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Trustee must break the silence
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 13, 2013
Up until two weeks ago it would be hard to find fault with Allan Shortt's leadership as the chairperson of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board of trustees.
The best politicians not only get things done, they keep the peace. And from all appearances, the Yk1 board has pretty much been a hive of harmony since Shortt put his name in the hat to become the board's chairman in 2010.
That hasn't always been the case. Ten years ago, the Yk1 board was rife with division and the district was still recovering from a $1-million deficit. It took some major bloodletting in the 2003 school board election to right the ship, and there is no doubt that the addition of Shortt in 2008 went a long way to solidify stability on the board.
Indeed, acting chairperson John Stephenson insisted it is many peoples' preference that Shortt stay on as chairperson after trustees learned of his conviction for driving over the legal alcohol limit Aug. 26.
"I've had many people e-mail me saying they don't see any reason for it to be cause for him to step aside," Stephenson said prior to a special board meeting held last week to decide Shortt's fate.
But there is more at issue here than Shortt's drinking and driving conviction. His first mistake was getting behind the wheel while intoxicated last May. His second was keeping silent as the months went by and school board business continued while a court date awaited him.
Shortt has apologized, circumspectly, in a three-sentence e-mail to Yellowknifer. Considering how no one seemed to have known about his legal troubles until his name appeared on the court docket two weeks ago, one gets the sense that Shortt intends to carry on in a reduced role on the board while trying to put this behind him without any public discussion whatsoever.
Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus is right to point out that this simply won't do. Never mind that he has relinquished his chairmanship of the board, Shortt remains an elected public official, for a school district no less, and must set a reputable example for impressionable students.
As it stands, it's hard to imagine Shortt being able to show much leadership when it comes to, say, speaking about the benefits of initiatives like Students Against Drinking and Driving. To do so would require him to acknowledge his failings on this issue - publicly.
Deepak delays signal missed opportunities
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 13, 2013
This past week, Deepak International announced there was another delay in the opening of its diamond polishing plant here in Yellowknife, citing an abundance of "paperwork."
As an approved diamond manufacturer in the NWT, Deepak will be able to tap into the 10 per cent of rough diamonds made available by diamond producers in the territory. With only one other diamond manufacturing game in town, Crossworks, this means both businesses will have access to this cache. This could represent a $100-million boost to the industry if Deepak gets up and running, according to numbers presented by the territorial government.
This is money currently being missed out on while delays continue.
Unfortunately, diamond manufacturing businesses in the NWT lack a Northern advantage. Costs in the North are higher than elsewhere, leading to small gains for investors and businesses. On top of that, diamond producers are mandated to provide 10 per cent of rough diamonds by weight, rather than by value. This is what led to complaints from diamond polishers that they were being left with low-value and low-carat diamonds, while higher-quality diamonds go out of the territory to plants with lower overhead and higher profit margins.
Yellowknife's "Diamond Row" had, at its peak, four businesses up and running. There's now only one remaining polisher in town, two if Deepak gets going.
The questions remains whether the GNWT did its homework with its sale to Deepak, or if it was merely trying to unload property inherited by the insolvency of its previous owner, Arslanian Cutting Works. Is it also possible that Deepak International was the only business willing to take the chance on re-establishing an industry that, as a result of its location, would lead to higher costs and less profit?
Until the GNWT grows a spine and enforces a Northern advantage by insisting mines provide diamonds by value, not weight, chances that the secondary diamond industry will return to its former glory will remain slim.
Finding answers to what matters
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, September 12, 2013
Jean Marie River First Nation is setting a great example for the rest of the Deh Cho.
So often, Deh Cho residents, particularly elders, talk about their concerns related to the land. These concerns are usually based on personal observations and from information passed down to them from previous generations.
Changes are taking place in the Deh Cho. Temperatures are rising, the landscape is changing, different animals are appearing in places they haven't been before and disappearing from places they've always been. Even the water doesn't seem to be quite the same.
All of these concerns are valid and the observations they are based on are likely spot on. The problem is, where to go from there.
It's one thing to talk about the changes that are taking place and how they are affecting day-to-day life in the region, but it's another to study these changes and, based on the findings, make plans for the future.
This is what Jean Marie River is doing. Through a traditional knowledge study, it was identified that the elders are very concerned about the changing climate. That led the First Nation to create partnerships with researchers and apply for funding.
The first study conducted was to assess how climate change will affect the health and wellness of residents, including in areas of food security, access to safe drinking water and safe travel.
From there, the First Nation decided to focus on permafrost and food safety.
