2003, and it's not going to waver now.

The chance that the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, or the federal government, will do anything other than give the freeze option the green light is about as likely as Giant Mine being turned into an amusement park. John Duncan, the hopelessly conflicted minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, is tasked with both overseeing the cleanup and accepting or rejecting the review board's recommendations. Having him responsible for both tasks is far from ideal.

The goal now is to ensure the federal government remains committed to protecting the environment and the people who live here as long as the arsenic stays underground.

Last year, Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger suggested the creation of an independent watchdog to oversee the cleanup of Giant Mine. Some form of monitoring authority independent of the GNWT and the federal government is needed because both levels of government are involved in the cleanup.

The absurdity of the current situation was revealed last year when Baker Creek overflowed its banks and the federal government's water resource officer threatened to levy fines against his own department. It would seem logical and assuring to the public that this watchdog be composed of some parties that have expressed an interest in the mine cleanup during the hearings - the Yellowknives Dene, Alternatives North and the North Slave Metis Alliance. This watchdog should have the authority to inspect the site and instruct the government to take action when needed.

As for the Yellowknives Dene's request for $75 million in compensation for decades of contamination on their traditional waters and lands, it is not without precedence.

Last year, the B.C. government agreed to pay the St'at'imc band $200 million to compensate them for lost fisheries with the construction of a hydro-electric project. As well, the federal and Ontario governments handed First Nations bands $4.92 million in the 1980s as part of a compensation package for mercury contamination in more than 200 provincial lakes.

The $75 million requested of the federal government seems a fitting negotiations point in the Yellowknives Dene's land claim negotiations.

Get educated about the issues and get set to vote
Editorial Comment
Miranda Scotland
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012

Residents of Fort Simpson will be going to the polls on Oct. 15 with hamlet elections following about two months later.

Sixteen residents have expressed their intention to run for councillor positions while only Sean Whelly is vying for the mayoral seat in the village election. According to the unofficial list, all of the current councillors for Fort Simpson - Celine Antoine, Adolphus Augier, Gus Croatto, Robert Hanna, Marie Lafferty, Ron McCagg, Stella Nadia and Tom Wilson - have plans to run again, but they will be joined by a few fresh faces. Walter Blondin, Larry Campbell, Leah Keats, Dennis Nelner, Renalyn Pascua-Matte, Michael Rowe, Patrick Rowe and Gordon Thompson will also be in the race.

It would be easy to stick with what's familiar and vote for those who ran in the past election but it's important that new candidates are given a chance to be heard.

Residents should educate themselves on the issues, find out what matters most to them and decide which candidate will address the issues best.

That being said, here in Fort Simpson citizens have already shown they're not afraid to vote for the new guy. In 2009, Whelly beat incumbent Duncan Canvin by a landslide. Whelly ran his campaign with the slogan "We can make life better" and promised to address quality of life issues in the village along with smaller local issues.

The same year, the village saw a strong voter turnout. Returning officer Rita Cazon said it was the highest turnout she had seen in Fort Simpson. At that time a total of 359 people out of approximately 850 eligible voters showed up to cast a ballot. That means about 42 per cent of the voting population came out for the village election.

In contrast, that same year, 49 per cent of registered voters showed up to cast a ballot in the Yellowknife election, which was better than the 29 per cent voter turnout the city saw in 2006.

Nonetheless, although Fort Simpson had a good showing in the last village election, there is definitely room for improvement this year.

So residents, let's start researching the issues and getting ready to vote!

Paint it black
Editorial Comment
Danielle Sachs
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012

Art therapy is used in the elementary school.

Arts and craft activities happen with the Elders Day Program.

The library integrates crafts into reading programs.

There is pride to be taken in something created with your own hands.

Whether it's picking up a pair of knitting needles for the first time and learning through a book or taking a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, creating an object does more for someone than just, well, creating an object.

It's a process, one that only the individual has control over. You don't want the sky to be blue? Fine, paint it magenta, it's your world.

Prevention has been a common theme throughout the week. How can we stop people from vandalizing community resources like the food bank and greenhouse?

How can we stop people from lighting fires?

At the public budget discussion, prevention was brought up more than once. Put more money into schools and less to justice, because you don't need as many justice programs if there are preventative measures in place for the early years.

When Patricia MacAulay, the art therapist at East 3, was talking about the healing powers of art and play, the passion in her voice was clear.

While her sessions are based on referrals and are for elementary school students, everyone can take a lesson in her passion.

The emphasis in art therapy is in creation and exploration, not on creating "good art."

MacAulay herself knew there was more to painting than just creating something to exhibit and sell.

She understands what it can do and what it can mean.

Promoting the arts in youth can teach them about that pride, possibly keep them from destroying someone else's creation years down the road.

The food bank counts as a creation. It was created by volunteers and donations.

Art is another form of prevention. Why let it get to the point where you have to destroy instead of create?

Maybe it's time some of the individuals responsible for the vandalism pick up a paint brush instead of a brick. Strum a few chords on a guitar instead of unleashing the fury of a fire extinguisher over a garden plot. It's likely to be more fun and will probably result in pride.

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