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New curriculum says what it needs to say
NWT News/North - Monday, March 11, 2013

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya recently spoke out against the North's new Northern Studies curriculum, introduced last fall in NWT and Nunavut high schools to educate students about Canada's residential school era. He complained that the Roman Catholic Church's role in the trauma inflicted on students at the government- and church-run institutions was downplayed, if not outright ignored.

Yakeleya said entering the residential school system was "like passing through a door from one world to another world."

Had Yakeleya reviewed the curriculum, he'd see it does indeed present the facts. It teaches the Roman Catholic Church's role in the day-to-day operations of the majority of the schools. It also relays the schools' were not simply focused on education, but had a secondary mission to assimilate aboriginal youth to the colonial culture and convert them to Christianity. The churches involved and the Canadian government achieved this goal by ripping families apart, discouraging the use of language and dismissing culture, messages often reinforced with some form of punishment.

The material spurs critical thinking on all aspects of the residential school system: the bravery of the children separated from families, the bravery of former students who shared a positive story of their school experience, and how hard it must be for other students to reflect back on bad memories.

It's not the job of the school systems to delve into the details of individual traumatic experiences or specific cases of abuse over the more than 100-year history of these institutions. This is the job of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with its mandate to "acknowledge residential school experiences, impacts and consequences."

However an overarching theme in the curriculum is to acknowledge how the history of residential school affected people. This is achieved by analyzing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2008 apology for the treatment of aboriginal children and their families, through personal stories from former students, and through official reports concerning the inadequate government funding, diet, clothing and medical care, all of which is in the school material.

Since education should be presented without bias, the curriculum also includes positive stories from past students. There are those who look back at their residential school years and remember lifelong friendships forged, a place free from abuse, and the ability to return home to their parents. Some priests and nuns did their honest best to educate the youth in religion, arithmetic and reading, as was their mandate.

Indeed there were others who committed unspeakable acts, likely corrupted or empowered by the authoritative and near-absolute power given to them over their charges.

The physical, cultural and emotional wounds inflicted on aboriginal children caused issues that spanned generations. Abusive behaviours learned at the school carried with students into adulthood, into their families and was then passed on to their own children. Addictions became a crutch to silence the nightmares of growing up away from family supports and in an alien culture.

The material presented in this first draft of the resource asks students to look at the complexity of the school system, its history and its legacy with an emphasis on discussing the difficult subject matter in a supportive environment.

This curriculum is introducing a major part of Canadian and aboriginal history into the Northern school system. It is a conversation that has to happen, and the material navigates the waters responsibly.

Third world problems
Nunavut News/North - Monday, March 11, 2013

While the Government of Nunavut has balanced its budget, half of Nunavummiut aren't so fortunate.

Both the government, which relies on its federal transfer money to set its budget, and many Nunavut families, with low employment opportunities and incomes, are forced to work within tight fiscal restraints. The difference, though, is cabinet can decide not to build new homes, as it did last year -- although an extreme need is there -- and then throw a bit of money at it the next year. Nunavummiut can't choose not to pay rent and then slide their landlord a fraction of what's owed the next month so they can use their budget to feed their families.

The GN predicts there is a shortfall of 3,000 to 4,000 houses and expects that need to grow by 90 homes each year. The 2013-2014 budget promises 30 homes to be built, not even a fraction of what is needed to address the annual deficit. How much progress does one make when paying one-third of the interest on a maxed out credit card? When does this become, in the government's eyes, a crisis?

Finance Minister Keith Peterson's touting of the government's financial stability belies the instability of life for ordinary Nunavummiut. Statistics Canada paints a bleak picture of the state of Nunavut. Our homicide rate in 2011 was more than 10 times the national average (seven were killed in Nunavut that year). Nunavut's violent crime rates generally tower above national rates, and this problem is underscored by severe mental health and addictions problems.