A study, in its second year, is identifying where there is permafrost around the community, how much of it is at risk of thawing, and how the resulting landscape changes will impact residents' lifestyle and everyday activities such as hunting.
The data that is being gathered through the study is giving credibility to the community's concerns and providing them with information they can use to base future plans on.
Jean Marie River First Nation identified a real concern that community members have and has taken concrete steps to learn about that issue, how it will continue to affect them, and what they can do about it. This proactive approach will undoubtedly prove to be a benefit to the community.
Some First Nations in the Deh Cho are already taking similar approaches to areas of concerns related to water, land and wildlife. There are, however, many areas that remain to be explored and it is only through proactive steps that answers will be found.
Capitalize on being close to grizzly bears
Editorial Comment by Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 12, 2013
As a certified bear fanatic, I think we're missing the boat on a glorious tourism opportunity here in Inuvik.
I finally saw my first Northern grizzlies this past weekend, and to say I was thrilled would be an understatement.
While I watched the bruins mosey along, relatively unconcerned about the presence of pesky human tourists watching them, I couldn't help but think there's a business to develop.
I say that as a veteran of bear tours ranging from British Columbia to Churchill to Ontario's James Bay coast.
I've long considered a tour my wife and I did with a company at Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island the best I've ever been on.
The participants boated 100 kilometres or so across to the mainland and up Knight's Inlet to a spot where the salmon had to run a river. It was prime bear habitat, and the grizzlies were more than obliging.
The highlight of that trip was watching a smackdown between a female grizzly and a young male of possibly 500 pounds. The male lost the bout in a decisive fashion, and stalked toward our boat with the notion of taking his frustration out on something.
My wife and I, along with one tour guide, stayed at the front of the boat snapping pictures in delight, while the other 20-some people on the boat, including the main tour guide, cowered at the back and prepared to run for their lives.
At the last moment, we began making noise and the bear veered off. He was no more than a car length away from us when he turned. The memory of that hasn't dimmed for me.
That trip was $250 per person at the time, and neither my wife or I blinked at the cost. We just wanted to see the bears.
That kind of opportunity is not readily available around Inuvik as far as I know.
However, after seeing the grizzlies along the Dempster, I see no reason why some kind of caravan tour system couldn't be established to ferry people out on the highway to where the bears live.
Although grizzlies are accepted as a common part of the landscape by people around here, I'm dead certain tourists would be willing to pay for a chance to view the bears, particularly from the comfort and safety of a vehicle. Grizzlies, we must remember, are a big-ticket game item for people, whether they're hunting them with a camera or a gun.
Surely, someone in this area can see the opportunity and embrace it.
Stop the spread of fear
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Women are not feeling safe on the streets and trails of Yellowknife.
In July, three sexual assaults were reported – one took place in a home on Sissons Court, one on McMahon Frame Lake Trail and another on Forrest Drive. Last week, another woman, with her 12-year old daughter, reported being accosted near Northern United Place.
These are the reported incidents. Statistics show that a majority of such crimes remain unreported (see letters to the editor on the opposite page).
This is not unique to Yellowknife – cities and rural communities all over Canada continue to experience violence against women – but this city does have the fourth highest rate for sexual assaults in the country.
When looking to the heart of the matter, we can point to a variety of possible causes, such as a failure to educate, a failure to support and maintain respect for all citizens, the perpetuation of cycles of violence, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness – all the stuff of despair, powerlessness and violence.
"The motives underlying sexual assaults have more to do with issues of anger and power than with pleasure and desire," states Best Practices for Investigating and Prosecuting Sexual Assault, a guide book published by the Government of Alberta.
However, the citizens of Yellowknife are presented with a clear, distinct problem – women are experiencing an upsurge of fear about their safety. They do not feel safe.
However we engage with the issues in the long term, immediate fixes are imperative.
The costs of aggression and violence are numerous and high.
Regarding the financial toll, the Alberta document states that "studies of the economic costs of sex-related crimes to society and victims – to health, criminal justice, social services and lost productivity – estimate figures in the billions of dollars (in Canada)."
Economics of violence aside, the cost to women is high. The document states that "any sexual assault can have serious effects on a person's long-term health and well-being. Victims often deal with feelings of anger, shame, and fear for many years after the assault. Victims often also become more cautious and less trusting, affecting their personal relationships."
Perhaps the greatest price we pay is as a community. Women no longer feel safe in a community that they once felt was safe. The community is held hostage by fear. For those who do not fear for their own personal safety, their fellow citizen's fear must be addressed by awareness and action. An individual may not feel threatened, but they must ask themselves how they can help change the circumstances that cause the justified fear of their neighbour.
