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Missing dollars could help missing women
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, July 13, 2015

In its 2014 review on missing and murdered indigenous women, the RCMP can reassure the public that, if nothing else, it's solving crimes.

Police cite an 83 per cent solve rate for indigenous female homicide cases and conclude the overwhelming majority were murdered by somebody known to them.

It is encouraging to see the RCMP seems to have committed to improve its policing in the wake of its own report.

The organization says it will improve its investigative standards, implement mandatory communication schedules with families and incorporate cultural needs while working with victims and their families.

These actions speak directly to concerns raised by Gail Cyr, acting executive director of the Native Women's Association of the NWT, in her response to the report in last week's News/North.

Cyr said the RCMP needs to communicate more frequently with families of missing persons, work harder to solve cases and keep the database of unsolved cases publicly accessible and up to date.

Another key factor, she says, is for RCMP and police to not hang their hats on the stereotype that it is only indigenous men who victimize indigenous women. The 20-year failure of British Columbia police to see similarities dozens of missing women cases from Vancouver's downtown east side in the Robert Pickton case is the ultimate horror story that illustrates how misleading this line of thinking is. Pickton was charged in 2007 with the second degree murder of six women and 20 other charges were stayed.

But RCMP alone can't abate our disproportionate number of missing and murdered indigenous women. Lawmakers need to ask the obvious follow up questions: why is this happening and how can we make it better? There are people working on the puzzle. In April, researchers from the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health and the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Scientists released a study that found women in British Columbia are more likely to be victims of violence if they had a parent who went to residential school.

Residential school is the big bang in Canada's relationship with indigenous people. It left our indigenous community struggling in a universe of drug and alcohol addiction, crime, unemployment, lack of education, loss of traditional culture and mental-health challenges. The shockwaves linger.

It's an expensive and challenging road but, as they say, a pound of prevention is worth a ton of cure. The only way to even begin to heal is to work with indigenous people in order to determine the types of social programming individual communities need - and then make that programming available.

You would think the problem would be finding the funding for programs like these but nope, crazily enough, that's not it.

Last month, CBC reported the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development left one billion dollars - that's billion with a "B" - of money allocated to programming for indigenous people unspent. That's right, the money is there. It's been earmarked. But that billion dollars is sitting just out of reach from the people it is intended to help.

The road to hell isn't paved with good intentions - it's paved with our government's unspent programming dollars.

Happy birthday to a teenage territory
Nunavut/News North - Monday, July 13, 2015

In the fast-paced world of 2015, when many young people never experienced the days of going out on the land with only a dog team and a qamutik, knowing only the speed and exhilaration of high-speed snowmobiles and quads, seldom is there a moment to reflect on the passage of time.

Last Thursday, July 9, was a moment to pause and take stock of the state of the territory as people from Kugluktuk to Kugaaruk, from Kinngait to Kangiqliniq and beyond, celebrated Nunavut Day.

It is too easy to focus on the many challenges faced by Nunavummiut -- the ongoing high cost and poor quality of food products, the sad state of public housing, inadequate health-care delivery, the high rate of suicide, the struggle many adults experience in the contradictory pressures of a wage economy and the pleasure of a traditional lifestyle. We could go on about the challenges and struggles.

Keep in mind that July 9 marked the 16th birthday of the formation of the government of Nunavut. Attaining self-government was a monumental achievement on July 9, 1999. This was just the beginning of an enormous task: To establish a system of governance over a small population spread among 25 communities on a land mass of more than two million square kilometres, equal to 20 per cent of the size of Canada.

Members of the Legislative Assembly were elected, a premier appointed, a consensus system of government established and many people hired to create government departments responsible for the delivery of services of territorial responsibility. All of this from scratch.

If one compares the age of the territory to the evolution of a person, Nunavut is just entering its fourth year of life as a teenager. By reflecting for a moment on the level of maturity demonstrated by the average 16-year-old -- and the short passage of time since Nunavummiut realized control of their own destiny -- many will understand there is real cause for celebration on this Nunavut Day.

The economy is growing, the population is increasing and the territorial government is getting better at meeting the needs of the people while capitalizing on opportunities available in a global economy.

Nunavut is getting national and international attention like never before thanks to worldwide exposure through advances in electronic communication and its participation in high-profile conferences and forums.

The three main priorities in 2015 -- education, economic development, and training and employment -- will pave the way for many more successes, now and in the future.

