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Poisoning children must stop
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In the list of pressing issues facing the NWT today, fetal alcohol syndrome should be at the top.

Caused by drinking during pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) occurs when alcohol damages the fetus, putting the future child at real risk for cognitive impairment, intellectual disability, mental-health, behavioural problems and physical disabilities.

People with FASD are likely to struggle. They will find it harder than the average person to maintain relationships, be successful at school and keep a job. The territorial government does not keep FASD statistics and not everybody with it has been diagnosed. There is no definitive way to diagnose a person with FASD, unless a mother is open about whether she drank during pregnancy. This means there are people living in the NWT with FASD who don't have access to the support they need. Too often the tragic result is a troubled child shunted between foster care, the police, the courts, the corrections system and homeless shelters.

This is why the Yellowknife Association for Community Living's project to distribute 500 pregnancy kits to bar bathrooms and liquor stores across the city is such a vital step forward.

The kits include information about FASD, a condom, a helpline for more information and a pregnancy test. It's a valuable resource for people to learn what FASD is and how it happens, and provides a discreet way for women to see if they are pregnant.

But initiatives to combat FASD shouldn't end with a project for FASD Awareness Day. The rest of us have the opportunity to utilize this project as a way to get comfortable talking about alcohol abuse, family planning, safe sex and sexual health.

The government also plays a role in making sure women across the territory have easy access to family planning tools such as birth control, condoms, pregnancy tests and abortion procedures. Once women are armed with knowledge, feel confident enough to get past the taboos and receive tools to proactively manage their fertility, FASD rates are bound to go down.

So start talking about it. The Yellowknife Association for Community Living has opened the door - let's join the conversation.

Ordinary MLAs an untapped resource
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Two MLAs who want a greater role for standing committees at the legislative assembly are revealing the flaw in wrapping consensus government in a parliamentary cloak.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly and Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart shared their thoughts with Yellowknifer last week, both pointing to untapped opportunities provided by standing committees that regular MLAs can use to provide more oversight over cabinet work and engage the public.

Sitting across from all-powerful ministers backed by a standing army of 4,000 bureaucrats, they can only snipe at policy decisions made behind closed cabinet doors. Hardly a shining example of consensus.

Through standing committees, MLAs can hold public engagement sessions, go on fact-finding missions, study issues in depth and critically review departmental programs. Those bureaucrats serve them in that setting.

Anything that leads to MLAs becoming more informed about ongoing government work is a good thing. More public engagement about these issues is also a good thing, as is committee oversight into cabinet business.

In the end, the ordinary MLAs are all that stands between democracy and a five-year-long dictatorship.

Safe-sex message still unheeded
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The fact of the matter is, the ongoing trend of people having unprotected sex in Nunavut, especially in the Kivalliq, dictate we're damn lucky the AIDS virus has not become prevalent in our neck of the tundra.

As of Aug. 1, the Kivalliq has 49 confirmed cases of syphilis according to the Department of Health. This is more than halfway to the 94 syphilis cases recorded in all of Nunavut during the 2014 outbreak.

And, the region is more than two-thirds of the way to the total number of cases (68) recorded in the entire territory in 2015.

The two culprits behind the Kivalliq outbreak are bad decision making and consenting to unprotected sex.

Our youth take most of the blame for syphilis's return with a vengeance, but the sexually-transmitted infection seems to be just as rampant among 20-somethings as our teenage population.

Any worker on the front lines of public health will tell you the confirmed cases do not represent the whole picture when it comes to dealing with sexually-transmitted infections.

And that can be especially true with syphilis, as there are an unknown number of people walking around with the bacteria infection who haven't been tested yet, while still others don't show any sign they've been infected.

Syphilis can be diagnosed with a blood test and can be fairly easily treated with antibiotics, but, left undiagnosed and untreated, the infection turns especially nasty and can cause a number of severe problems in the body, eventually leading to death!

Having unprotected sex in this day and age is mind-baffling enough, but it's even more brain numbing to realize how many people realize there's a huge breakout of syphilis in the region, know they've been sexually active without protection, and still adopt the it-can't-happen-to-me attitude and refuse to have themselves tested for the disease.

In those cases, this is not a matter of only harming themselves.

Although their future partners live just as risky a lifestyle by consenting to have unprotected sex with them, they unwittingly contract the infection, risking health problems in their own bodies, and can pass it on to other partners before becoming aware they've been infected, keeping the cycle going in the region.

Nunavut is not alone in this battle.