As Lydia Fuller, executive director of the Yellowknife YWCA, told Yellowknifer in early August, the problem with the recent assaults is it affects everyone in the city until the perpetrator(s) are apprehended.
"Instead of controlling the behaviour of one person, you're really controlling the behaviours of many people at the community level," she said.
In a perfect world, everyone keeps everyone safe. We respect each other, we look out for each other and protect each other. In the absence of those sentiments and actions, we must look to a police presence that is tangible, extensive and effective.
The person in uniform we see most frequently walking our streets is the city's female parking enforcement officer, while the RCMP trucks drive by.
We have to stop this inexorable grip and growth of fear. More lighting, less shrubbery – these are all small steps. But more importantly, we need to send the message to those who would do violence that it is unacceptable, and that we are watching. The way to do that is by immediately increasing visible presence of the RCMP.
One night this past August long-weekend, the RCMP hit the streets in force for their Take Back the Night initiative.
"We basically flood the city with police for a night so we can get a good handle of what's going on," Inspector Frank Gallagher said at the time.
"We're sending a message."
One night is not enough.
The officers need to be on the street daily and nightly, on foot, in a sustained manner, sending out a sustained message. Women need to see and feel that we've got their backs, that we do not accept that they live in fear. Time to step up.
History to judge premier's balanced approach
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Those who listen to the whispering winds of politics weren't surprised by Premier Eva Aariak announcing she won't seek another term as premier last week.
Aariak's legacy is not an easy one to define.
She handles herself gracefully, picks her battles carefully and is an outstanding role model for female youth.
In short, Premier Aariak has always shown herself to be a class act.
Yet, alone, a legacy of success that does not make.
Aariak deserves credit for being, for the most part, a forward-looking thinker.
She values her heritage immensely, yet fully realizes Nunavut's success rests in the future, not the past.
Unfortunately, like many at the top of Nunavut's political food chain, both past and present, she's often in a hurry to taste that success.
Chasing an illusionary big picture often catches one in the snare of disconnect between capability and possibility.
Aariak spoke of little else other than devolution during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Nunavut.
She paints a rosy picture of Nunavut having control over its own land and natural resources, with nary a thorn to be seen.
There is no denying the benefits of devolution, but it comes with tremendous responsibility and a tsunami of intellectually-driven decisions that rarely offer a second chance at redemption (can you say Churchill Falls?).
The question must be asked -- are we ready for devolution right now?
The short answer is no.
The GN still operates at only about three-quarter capacity, with 50 per cent beneficiary employment.
That number drops to less than 20 per cent among its senior managers.
The GN, we must remember, wants 85 per cent Inuit employment by 2020 and, I assume, it would like the vast majority to actually be able to do their jobs.
A 35-per-cent jump over a stagnant 50-per-cent level in just seven short years is a tall order.
There's little doubt Aariak and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (also a party to the devolution negotiations) expect devolution to take a number of years before reaching fruition.
And there's the rub.
An efficient government operating at near capacity would use the negotiating period to plan its course of action for once devolution is realized.
Effective planning has long been the Achilles heel of the GN and leadership at its top two levels must take responsibility for that.
To see how much of the planning ship needs to be righted over a decade is well illustrated in the March 2010 report from the auditor general of Canada on the GN's human resource capacity. And it ain't pretty!
Aariak will leave the GN as a premier who balanced the scales, neither gaining nor giving up much ground.
But, unless Harper has a revelation during the next few months, the start of the devolution negotiations will be one political aspiration to have escaped her legacy.
In all likelihood, history will judge Aariak's balanced leadership by the results of the upcoming devolution negotiations.
While she may still be close to the front lines if re-elected as an MLA, ultimately, her final legacy will rest in the hands of another premier.
Mixing politics and business
NWT News/North - Monday, September 9, 2013
Using politics to get a better economic deal is a long-standing practice in the North.
It's happening again as the Tlicho Government, the Lutsel K'e Dene Band and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation try to send what is, hopefully, our next NWT diamond mine project back to the drawing board.
De Beers' Gahcho Kue diamond mine was approved by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board in July and now it's in the hands of the federal government for approval.
These First Nation groups are asking for further study, arguing the environmental impact review doesn't alleviate concerns surrounding water quality and the management of Kennady Lake, caribou, the impact to subsistence fishery, air quality and cultural impacts.
Experience has shown that emphasis on the environmental and cultural issues diminish as financial benefits increase.
The First Nation groups are trying to get as much as they can out of this development, while ensuring their land and water are kept safe.
