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Can't-do government
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lands Minister Robert C. McLeod must have missed the latest grim news coming from Statistics Canada.

If he had read it, perhaps he might not have been so quick to put the kibosh on the Yellowknife Motocross Association's plan to resurrect a decades-old stock car race track next to the Ingraham Trail. The track is still there, if a little overgrown, as is the will to bring it back to life. The association boasts 80 motorsports enthusiasts, all anxious for track car racing to return to Yellowknife.

What's lacking is the prescience of mind among government officials to consider what such a facility adds to the enjoyment of living here, and that just maybe, it might encourage some people to stay here instead of heading south as many others have done in recent years.

So instead of a group of people rolling up their sleeves and spending the summer breathing new life into a once popular city mainstay, they will sit on their hands and contemplate their options. The race track, meanwhile, will continue festering in the forest, neither used nor cleaned up.

This is the fruit cultivated by the territory's can't do government. No 9-1-1 emergency phone service in Yellowknife?

Can't do it, Minister McLeod said in 2009 - not until other little communities like Colville Lake and Sachs Harbour can have it too. They're talking about it now but not until yet another study is finished. The GNWT should forgive people if they're not holding their breath.

Can't reach an agreement with the city on who will pay for lifeguards at Long Lake beach? Get rid of them, until a child drowns. Then spend more money on studies and arrange a milquetoast compromise on "beach attendants" that satisfies the lawyers and insurance companies but not the people who actually use the beach.

Denying people permission to rebuild a long-forgotten race track in the woods, by itself, is no great act of tyranny.

But the more the GNWT throws its hand up and says, "No," while providing no coherent rationale other than, "because those are the rules," the more it sends a message to its citizens that they are not welcome here. People who don't feel welcome typically don't stay.

It's the GNWT's stated goal to increase the population by 2,000 people but nearly 500 people have left in just the past year alone.

Building race tracks to growth instead of throwing up roadblocks - that should be the mantra being uttered by every GNWT minister and bureaucrat if it is at all serious about population growth. Alas, its addiction to red tape is just one more reason to leave.

Paying the price for government arrogance
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

By the time you're reading this, I will be recharging my batteries and enjoying life on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

I leave Kivalliq News in the more-than-capable hands of Michele LeTourneau, who is over from Iqaluit to allow me to take my annual sojourn to the East Coast.

It's hard to believe I'm at the midway point of my 17th year at the helm of this newspaper.

And I have now lived in Rankin Inlet longer than any other place in my life, including my formative years in Port Morien, N.S.

Rankin is my home!

It's been an awesome ride and I'm sure year 18 will be just as fulfilling.

The past year has been an eventful one in the Kivalliq.

We have met, and continue to meet, many challenges, while still struggling with others.

Keeping more of our youth in school continues to be a struggle, as does getting more of them to enrol in academic studies and carry on to post-secondary education.

No better an example of the struggle can be portrayed than what we see in Arviat.

The community's continued battle with attendance woes, and having so few register for academic classes in the upcoming school year, has led the Government of Nunavut (GN) to slash 12.5 positions from the teaching ranks for the 2015-16 scholastic year.

In that regard, the Nunavut Trades Training Centre in Rankin continues to be a blessing, as more and more students earn their qualifications and enter the workforce in well-paying jobs.

Ditto the job being done by students and instructors at Nunavut Arctic College's Kivalliq campus, where the number of graduates finding jobs continues to increase, especially those from management studies.

Unfortunately, and sadly, the Kivalliq continues to struggle with the same monster the rest of Nunavut has been unable to tame in suicide.

It's fair to say, at this point in time, the initiatives undertaken by the GN to try to curb the number of those taking their own lives have met with dismal failure.

In fact, the one light of hope, is that grassroots initiatives such as those led by the Coral Harbour-based Angutiit Makigiangninga (Men Rising Up) men's group, and Kivalliq Counselling and Support Services through the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre in Rankin have been more effective than the big-budgeted initiatives undertaken by our government.