The GN's own figures demonstrate a serious need for better housing conditions. Our rate of tuberculosis - a disease most common in developing countries - is close to 65 times the national average (79 cases in Nunavut in 2012), and its spread is helped by overcrowded homes. Our suicide rate is close to 11 times the national average (34 people killed themselves in Nunavut in 2011). Less than half our Grade 12 students are graduating high school each year. Half of Nunavut's tax-filers made less than $26,005 in 2011, despite living arguably the most expensive part of the country.

Peterson acknowledged many of these issues in his budget address, and said he wishes the government had the resources to better tackle them. However, instead of addressing the territory's dire social needs his vision of the big picture is to prioritize the building of cash reserves.

"We can attract partners and financing only if we demonstrate that we can manage our own resources properly," said Peterson during his budget address on Feb. 27.

A government's credibility should be based on the welfare of its people first, not solely on the management of its pocketbook. When the territory's problems are more reminiscent of a developing country than the developed nation in which it resides, is it enough to simply govern and balance the budget? Is it enough to tackle these problems incrementally? This paper is of the opinion it is not enough.

We need addictions centres, new homes and mental health services. Our people need income and access to affordable food. Our MLAs must find the courage and drive to tackle these problems head-on. These leaders must publicly challenge the federal government if the territory does not have the resources it needs to provide the quality of life comparable to that of Canadians living in the provinces.

A surplus of $22 million is money we could have spent on new homes. Breathing room in our debt cap to the tune of $200 million is an opportunity to invest in an addictions and mental health facility. Our government could tackle that project through a public-private partnership, similar to its strategy to renovate the Iqaluit airport - a multimillion-dollar project.

Balanced budgets and a meek attitude towards our federal government might help us achieve devolution in a swifter fashion, but we are balancing these budgets on the backs of the poor, the homeless and the hungry.

A long way from help
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, March 08, 2013

Questions raised by Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny about a fatal truck accident on Highway 3 last month expose some serious holes in the government's capacity to rescue people involved in highway traffic collisions.

There are 1,758 km of all-season highway in the territory. Not a lot when compared to other jurisdictions down south but interspersing the infrequent number of communities along this highway system is a whole lot of nothing, not to mention often treacherous and unpaved roads.

Get into an accident on the Yellowhead Highway in Alberta and the response is bound to be nearly instantaneous. Few areas are without cellphone coverage, the traffic volume is much higher and emergency medical resources are more numerous and better equipped.

Yellowknife likes to view itself as a modern, cosmopolitan city with all the amenities to be found down south. But what we learned from the terrible head-on tractor-trailer collision on Highway 3 that killed two men and left another badly injured Feb. 19 is that all those conveniences quickly disappear when one leaves the city limits.

Passersby had to flag down a snowplow driver, who called ahead to Fort Providence for help - some 84 km away. Dolynny says MLAs were told that an air ambulance helicopter in Yellowknife was inexplicably told to stand down. Instead, a van from the health centre in Fort Providence - with unknown emergency service capabilities - was sent to retrieve the injured driver on this lonely stretch of highway west of Behchoko. He was taken back to Fort Providence and then flown to Yellowknife and then medevaced to Edmonton - several hours after the accident. That travel time could have been significantly reduced had he been flown directly to Yellowknife.

The Good Samaritans who stopped to help the man described him as being "pretty banged up." He was coughing up blood, leading them to believe he had suffered internal injuries. Considering the remoteness of the accident location, the extent of his injuries, and the time it took to reach him and get him to hospital, he should count himself lucky to be alive.

The Department of Health and Social Services has so far refused to comment on the emergency response to the accident, stating that it is awaiting the outcome of an RCMP investigation.

Health Minister Tom Beaulieu, meanwhile, admits "there is a gap in the system." One of the problems he alluded to was a lack of protocols between various departments and agencies, including the RCMP and community governments, about how to activate resources such helicopters and floatplanes when an emergency arises. In Alberta the decision is made by a physician.

Residents can accept that our Northern isolation means an immediate rescue on our highway system may not always be possible. But there is no excuse for not executing a speedy response with a helicopter or an airplane in the event of a serious accident.

