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A little something for everyone
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, July 27, 2015

Last week in Yellowknife, NWT residents got their first glimpse of what a post-devolution Thaidene Nene will look like.

Carved like a pie, the territorial government has set aside pieces that are destined to become a federal national park, territorial reserve, caribou conservation area and sites for possible future mineral development. This proposal is a far cry from the original plan to set aside the entire 33,000-square-kilometre area for a national park in 1970.

According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's website on the history of Thaidene Nene, the federal government first expressed interest in turning the area, which wraps around the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, into a federal reserve in 1969. At the time, Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation Chief Pierre Catholique refused to work with the feds out of fear the new designation would inhibit the rights of Lutsel K'e Dene to hunt, fish and trap in their ancestral area. But by the late 1990s members of Lutsel K'e Dene Nation were beginning to come around to the idea due to the discovery of high mineral potential in parts of the park.

The band, through its chief negotiator Steven Nitah, worked with the feds to establish Thaidene Nene national park up until devolution last spring, when the territorial government inherited custody of NWT lands.

This is when the plan got complicated. According to Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger to News/North earlier this spring, Thaidene Nene was to become some sort of Frankenstein hybrid of national park, territorial reserve and possible location of future industrial development. Without a map or specific information as to how a federally-controlled national park would fit into a more lenient territorial nature reserve, all the while leaving room for potential mining activity, the idea seemed nonsensical and even a little alarming.

But after seeing a map of how these puzzle pieces are intended to fit together, Thaidene Nene seems more like the ultimate compromise. The national park component is significant in size, forming the centre of the area. The territorial components make up most of the rest of the delineated area, ensuring members of Lutsel K'e Dene Band will continue to be able to hunt, fish, trap, boat and camp in much of Thaidene Nene. The excluded areas for mineral development are relatively small, peripheral and clearly marked.

These areas are rich in uranium, rare earth minerals and diamond potential and the Northwest Territories has, for better or worse, a resource-based economy. It's prudent for the territorial government to take mineral viability into consideration before carving out mass pieces of land for eternal conservation. It's also prudent for the government to be open about possible industrial development and specific about where these excluded areas might be, which is what the GNWT is doing.

This map, which indicates the possible future of Thaidene Nene, is a good example of this government working to make sure everybody's needs are met in managing the land around the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

From the promised conservation of ancient teepee rings near Fairchild Point to the caribou conservation area in the northern tip to the excluded portions left for development, everybody gets a piece of the pie.

Beneficiaries could run gold mine one day
Nunavut/News North - Monday, July 27, 2015

If one zooms in close to the cheque being presented to Kivalliq Inuit Association president David Ningeongan by Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. board chairperson Jim Nasso July 13 in Rankin Inlet, you can make out the typewritten words "one million five hundred thousand and zero cents."

That large chunk of money, a result of 40 months of negotiations, represents a milestone event for Inuit impact benefit agreements because of the expressed goal for the funds. The Kivalliq Inuit Association plans to put $750,000 per year into a fund to be used exclusively for training Inuit beneficiaries for employment, above and beyond the organization's other responsibilities.

The money is flowing from Agnico Eagle's Meliadine gold mine, which is set to begin construction next year 30 km northwest of Rankin Inlet. It's a massive undertaking, expected to employ 1,100 people during the multi-year construction period, then expected to employ about 850 people when operating as a combination open-pit and underground gold mine.

The KIA will receive annual production payments once mining actively begins, structured so 75 per cent is held back during the first five years of production and paid out in years six and seven. The potential for millions of dollars in benefits for the Inuit of the Kivalliq region is enormous. More importantly is the potential for Inuit beneficiaries to play a long-term meaningful role in the operation of the mine.

Nasso and chief executive officer Sean Boyd spoke in Rankin Inlet about Agnico Eagle's operations in Mexico. Three gold mines, employing about 2,200 people, are 100 per cent staffed by Mexicans and Nasso would like to see "Inuit run (the Meliadine) mine like the Mexicans do."