There may be serious environmental concerns, but the Tlicho are also in the process of negotiating an impact benefits agreement with De Beers.
Nor can the Tlicho government be labelled anti-business as they recently approved Fortune Minerals' NICO project, which was the first time an aboriginal government could approve a project alongside the feds.
So the attempt to throw a political wrench in De Beers' plans for Gahcho is business as usual in the North.
A good deal for the aboriginal governments is a good deal for all of the NWT.
Former Inuvik teacher case troubling
NWT News/North - Monday, September 9, 2013
It is mind-boggling what transpired in Yellowknife late last month as the Crown prosecutor stayed charges against former Inuvik school teacher Hugues Latour.
Apparently, new information moved prosecutor Marc Lecorre to request the Supreme Court stay all charges related to sexual touching of a minor, invitation to sexual touching of a minor, possession and making of child pornography, and trafficking marijuana.
Lecorre said the revelations were significant enough to remove any reasonable hope for conviction.
This is not the first time the Crown has failed to make a case against the teacher. On Dec. 9, 2010, he was charged with parental abduction - that charge was stayed on Dec. 18, 2012. He was then charged with assault, forcible confinement and failure to comply with court orders on Aug. 1, 2011. Those charges were withdrawn on Jan. 31, 2012, with the assault and forcible confinement charges being dismissed May 10, 2012.
In the absence of any coherent explanation, we are left to conclude one of two things took place - either the teacher was unfairly targeted by the justice system and the Crown failed to put him in jail due to lack of a legitimate case, or the charges, evidence and legal proceedings were grievously mishandled.
There was also the problem of the crown failing to accommodate the need for a French trial and jury as Latour had requested.
Aside from the enormous court costs, everyone involved has been put through the ringer these past three years, while the lawyers walk away unaccountable to the public who pays their salaries.
This person taught students in the Beaufort Delta. Without a clear picture of what transpired behind the scenes of the courtroom, parents are left in the dark, their confidence in the justice system badly shaken, if not their school system.
This may not be a case of justice denied, but case could be made that it was justice badly botched.
Parents as important as prizes
Nunavut News/North - Monday, September 9, 2013
At first consideration, the notion of rewarding students for attending school with prizes seems a bit over the top. After all, students are required to attend school. A person could argue that the establishment of a reward system will condition youngsters into thinking that the provision of material possessions such as bicycles, iPods and iPads will make them shirk from their responsibilities later in life if there is no tangible reward.
On second thought, an observer could conclude that a prize awarded by the school to students who have the best attendance is a tangible reward for hard work and provides an incentive for other students. Seeing a youth with a new bicycle, iPod or iPad probably results in other students wishing they had one, too. That, in turn, might cause them to think about boosting their attendance record in an effort to receive a similar reward.
Others may suggest that the practice of attending school on a regular basis brings its own reward. The results to the individual are the value of having an education, increased knowledge, the ability to read, write, solve mathematical problems and understand complex information.
Despite significant attention to the matter, low attendance rates at the 43 schools in Nunavut is an ongoing issue. Fortunately, there has been progress in some communities such as Rankin Inlet where schools achieved an 82 per cent attendance rate in the 2010-2011 school year. Not so much in Hall Beach at 54.8 per cent, Qikiqtarjuaq at 60 per cent, Sanikiluaq at 60.7 per cent and Clyde River at 62.6 per cent.
A new electronic monitoring system, called Maplewood, will help officials track daily attendance, truancy, late arrivals and other absences in all Nunavut schools.
In contrast with the latest in technology is the overwhelming feelings of distrust and despair in some households as a result of a sad time in Canada's not-so-distant history. The negative memories of the residential school experience linger in many Nunavut households. It was a time when Nunavut youth were ripped out of their comfort zone and transported to a strange place where they were unhappy, uneducated and left fearful of outside influences.
That is why it is so important in the multifaceted effort to encourage youth to attend school not to forget one of the most important areas of focus -- the home.
Parents, grandparents and elders have to be encouraged to understand, and shown, that schools today offer a positive learning environment for their children. They need to get involved in their child's education, by becoming involved in the homework and lessons that are taught in classrooms and brought home in book bags.
Parents and relatives of pupils need to attend events they are invited to at the schools, meet the teachers, walk the hallways and see the work that students have completed. They also have to be there in the morning to get children off to school, to prepare meals, look after clothing needs and prepare the children for a day of learning.
All together, prizes, positive reinforcement and parental involvement can go a long way to not only boost attendance rates but also produce confident and capable graduates who are prepared to contribute to the future success of Nunavut and its people.