The successes of these organizations, although still baby steps towards ultimate success, offer hope for more victories moving forward.

Also quite saddening for me -- especially during a year that should have moved us closer together through the exceptional work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- is how often racism reared its ugly head in our region.

I still, however, have enough faith in Kivalliq to firmly believe the day will arrive when we shall overcome and leave that ugliness behind us once and for all!

I can't wait to see what the upcoming year brings us in the Kivalliq.

But, until then, my sincere wishes for everyone to enjoy their summers and I'll see you all in August.

In defense of the middle man
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, June 29, 2015

How frustrating must it be to pay a 30 per cent surcharge for power and not have the faintest clue why.

This is the situation Hay River is in right now. It's no wonder Mayor Andrew Cassidy and city council voted last year not to renew its franchise agreement with Northland Utilities, with the hopes of getting a better deal on electricity rates.

It should make sense. Paying too much for something? Eliminate the middle man.

In a normal, competitive economic environment this would be a clear solution. Because a middle man is essentially a distributor and a distributor traditionally charges an overhead fee for their services. But in the tiny, highly regulated world of Northwest Territories power generation, eliminating the middle man creates a monopoly. The elimination of Northland Utilities leaves Hay River with only Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) to rely on for power generation and distribution.

Down in Ontario, about 100,000 Hydro One customers are only now seeing redress after the wholly government-owned crown corporation and power distributor to most of the province's rural areas issued faulty bills and lied about it for years.

It took an ombudsman investigation to reveal the company was in the habit of withdrawing thousands of dollars from customers' bank accounts without cause or warning, overcharging customers - sometimes by millions of dollars - and "mistreating and abusing" those who tried to question their bills, according to Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin's damning report, issued just months ago.

The Northwest Territories does not have an ombudsman.

NTPC supplies Northland with the electricity they distribute to Hay River residents, charging 130 percent of the cost of production, according to documents released by the NWT Public Utilities Board. In comparison, Fort Resolution pays 51 percent of the cost of production.

Hay River's municipal leaders are right to ask why they are paying a 30 per cent surcharge for power. It is Minister David Ramsay's duty, as the politician responsible for the Public Utilities Board, to explain the discrepancy.

But the government has remained mum. Even in the face of numbers that say otherwise, NTPC Minister Michael Miltenberger has denied Hay River pays more. Ramsay has not commented at all. With the cost of power one of the major issues facing this territory, the territorial government's elected officials must respond to these questions.

A 30 per cent surcharge with no explanation - or even acknowledgment that it exists - is a red flag.

A few months ago, Hay River's mayor Andrew Cassidy sent a letter to NTPC, inviting the company to bid against Northland on an RFP to distribute power to the community. NTPC accepted the invitation and is now the only other bidder.

If NTPC wins the bid based on a lower price for electricity, municipal leaders will have extended carte blanche for power generation and distribution to the very people who won't honestly answer their questions.

Hopes for compost shouldn't be trashed
Nunavut/News North - Monday, June 29, 2015

Jim Little's frustration over the destruction of more than a decade of work toward providing composting services in Iqaluit are fair and understandable.

After last year's dump fire, cardboard and other waste had to be moved and the city saw the compost site, which Little formerly leased for the Bill Mackenzie Humanitarian Society composting program, as a fitting option.

Was there ill will? Doubtful.

The city was in a pinch. The fire raged on for four months - something no community member will soon forget - and there were few options available for separating materials out due to the burning pile.

This was by all means an extraordinary situation.

However, months after the blaze was extinguished, the compost site was still not cleared out.

Cardboard, paper and other waste remain piled on the site, infringing on the society's space and ability to operate. The compost piles, both mature and active, were buried by the trash and Little told city council that merely looking at the site makes him sick to his stomach. Surely, seeing your hard work literally buried in trash would do this.