This is a remedy that should not be left wanting just because accidents in the territory are few - 697 in 2011 - compared to southern jurisdictions. Northerners deserve the peace of mind that when the call goes out for help, they, or their loved ones, will receive an immediate response - even if help is hours away.

Recording the past for the future
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, March 7, 2013

In late February, the Heritage Centre Society in Fort Simpson looked not into the past, but into the future.

The society held a series of meetings in order to make plans. What emerged was an idea for a society that would develop and co-ordinate projects related to heritage and culture throughout the region.

A society or organization of this sort is something that the Deh Cho needs. This is a region rich in history both before and after colonization.

This history, however, is at risk. The history in the most peril is that of the Dene people.

With each elder that dies, a little more history about the way things used to be and how people are connected are lost. Some work has already been done in this area.

Many First Nations in the Deh Cho have conducted traditional knowledge studies to map areas of importance and record traditional names of features surrounding their communities. Some First Nations have also recorded interviews with elders.

In Fort Liard, the hamlet undertook the Acho Dene Koe Elders Community Connection. That project traced as far back as possible the genealogy of all the families in the community and their connections to one another.

All of these projects are a start, but there is more work to be done. The Deh Cho needs a society or organization that can dedicate itself solely to the protection and promotion of heritage and culture. Individual First Nations are too busy and have too few resources to take on all the projects that they may like to see done.

In the future, if the Dehcho Process is settled, the regional government may dedicate a department or resources to this area. But in the meanwhile, steps have to be taken to gather and record the history that is slipping away. Even taking stock of what has been done in order to determine what areas are most in need of research would be a start.

What it will all come down to in the end, as so many things do, is desire and determination. If Deh Cho residents value their history and the history of the region, they will work to support initiatives that are undertaken to promote and preserve those things.

The Heritage Centre Society, or the society that may be created from it, will be a beginning. The region has a lot of history to celebrate and be proud of and it would be a shame if any of it was needlessly lost.

A southern perspective on Northern living
Editorial Comment by T. Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, March 7, 2013

I had what might be one of my first real "Northern" moments on the weekend.

I was chatting on Skype with my youngest sister and her husband when it happened. They mentioned their youngest boy was working on a project about exploring the North, and I perked my ears up.

What I heard next both irritated me and made me despair a little for our educational system.

My nephew's teacher in geography, of all things didn't believe he had an uncle working in Inuvik. The reasoning for the disbelief was even more appalling.

"Well, no one goes to Inuvik in the winter," the teacher apparently said.

Later, after my blood pressure calmed down a little, I could see some of the humour in the conversation. However, it's mostly a sad commentary on how Canadians in general view the North.

That conversation came on the heels of me attending a tourism meeting earlier in the week where Jackie Challis, the town's economic development and tourism manager, touched on the same general theme.

She said she's often contacted by people who are curious about Inuvik and the North but have some serious misconceptions. Challis talked about some conversations she had with people while attending the recent NWT Days in Ottawa.

"It's so hard to get to Inuvik," she had one person tell her.

Her answer was priceless.

"No it's not, you just get on a plane, and then another plane."

Someone else asked how one survives the cold weather in the North. Considering that Ottawa is one of the world's coldest capital cities, I'm not sure the person asking that question had an understanding of irony.

Challis also had a witty answer to that question

"Well, in Ottawa, don't you put on a big, heavy coat in the winter? Well, in Inuvik, we just wear bigger, heavier coats."

Those answers made me laugh out loud because they are so true. Yet if this is the way places in the Arctic such as Inuvik really are viewed, it is kind of sad and silly and very much an indictment of either our educational system or how much attention people pay to what they learn in class.

So in response to my nephew's dilemma, I e-mailed him some photos that will hopefully stomp on his teacher's disbelief.

You never know, though. I had one person on Facebook suggest jokingly, I hope that I was manipulating my photos while hiding out in seclusion in Ontario.

Sigh. I think we have a lot of work to do.

Debate crucial on HPV vaccine
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, March 06, 2013

An option to protect the health of female students in Yellowknife Catholic schools may finally get the consideration it deserves.