Nunavut's greatest asset is its people, those who embrace the territory as Our Land, rising to the challenges and creating opportunities.

Nunavut is only 16 years old this year, still young by any standard. We are confident that its future is bright as the evolution continues and young people emerge as new leaders of a government working to achieve admirable goals.

Help for fire victims came from the heart
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 10, 2015

The generosity of others is always welcomed, especially in a tight-knit community like Yellowknife. However, when dealing with a disaster affecting a significant number of people, it's best to help have a plan in place.

On June 14 , fire destroyed the 17-unit Polaris apartments, a building owned by Northern Property REIT, leaving all the tenants homeless. The community spirit of Yellowknife shone through almost immediately. A group of people organized a clothing donation drive with many donors bringing items, some of them brand new, to leave on tables on the lawn of the Norseman apartments two doors down, a building also owned by Northern Property, for fire victims to collect.

On June 26, Northern Property put an ad in Yellowknifer alerting people to pick up uncollected items by June 28. Unfortunately, some of the donations that had been left outside in the weather were gathered up by Northern Property and taken to the dump.

There are professionals who deal with helping people caught in disasters right here in town like the Salvation Army. The organization regularly helps those in emergency situations, both large and small. Dusty Sauder, executive director of the Sally Ann's NWT Resource Centre, said about 10 people who lost property in the fire came to the Thrift Store for needed items. He said the Salvation Army would consider a fire like this a small-scale disaster and offer help to individuals instead of organizing a large-scale operation.

People can also use the Thrift Store's voucher system by filling out a few forms with the Salvation Army's family services to prove they are a victim of the fire, and staff will help them gather whatever donations they may need above the usual allotment normally given to help clients to get back on their feet.

Sauder praised the efforts of the donors to the Polaris fire victims, adding someone did ask the centre for space to store the clothing donations but there simply wasn't enough storage space.

It is disheartening to see donations laying in the dump, but there are lessons to be learned. Organizers of donation drives should first contact local assistance groups like the Salvation Army and organize a drive for specific items after consulting with the fire victims.

Of course, cash is the surest solution and will never end up in the dump although accounting for it all comes with its own challenges.

Cynthia Grandejambe, one of the principle organizers of the clothing drive, may be disappointed with the final destination of the donations. However, her generous efforts, which did help fire victims, along with the people who got behind her, are what make Yellowknife a great place to live.

That has to make the personal tragedy of the fire a little easier to bear.

Greg Vaydik can bring out the best in us
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 10, 2015

Northerners need someone to look up to.

That's the line which has been thrown out so many times and while there are some good candidates, people identify with those who have made it.

That's where Greg Vaydik comes in.

Sure, he hasn't lived in the North for quite some time but he's quite happy to tell anyone that he was born and raised in Yellowknife and proud of it.

He's one of a small handful of Northerners who managed to play in the National Hockey League and while it was only five games, something some people may snicker at, how many games have those deriders played in the National Hockey League?

He's an example of yes, you too can make it if you work hard enough and he did. We should never forget people like Vaydik because they are a mark of our past and a wonderful motivator for the future. Ninety-nine per cent of those who laced up a pair of hockey skates have never even had a sniff of the NHL, which is what makes those like Vaydik, Vic Mercredi and Geoff Sanderson big names in the North. They followed their dreams and while they had to leave home to do it, much like most people who want to hit the big time, they never forgot where they came from.

So the next time someone says we don't have people to draw inspiration from, remember people like Greg Vaydik.

He didn't forget us and we shouldn't forget him.

Foresight essential
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, July 9, 2015

On June 25, as regional leaders wrapped up the second day of the Dehcho Annual Assembly, dark smoke rose to the south.

A forest fire burning a mere 13 km from Fort Simpson was quickly doused by fire crews. Many in Fort Simpson were not even aware it had existed in the first place.

Over the past two weeks, the Deh Cho has been plunged back into the fiery depths of summer, which brought with it seven fires surrounding Antoine Lake (referred to as the Antoine Lake Complex) a mere 30 km from the Village of Fort Simpson.

Many community members spent long days breathing in smoke, watching the online fire map and wondering when - or if - they would hear an evacuation call from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

Some think that because the village resides on an island, it is safe from fire. This is despite the fact that fires reach far and burning embers reach indisputably farther. And yet, Fort Simpson still has no formal fire evacuation plan.