The number of sexually-transmitted infections such as syphilis, chlamydia and resistant gonorrhea has been rising steadily across Canada since the late 1990s, with outbreak levels of gonorrhoea and syphilis reported in Alberta, syphilis on the rise in Manitoba, and Ontario seeing 5,932 confirmed cases of gonorrhea in 2015 alone.

And, while still mainly a problem of the young, the numbers of confirmed cases in people middle-aged and older are rising at an alarming rate.

With the advances in condom technology during the past decade, which has led to sexual intimacy feeling a whole lot less like one washing their feet with their socks on, there is less reason than ever for people to knowingly, and willingly, put their health -- or even their very lives -- at risk by having unprotected sex.

The message, for whatever reason, is still not being received effectively, and communities everywhere continue to deal with a major problem that should have been resolved decades ago.

Birth of a new government
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, September 12, 2016

As drum beats fade away and dignitaries are flown out of Deline after days of celebration last week, the real work now begins for the newly minted Deline Got'ine Government (DGG) and its leader, Raymond Tutcho.

Self-government is now a reality in Deline, with Tutcho leading Canada's first combined indigenous/public self-government. Deline is also NWT's first community-based indigenous self-government for the 450 residents in the community and some 1,000 or so living away.

This is a big step for a small community that took some 20 years to take.

The DGG assumed responsibility Sept. 1, when the Deline K'aowedó Ke, or main council, had its first meeting and passed core laws and an inaugural budget. Over time, the government will assume jurisdiction over community affairs and local services, including education, health services, and social housing.

Band members and beneficiaries will also have more control over how government money is spent on programs and how services are delivered. In addition to DGG Leader Tutcho, there is a six-person council, an elders council, a justice council and a beneficiaries board.

So all of the checks and balances of a democracy will be in place. To ensure the DGG receives the respect and support of the people it governs, it would be wise to take advantage of those tools and avoid any perception of bias or nepotism - especially with financial matters.

The Deline Got'ine Government promises to safeguard language, culture and customs. It will be wise for it to guard the safe with as much zeal.

The new leaders have the potential to set a proud example for First Nations if they manage to avoid missteps and scandals that come with the trappings of power.

Territory's raw beauty enticing, treacherous
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, September 12, 2016

The NWT benefits from tourism and welcomes tourists from around the world. Hunting season is underway and the Northern lights are spectacular.

However, news of two recent visitor deaths underscore the importance of staying safe while on the roads, or in the wild.

A Chinese tourist died in a single-vehicle accident on the Dempster Highway near the Peel River on Aug. 27. Four people were in the vehicle travelling on the rugged, hard-packed gravel road, which at times can rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned residents.

While three people - one adult male and two adult females - survived, an adult female was found dead inside the vehicle. Police attributed driving conditions as a possible factor.

In a separate incident, a one of three hikers from the U.S. died after being swept away in the Little Keele River on the Canol Trail on Aug. 20.

Three American hikers, all male, were on the Canol Trail when they attempted to forge the river. Sadly, one didn't make it. RCMP were called in. His body was found Aug. 28.

Reports of people - residents and visitors - gone missing on the land or on the water are commonplace in the NWT. Luckily, most people are found safe.

Visitors don't want their adventures in the NWT to become misadventures. Take safety precautions and consider the use of local guides and outfitters.

Education needed so all workers feel safe
Nunavut/News North - Monday, September 12, 2016

It is 2016. And yet there is a group who feel they must meet in secret for fear of retribution while they review the sexual harassment policies of some of Nunavut's biggest employers.

Only Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern has the courage to go public and, as a respected elected official, call for more to be done to prevent women from being disrespected in the places they must go to make a living.

The other people in the group, while passionate and engaged on the topic of workplace harassment in all its forms, fear reprisals and repercussions if their identities are known. In this day and age there are people in Canada who are genuinely afraid of standing up and being counted on an issue that to most reasonable people shouldn't even exist.

Who bullies co-workers in the workplace? Who makes suggestive sexual advances on women who are trying to do a job? Apparently, lots of Canadians.

A 2014 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found three in 10 Canadians, or 28 per cent, say they have been on the receiving end of requests for sexual favours, sexually-charged talk while on the job or unwelcome sexual advances. More disturbingly, one in seven adults, or 14 per cent, have experienced sexual touching or serious unwanted sexual contact in their careers.

Because the poll found that women are about four times more likely to be harassed than men, let us presume that the vast majority of offenders are men. Logically then, we must ask, why don't men understand that it is wrong to make sexual advances on women, particularly in the workplace?

Perhaps they have been told about a company's policy against such things but don't fully understand. Maybe the perpetrators of these actions don't realize that their behaviour is unacceptable.

Maybe it is because many of them are getting away with it. Four out of five people do not report the behaviour to their employers.