Considering the training commitments, that is possible.

The immediate goal is for there to be 50 per cent employment of Inuit beneficiaries at Meliadine, achievable considering the current level of 30 to 34 per cent employment of beneficiaries at Agnico Eagle's Meadowbank open-pit mine north of Baker Lake, which has been operating since 2010.

The KIA was careful in negotiating this benefit agreement to realize maximum advantage, involving board members from the communities and ensuring that the final deal is open and transparent. Once it is approved by the federal minister, the agreement will be publicly accessible.

The work begins now. Beneficiaries in the communities will be consulted about tailoring training programs to their needs. Strategic plans will be developed to reach employment goals.

The end result is good news -- money from the benefit agreement will be used in the best possible manner and there will be high-paying jobs for hundreds of land claim agreement beneficiaries, who will be given the opportunity to advance in their positions.

Houseboat headaches
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 24, 2015

The fire on Yellowknife Bay has illustrated the camaraderie of the houseboat community, as 20-some people spent the day pulling charred remainders of the small home to shore and towing the wreckage to the landfill.

The fire also re-emphasizes the controversy that community creates within the city.

The blaze was covered widely by local media and opinions were keyed into comment threads, reiterating the frustration over the lack of property taxes paid by houseboaters despite their use of city infrastructure and services - fire response being one of them. It should be noted that the city does charge homeowners a firefighting fee - now capped at $4,000 - and it could be assumed the owner of the burned houseboat will be receiving a bill.

The issue of houseboaters living tax free is addressed in the hotly contested and yet to be enacted Harbourfront Plan, in which the city recommends charging a fee to anchor to the lake bed.

The plan also makes mention of putting safety and building requirements in place for houseboats, for which there are currently none.

These actions will likely not be welcome measures to some houseboaters accustomed to "living off the grid" but this fire has shown further discussion to this point is necessary.

If these houseboats were off in the middle of nowhere it might be a moot point but they are not. They are a stone's throw from city streets, homes and facilities.

Speaking on the fire, deputy fire chief Craig MacLean said his department will not hesitate to fight houseboat fires, which means firefighters must potentially put themselves in harm's way to put out fires on buildings that haven't been previously inspected for safety or built to code.

In this case, the firefighters' capacity was limited and it was the neighbouring houseboaters who provided the most assistance - although nothing could be done to save the houseboat.

The fire department needs a on-water response plan, and the firefighters need assurance that the houses they tend to are built to a certain standard.

With governance and regulation comes services. Although the houseboat community proved their resolve towards self-sufficiency in the response to and following the fire, the proximity to the rest of the city cannot be ignored.

Nor can the safety of first-responders and community members.

The North attracts the pioneering spirit and the houseboater lifestyle is one that fits in well. The community is a key part of the fabric of Yellowknife, and taxation and regulation need not change this.

There is an opportunity for discussion, recognition and mutual understanding. And an opportunity to take in the view from both land and water.

Time to bear down on dump difficulty
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, July 23, 2015
The rules for dealing with wildlife are very simple, and quite likely many residents in and around Fort Simpson know them: keep your distance, carry protection and do not feed the bears.

Unfortunately, as with most municipalities, a certain amount of garbage builds up - in ditches, on roads and, of course, in the municipal landfill.

On June 17 at 4:30 p.m., six black bears were frolicking in the garbage at the Fort Simpson dump, foraging for food. Other bears have been seen around the village, in the campground and on the hill.

While that is part of living in the North, it is important not to use that as an excuse to ignore safety procedures.

As for people who work in the field, most of them know to carry protection with them - bear bangers, bear spray or firearms.

These safety procedures are often common sense because many of us have heard of or known someone who has had a scary - or deadly - encounter with a bear.

On July 20, Fort Simpson finally made the decision to issue its landfill operator bear deterrents. The landfill operator will now have access to bear bangers and spray.

That means if the operator is in a dangerous situation, or sees a landfill user in a bad situation, they can do something about it. Prior to this, there was no protection at the landfill.