Regardless of the likelihood of a fire reaching the village, it is unwise for any municipality to be without a detailed plan of escape. That goes doubly for a village of 1,200 people that has only one official way on or off the island: through a ferry known to bottleneck when traffic gets bad.

At long last, the village has decided to take the issue of a fire evacuation plan to the territory. It will be discussed at a committee, and hopefully in future years a plan can be developed.

However, that does not help Fort Simpson this year. While the Antoine Lake Complex is still 30 km away, that could change moment by moment.

Frank Lepine, who manages fire operations for ENR, said on June 6 that one fire in the Antoine Lake Complex is now burning at 10,000 hectares in size. While temperatures are expected to remain moderate throughout the week, they are expected to shoot back up again soon after, and fire crews have not yet been able to directly attack the fire.

Mayor Sean Whelly has estimated it could take Fort Simpson a full day or longer to evacuate, if it comes to that. The concerns are very real for Fort Simpson, and the community should not have to rely on ENR - already burdened with managing fire operations across the territory - to tell them when it is time to evacuate.

That is a role the village should take over. After all, when an emergency strikes, often residents will call the municipality before they call a territorial department.

The village is already taking a long-overdue step in the right direction by focusing on Fort Simpson's evacuation deficits. One can only hope that step will bear fruit and that the village will continue a forward momentum to complete a fire escape plan as quickly as possible.

Making organizations and people much better
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, July 2, 2015

"There are no jobs."

I've heard this phrase all the time. It has become the defining slogan of my generation. We blame the government, we blame our grandparents, we blame corporations -- and I get it.

When I graduated from university two years ago, I was met with a conundrum. I couldn't get a job because I didn't have experience, but I couldn't get experience until I found a job. Resentful of the shrinking economy and resisting all urge to rip my degree into a million tiny pieces I went back to the part-time gig I had held at McDonald's for eight years.

The day my student loan statement came in the mail, I opened it and cried - I was going to be poor forever! A few months passed and I became bitter and miserable until, one day, a friend suggested I set aside a few hours a week to volunteer. I scoffed - volunteering was for "old people."

Nevertheless, with a little convincing I approached some organizations to see if they needed help. Turns out if you're willing to work for free you can get a job anywhere.

I started volunteering at a library and art gallery. I met new people, gained new skills and had a ton of fun doing it. Three months later the experience helped me obtain a full-time job in my field.

Perceptions around volunteering are changing. It is no longer just retirees looking for ways to pass the day. More and more, young people are looking to share skills they can't find a place for in the working world and in some ways it is making us and our communities better.

Many programs and services would cease to exist without the people who run them donating their time. It is no secret many municipalities are struggling to make ends meet and run a deficit just trying to cover mandated infrastructure improvements. This means that at the end of the day recreation and arts programs are low on the list of priorities. When people volunteer to run community organizations, governments save money and quality of life does not suffer as a result. The population is sparse here and many hamlets remain isolated. This means it is more important than ever to have a wide variety of opportunities available.

Volunteering reduces stress and plays a key role in the treatment of depression. It provides a sense of control - you are free to pursue whatever activity most interests you. Though we often forget about them, volunteers are everywhere.

They are the firefighters who come to save your property, they are the tutors helping youth graduate high school and they are the people who make the art and music festivals here possible.

Too often we associate self-worth with our bank statement, but looking back through the pages of this newspaper it is not the wealthiest people who have had the greatest impact - it is those who love their town and go out of their way to make it better. So this summer challenge yourself - find a way to get involved. Do what you love and the success will follow.

Heritage before rules
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Walkers don't have to wander too long around Old Town to see the value of a well-preserved history and why we need more historic sites.

Weaver and Devore, Bullocks Bistro, cabins in the Woodyard, the Bank of Toronto on Latham Island - all are among precious reminders of an earlier time in Yellowknife, painting a picture for tourists and newcomers alike.

That is why Yellowknifers should support Spencer Decorby in his efforts to preserve his historic 1940s shack. It was built by Joe Herriman, who once owned Ragged Ass Mine.

The shack now stands on public land on Back Bay. Decorby had placed it there from a few houses away without the required development permit, with plans to fix it up. Having broken development rules, the city wanted the shack out of there.

The city's development appeal board has given him a short reprieve until Feb. 29 to move it.