A largely brand new slate of trustees elected last October decided Feb. 21 to re-open the debate on the school district providing a vaccine to prevent the spread of the sexually-transmitted human papilloma-virus (HPV).

Nothing has been decided yet. However, trustee Steven Voytilla should be commended for revisiting the issue after it came up at a parent advisory committee meeting.

Only one trustee from the previous school board, which decided in September 2009 not to have the vaccine administered, remains. Amy Simpson voted in favour of the defeated motion last time it was debated.

Trustee John Dalton rightly said Feb. 21 that this is not an issue which the board must decide by itself. Instead, interest groups and parents are invited to make presentations at a board meeting April 17.

In 2009, trustees avoided debating the merits of a vaccine for a virus spread through sexual contact, when the Catholic faith preaches abstinence. Instead they focused on the science and laboratory testing of the vaccine, with some saying that the pharmaceutical company producing the Gardasil vaccine had fast-tracked trials while ignoring serious side-effects. However, the scientific community now backs the drug.

There are two important points to consider. First, even if the school board decides to make the vaccine available to female students, initially from Grade 4 to Grade 12 and in following years for Grade 4 students only, parents must give final approval.

Second, the public health unit of the Department of Health and Social Services is recommending the vaccine be administered because of a high-risk population in Yellowknife.

We encourage parents and other interested parties to let their views be known at the upcoming meeting.

All school children in Yellowknife deserve to have the same access to vaccinations.

Fuelling smoke of discontent
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, March 06, 2013

With Nunavut's legislative assembly back in session, there's no shortage of grist for the public mill emanating from the capital these days.

Unlike in party politics, election years don't necessarily bring with them a windfall of spending sprees from our elected MLAs.

So it was really no big surprise to hear Finance Minister Keith Peterson announce a projected surplus of $21.9 million in his budget address this past week, although two budgets in a row with a projected surplus borders on the miraculous in our territory.

And, it seems even a few taboos are starting to be broken by our elected representatives these days.

Peterson went so far as to credit the latest tax raise on tobacco products for bringing an additional $2.3 million into Nunavut's coffers.

Oddly enough, that works out to the same amount earmarked for the Country Food Assistance Program ($900,000) and the Internal Sustainable Development Committee ($1.4 million), to aid the Nunavut Impact Review Board's assessments of mining projects.

Most politicians don't like to publicly spout about all the good things that come from the outrageous taxation placed on legal tobacco products, for fear it destroys the myth of higher taxes leading to more people quitting.

Governments don't like it because they have to fall back on the same myth to justify the next sin tax hike.

It's the same reason they get so mad at rogue doctors who have the audacity to point out the costs associated with obesity far outweigh those associated with tobacco products in this country.

It simply isn't in vogue to ostracize those among us who can't say no to super-sizing every meal - yet!

A read of the Government of Nunavut's (GN) procurement activity report shows it remains busy phasing out the little guy in the Kivalliq.

M&T Enterprises in Rankin Inlet is the only company remaining in the region with a GN fuel-delivery-services contract other than the Co-op chain.

Hopefully, the North West Co. won't notice the Co-op's gains and decide to get involved with expediting or contracting to secure its own cash cow give it a huge advantage over smaller competitors, or our regional businessmen are doomed.

Of course, there's the whole Nutrition North thing brought upon us by our own airlines not wanting to deal with individual food orders.

Call it a hunch, but that program should keep North West shareholders happy for the foreseeable future.

The next few months should prove even more revealing as our territorial election draws ever closer.

Should she be re-elected, and should she decide she'd like to be premier for another few years, Eva Aariak will face some stiff competition from the Kivalliq.

All but one Kivalliq minister, present and resigned, have been less than enamoured with Aariak's performance, and tents are already being pitched in at least one camp of change, should both current minister and premier be re-elected and seek our territory's top position.

It will be interesting to see if either camp has pitched its tents on a field of mud the other side can reveal before votes are cast and hands raised in support.

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