It is perplexing that safety protocols were not in place prior to this summer.

Mayor Sean Whelly has said he cannot recall ever having an incident at the landfill involving bears and staff or a member of the public.

In fact, the landfill operator seems to be at ease with the wildlife situation as well.

However, after years of operating, it is luck that has so far prevented incidents.

Regardless of whether an attack has occurred in the past, simple common sense should dictate that when working around potentially dangerous wild animals, you should probably take measures against being mauled.

However, there is still a good portion of the village who put themselves at risk every time they go to drop off their garbage. The same goes for contractors who may have large loads to haul and take longer to unload.

It is a boon that the landfill operator can now come to people's aid if need be, but a more permanent solution needs to be considered.

In August 2011, two such bears in Fort Simpson had to be destroyed.

There is no way to keep bears out of an area entirely - not even with fences and gates.

However, both of those things can mitigate the risk.

It helps, too, that the village is intending - and is required - to put up fencing systems around the landfill. With luck, that fence will be built before something serious happens.

Gardening for life
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, July 23, 2015

Inuvik's community garden has been getting a lot of attention this growing season, for good reason.

Community gardens are a big deal.

They are popular because of health and environmental benefits. They're seen as a way for people learn where their food comes from and ensure environmentally-friendly growing techniques are used. The educational benefits of cultivating fresh food are boundless. Most importantly, community gardens are able to bring the community together to plant a seed, watch it grow and share the eventual bounty.

It's really no wonder the phenomenon of community gardening has taken off. For the past few decades the public has expressed increasing public distrust over the way massive agricultural corporations use chemical herbicides and pesticides. People want to know where their food comes from and obviously they want to know the food they eat will not expose them to long-term health risks. This is entirely understandable.

Only 60 years ago, people were told that the use of the pesticide DDT was safe. There are even newsreels showing children in swimming pools being sprayed with the chemical. With the help of such books as Silent Spring, published in 1962, the public learned it caused nerve damage and possible soft-tissue damage, such as to the liver. This led the US government to ban agricultural use of DDT outright in 1972.

Not only this, but being where it is geographically located, the trek fresh produce takes to Inuvik spans thousands of miles and many days. One only has to look at the state of local produce versus the price to see the advantages of community gardening up here.

With the limitations local vendors have when it comes to supplying items that require refrigeration, preferably without freezing, and an unpredictable transportation system - especially during freeze and break-up - it is near impossible to provide inexpensive fresh perishable items. Spoilage also plays a role in the price.

This is why it will be wonderful to watch the community garden hopefully grow and expand in Inuvik. There really is nothing better than seeing fresh produce travel mere metres from farm to table above the Arctic Circle.

Invisible barriers remain
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Walking down the street, opening up a door or walking down a flight of stairs may seem easy enough but for some people they might as well be walls with no rungs to climb.

It's estimated there are more than 3,500 adults in the territory living with a disability of one sort of another. That means about eight per cent of people living in the NWT don't enjoy the same accessibility as the rest.

The same effort that is put into constructing sidewalks and ensuring there are enough light switches in buildings at able-bodied height needs to be applied for people with disabilities. The national building code contains no provisions for ensuring buildings are accessible.

The NWT Disabilities Council has shined a light on this lack of accessibility in a recent survey. A third of the 300 respondents identified in the survey report having difficulty with physical barriers in Yellowknife. Twenty per cent of respondents said they were unemployed due to their disability. One respondent wrote, "I cannot think of a single workplace or government building in the NWT that is accessible to persons with disabilities."

Consider ramp access at the Centre Square Mall. After the NWT fire marshal demanded a ramp be built at its Franklin Avenue entrance by June 2010, construction didn't begin until November 2011. The building's upper level mall owner shares at least some of the blame but so does the city, which threw up several months worth of red tape when the owners submitted building plans.

It appears work still needs to be done to accommodate people with disabilities. The fact of the matter is raising awareness, as the disabilities council did, is the best way to ensure accommodations are made.