The city was correct to flag the issue because the rules weren't followed. People cannot simply build or put structures wherever they wish, and one would think Decorby, a project manager for Polar Developments, might have known to get the necessary paperwork.

That said, Decorby is absolutely right when he said "This building is still deserving the care I plan to give it." More than that, the city should want Decorby to give that building the care it needs.

This is especially true after the city renovated the Wildcat Cafe. If it costs taxpayers more than $525,000 to preserve this piece of heritage, city hall should be willing to make some allowances when Decorby decides to do the same of his own accord.

If an exception is to be made, certainly this would be the case to make it. An Old Town landscape devoid of character is not something that benefits anyone.

With Decorby's commitment in mind, either leave the shack where it is or move it back to where it was.

In this instance, the end result for the city is more important than the rules made by the city.

More than hope needed
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The fledgling wellness court is missing a vital component to help offenders get back on their feet: housing.

Wellness court is modelled after a successful program in Whitehorse which offers relatively low-risk offenders an opportunity to serve their sentences outside jail and receive counselling.

Thomas Avery, who pleaded guilty to theft-related offences, had to withdraw from wellness court because he couldn't find suitable housing in Yellowknife.

Judge Robert Gorin noted Avery was between a rock-and-a-hard place. Avery could not be accepted into Bailey House, a transitional housing facility for single men getting back on their feet, because he was in remand at North Slave Correctional Centre.

Bailey House, with its limited number of beds, also requires inmates be assessed by an occupational therapist but Avery could not do so, again because he was in custody.

Lawyer Tony Amoud, who represents people in wellness court, said the program is working, but clients are falling through the cracks because of the lack of stable housing.

Whitehorse does have a facility that acts as a halfway house for its program.

Gorin and Amoud admit Yellowknife is still experiencing growing pains, but are hopeful change is coming.

Hope isn't going to build a halfway house. This is an oversight that needs to be corrected sooner rather than later to give offenders the best chance to re-enter society and avoid falling back into destructive habits.

Active observation opens up the world
Editorial Comment by Michele LeTourneau
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

First, a short introduction. I'm Michele LeTourneau, covering for Darrell Greer while he is off on holidays for six weeks. I normally write for Nunavut News/North from Iqaluit. It's a pleasure to be in Rankin Inlet, the first time since visiting here and Coral Harbour in the summer of 1998. I've always wanted to come back. I took the long way round, but here I am.

No less than three stories this week have to do with science.

That Arviat elders are pointing out young people are losing out, perhaps even endangering themselves and others, by not developing their observation skills is not surprising. In a world inundated by the stuff we passively consume, it's easy to forget there's a reality around us that requires our attention.

That's what the Actua Science Camp is all about.

Just after I'd interviewed Shirley Tagalik about all the exciting research going on in Arviat to develop observation skills in youth, I heard the word "observation" loud and clear at the summer science camp in Rankin Inlet.

Actua is a Canadian charitable organization that delivers science, engineering and technology educational programs to more than 200,000 young people in more than 450 communities annually. In the Kivalliq alone, young Actua instructors, excited about science and the world around them, are sharing that gift with youngsters in Rankin Inlet, Arviat (last week), Chesterfield Inlet, Whale Cove (this week), Coral Harbour and Baker Lake (next week).

Instructors Kristen Ungungai-Kownak, entering her second year at Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa, and Amanda Peltier, an energy systems engineering student from Manitoulin Island in Ontario, both remember science camp from when they were young.

Sure, not everyone will make the progression from childhood science camp to science student and science career but that's OK because, as Peltier points out, the kind of observant thinking that science teaches "is useful in everyday life no matter what kind of job you do. It's useful to understand how things work."

And that's just what the Arviat elders are talking about.

One of the activities at the science camp is the "Spot Earl" walk. The children walk around their community, observe their community, and discuss what's happening. They learn to ask questions about what their eyes see.

Another common theme running through these stories is the importance of education. Peltier and Ungungai-Kownak told the campers that they didn't just end up in post-secondary school. They paid attention to their education, carefully choosing their high school course.

One young lady that proves that out is Andrea Phillips, a Baker Lake student fresh out of Grade 11.

Way to go, Andrea. That attention to her education is what got her into the week-long Verna J. Kirkness Science and Engineering Program at the University of Manitoba.

And, despite her more or less set plans, her eyes were opened to a whole new field: robotics.

The elders have it right when they advocate for being active thinkers rather than passive consumers.

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