Unfortunately, rather than seeing the city right the situation and clear out the space, the problem is getting worse. Due to a lack of security in the area, residents continue to dump trash on the compost site and Little's plans for integrating composting into the community waste services are quickly being compromised.

The society's project is a good, positive step for the community and Little should be supported in his efforts.

The city responded as was necessary when the dump fire took hold of the landfill but now it's time to clean up the mess and deal with the collateral damage. That damage is to a community project that took many years and dollars to put into action.

Too few people take on a cause that could make such a significant contribution, and Little is already facing the challenge of convincing community members of the benefits of a compost program. With many people opting for the easier option of tossing everything in the trash, Little has an uphill battle ahead of him and has clearly made significant gains - as illustrated by the work done on the composting site before it was buried in garbage.

Now, if the city doesn't step in, take out the trash and return the site to the society in a workable state, those gains are certain to go to waste.

Public housing an investment in city's future
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 26, 2015

Communities are strengthened when their most vulnerable members are provided with support to improve their station and pursue their ambitions.

This is exactly what can be achieved through a new joint venture between NWT Housing Corporation and the Department of Education Culture and Employment, according to which 55 private sector apartment units in the city are to be leased for public housing.

Another 10 units each are being converted in Hay River and Inuvik, as well.

The territorial government is contributing $1.5 million toward the leasing program and this represents money that will come back to taxpayers in the long term.

Close to 200 individuals and families are on the wait-list for public housing in the capital, including more than 100 one-bedroom apartments, about 60 two-bedroom apartments and more than 25 three-and-four bedroom units.

The 55 apartments will be leased by the housing corporation, which will then charge tenants according to a graduated rental rate set according to income.

With the stability and security an affordable apartment provides, about one quarter of NWT residents now on the wait list will have the foundation they need to achieve their goals, such as entering the work force and stepping away from income assistance.

That represents money saved for the GNWT and more people contributing to the economy.

Those in need of public housing ought to recognize the program as a sign Northern society believes in their potential and cares about helping them to realize it.

This encouraging message stands in contrast to the decision made last year by Yellowknife's largest landlord, Northern Property REIT, which barred people on income support from renting from the three-quarters of Yellowknife's residential properties owned by the company.

Rental companies must remember that tenants in public housing today may well be regular renters down the road.

Skate park deserves a home
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 26, 2015

Many will scratch their heads when posed the question 22-year-old skateboarder Taylor Thomas is asking these days: Where's Yellowknife's skate park?

The answer: Tucked behind fences near St. Joseph School away from the watchful eye of society.

"You do get a lot of kids here doing things that they probably shouldn't be doing," said Thomas of the park he says is of no use to boarders, as it's characterized by cracks and ramps that have risen away from the ground.

People are more likely to get into trouble when congregating in the hidden corners of a city. Any new skate park should be in a central, well-lit location easily viewed by the public. Not only would this deter any of that questionable behaviour but it would simultaneously showcase the activity to a broader audience, adding to the character of our city.

This is not the first time the idea for a new skate park has been broached. In 2011 moving the skate park was considered during budget deliberations but fell short because the proposed location - between the tennis courts along the McMahon Frame Lake Trail and the pool - would be disruptive to tennis players.

But as Yellowknifer reported earlier this month, the city already has the two most important ingredients within its clutches: a young, dedicated advocate, and a mayor willing to listen.

Although projected costs vary - depending on the breadth of the project - between $40,000 to $500,000, passion is what drives these kinds of projects to completion.

Awake the language
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, June 25, 2015

The role language plays in our world is incalculable. Without it we wouldn't be able to share history, express how we feel, or share our feelings or opinions about any given issue effecting our community or the world around us.

Indeed, it would be a different world without it. And for many aboriginal people across Canada, theirs is a terrifying reality that the spoken languages that have shaped First Nations people for centuries could someday fall dormant.