We encourage the council to continue sounding the alarm so one day the extra walls people with disabilities face in their daily lives have rungs to climb.

Lateral thinkers wanted
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

We can forgive Daniel Gillis for the unconventional idea he is proposing as an alternative to diesel and hydro power the city is currently forced to use.

At least he is trying to come up with a viable solution. An Integrated Molten Salt Reactor sounds like it should be in the next Star Wars film but it is a real proposal, one Gillis pitched to Michael Miltenberger, the minister responsible for Northwest Territories Power Corporation and Mayor Mark Heyck as a solution to burning diesel to make up for low water levels at the Snare and Bluefish hydro stations. The price tag for the diesel is $45,000 a day, which will eventually be passed on to taxpayers, of course.

Gillis, who has a civil engineering background, said the technology, developed during the 1950s, involves mixing radioactive material and molten salt, generating heat that turns a turbine. It uses all the fuel and there is less waste than traditional nuclear power generation. This technology is only lab proven, and in fact, testing was abandoned in 1970s by the U.S. government.

But mass-produced electric light and nuclear power were once radical ideas as well. The most important thing is that people are thinking outside the box and proposing possible solutions to our energy woes -- and that the government explore the most viable ones because right now, that box is very small. The drought means there is not enough water to generate hydro and should world fuel prices begin to rise again, the high cost of diesel may make the territory unlivable.

The GNWT needs to figure out how to wean the territory off its diesel dependence.

Creative thinkers such as Gillis should be welcomed and encouraged.

Meliadine deal a step forward
Editorial Comment by Michele LeTourneau
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

After more than three years of negotiations, the Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. signed the Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement for the Meliadine gold project located 24 km outside Rankin Inlet on July 13.

A few items stand out as an improvement over the previous agreement signed for the Meadowbank mine.

As KIA president David Ningeongan points out, although there were training commitments in that agreement, the Meliadine agreement has an annual dollar value attached: $750,000. Strategic training plans, including updates to current plans, are in the works to ensure Inuit of Rankin, the Kivalliq and across Nunavut are trained for the variety of jobs that will become available through the phases of the mine, from construction to production to eventual closure.

"We wanted to have it so that every opportunity is there to increase employment for beneficiaries of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement," said Ningeongan.

While Meadowbank sits at 30 to 34 per cent Inuit employment, the arrangement with Meliadine is to hit 50 per cent from the get-go.

That's an estimated 550 jobs during construction and 425 when the mine is operational.

The example being touted as the ultimate best result is a trio of Mexican mines owned by Agnico Eagle but, apparently, wholly managed and operated by Mexicans, with a 100 per cent employment rate for Mexicans.

That's pretty great, and perhaps it heralds a day when Inuit might achieve actual ownership.

All of these are real goals to work toward.

Another plus, though not the direct result of this agreement, is that KIA has apparently improved its financial organization. The dollar flow from this agreement will not be filling the general revenue coffer but, rather, newly-created programming accounts. That's a way to track those dollars and ensure accountability.

A common complaint we hear after these deals are negotiated and the money starts flowing is that Inuit don't see where that money goes, nor do Inuit necessarily experience those benefits. KIA is planning a region-wide tour to hear from people just what sort of programming people want in order to experience the benefits of this sizeable financial deal.

Of course, these are all just words until people see the employment and social programming benefits entering their lives. But it does seem that opportunities will be coming - there to grab hold of, there to pursue.

Perhaps the top innovation on the part of the KIA at the moment is the decision to have the process and the results made public. Ningeongan says that wasn't the case with the previous agreement. The agreement will be made available to all once it's translated into Inuktitut. Anyone will be able to take the measure of it, and question their elected leaders.

Finally, at the signing, Agnico Eagle chairperson Jim Nasso spoke of the importance of keeping a Nunavut university on the front burner. "Keep the heat on," he said a few times.

These are words that apply on all fronts. Active involvement in improving individual lives and community life is all about keeping the heat on, personally and as a group.

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