Dahti Tsetso is hesitant to say South Slavey is dying, or needs to be revitalized, despite the name of the program she's in to learn the language. The Aboriginal Language Revitalization Program, offered by the University of Victoria and in partnership with the Dehcho First Nation, the region's education council and Fort Providence, is giving the young mother of two the chance to wake a sleeping giant.

The language, she said, will never die. Despite her limited knowledge of South Slavey, when she began the program to become a fluent speaker, something awoke. The exposure to it she had while growing up planted the seed of the language in her. It lay dormant, and is now awake in her.

The reality is, however, fewer people are speaking the language than ever before. Government statistics on language show a 20 per cent drop in use over the last 20 years in the region. And with more than half the speakers older than 50, it indicates younger generations, who may speak the language with limited ability, aren't taking it up as a regular form of communication.

The program has 17 students, the vast majority of students from the Deh Cho, who are immersed in the language with the goal of becoming fluent speakers. Students are to speak it as much as possible and are told to refrain from using English at all when they're stuck, having been taught survival phrases to help them grasp the language better when they may not know what something is.

Preparing students to speak the language, it does more than just strengthen its presence in the communities. With a number of language instructors in the school system nearing retirement, the program is training the next wave of South Slavey speakers to carry on the work being done by current language instructors in the classroom.

Not only does it connect young people to the language, an integral and important part of having the strongest connect to tradition and heritage possible, it bridges a growing gap between young generations and elders. With a number of elders who speak only South Slavey, it helps to build a stronger, more culturally-driven community.

Because of the program, Tsetso is hopeful she'll be able to carry on the language and pass it on to her children when they get older. This, in itself, speaks volumes to the importance of this program in the Deh Cho.

Respecting identity
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, June 25, 2015

Like many people, I've been following the intriguing story of Rachel Dolezal with considerable interest.

Dolezal is the American woman who was president of a local chapter of the NAACP, despite being born Caucasian.

She was raised alongside African-American youth and says she identifies strongly with that culture.

The story has raised many controversial issues, not the least of which is the transracial concept, where a person born to one race clearly identifies him/herself with another.

Now, Dolezal took that notion to extremes by trying to alter her physical appearance, but the concept is certainly worth thinking about.

The tragic thing is that someone like Dolezal felt it necessary to attempt to alter her racial identity in order to follow where her heart led her.

There seems to be little suggestion that she wasn't doing an effective job as president of the local chapter. The only issue is what colour of skin she was born with. That is something that makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

It occurred to me almost immediately that it could certainly apply here in the North.

Any number of people from the south come North because they identify with the lifestyle, or have an affinity for aboriginal culture and traditional practices. They want to experience the chance to live, however marginally, off the land by hunting, fishing and trapping.

More power to them for that, and certainly there's no reason why they can't have something significant to offer the evolution of the North.

Some may take it a little too far. I've heard people say because they were raised near an aboriginal community or territory that they're "basically aboriginal."

I won't pretend to speak for people of aboriginal descent, but I think that crosses what's likely a blurry grey line.

Other people go out of their way to adopt aboriginal styles of dress to show where their affinities lie. Sometimes it works, generally when people adopt the dress as much out of practicality as for show, such as sealskin mitts or boots or a lightweight summer parka cover to fend off the insects.

As the saying goes, imitation is often the most sincere form of flattery, although I suspect many people don't quite see it that way.

I see no reason to think that someone, as with transgender issues, can't feel as if they were born to the wrong race.

I do think, though, the transracial notion is going to take some time to gain any widespread social traction.

Aboriginal people everywhere, but especially here in the North, are justifiably protective about their culture, history and heritage. They may well resent any efforts by a perceived outsider to intrude on their culture, and that's understandable.

On the other hand, aboriginal peoples have a long-standing and noteworthy history of taking in people of other cultures and ethnicities, so it may not require too much adjustment here in the North.

On Aboriginal Day, Lillian Elias spoke proudly of that long history of adoption, showing the tolerance is already there.

What's needed is a mutual respect, and that's going to take some time to develop in many places.

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