Perhaps some employers don't know what to do when complaints are made. Then, in this environment of ignorance, very little happens. There are no real repercussions.

We don't think men who are guilty of harassing others in the workplace are necessarily bad people. Perhaps they are just ignorant, the product of conditioning in their home environment that makes them think such behaviour isn't wrong. In some cultures, men don't achieve a high level of education because they need to find work and earn money at an early age. Those who are innocent of mind and guilty of action need to be educated.

That requires more than being told about policies that prohibit such behaviour.

They need to be told why the policy exists and that all people have the right to work without fear of intimidation, harassment or being subjected to sexual advances.

Drawing attention to this widespread issue is vital so steps can be taken to protect the right of all workers to feel safe while they are on the job.

Airbnb needs scrutiny
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 9, 2016

There are registered and licensed facilities in Yellowknife where visitors can arrange for comfortable, safe stays in the city. They are our motels, hotels and cozy bed and breakfast establishments.

The owners of these businesses go through the trouble of obtaining business licences and complying with national and local regulations governing rental accommodations. They also pay their taxes and other fees.

On top of this, they are subject to inspections by local authorities to ensure compliance with the fire code and other safety regulations.

In short, they are good corporate and small business citizens, and the backbone of this city's tourism economy.

Contrast this with the popular, web-based Airbnb or any similar service. These services connect paying customers with residential home owners looking to make a buck but they do so without regard for local ordinance.

Make no mistake about it. This is an underground economy where services are provided for a fee without the fair regulation and taxation faced by those who operate licensed businesses.

Airbnb, or any other unregulated motel or bed and breakfast model that connects clients with homeowners who may not meet legitimate bed and breakfast licensing requirements, undercuts legitimate business operators and hurts their bottom line.

Beyond the unfairness of allowing illegitimate operations to flourish to the detriment of upstanding local businesses, there is the question of health and safety regulations.

According to City of Yellowknife business licence bylaws, any prospective bed and breakfast must meet the requirements of the Public Health Act, local tourist accommodation regulations, the national fire code of Canada, and City of Yellowknife zoning and building bylaws before it can be issued a licence to operate.

Much easier, no doubt, to just post your rooms on Airbnb without worrying about health and fire codes or zoning restrictions. Easier but illegitimate.

This isn't the Wild West where home owners are free to do whatever they want with their residences without regard for the law or the reasonable expectations of their neighbours.

The city should not want to be associated with any fly-by-night business or anyone who wants to start a business without due regard for local regulations.

There is no excuse to allow an underground economy to develop that makes it difficult for legitimate businesses to prosper.

The city's silence on the matter risks being interpreted as acceptance of the activity and a slap in the face of legitimate business owners.

Make case for voting reform
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 9, 2016

Visits to Yellowknife from federal cabinet ministers are always welcome.

At least it shows that Ottawa is aware of our existence.

But to date the Liberal government's crusade to change the country's electoral system has flown entirely over the heads of average Canadians and a visit by Maryam Monsef, federal minister of Democratic Institutions, has done nothing to change that.

It's not to say there wasn't some mustard daubed on to the meat of the discussion she hosted last week. Some serious issues were raised: an exploration of different electoral systems, how voters choose MPs, and even whether Canada should adopt mandatory voting similar to Australia.

The biggest issue for the North, which Monsef addressed, is the Fair Elections Act brought into force by the previous Conservative government.

The legislation scrapped the vouching system, where a voter can have someone else vouch for their identity at the voting booth.

This is an important issue in the territory where obtaining picture identification in smaller communities is not without difficulties.

The fact the Conservatives ignored this issue shows an ignorance about the realities of living in the North.

However, as far as the central object of the discussion goes - that Canada's electoral system is broken and needs to be fixed - the Liberal government has a long way to go to convince Canadians aside from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that it needs a major overhaul.

If the government really wants public input, and by implication, its support, a quick tour by a relatively low ranking cabinet minister is not going to go very far toward making people care.

A healthy alternative
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, September 8, 2016

We all know the feeling of going to the grocery store just to find out the vegetable we're looking for is sold out.

The logistics of feeding a village full of people every day are, without a doubt, challenging - not to mention expensive. The difficulty of bringing in store-quality produce each week means Northerners often settle for taking what they can get.

Although it is true Fort Simpson's prices are not as bad as elsewhere in the North, residents often become accustomed to paying more for less.

That is one of the many reasons people in Fort Simpson use the summer to subsidize their food costs by growing a garden.

Fort Simpson has always been a bastion for gardeners. From the days of the experimental farm in the 1960s to present-day efforts, the island and its surrounding area are home to many people who want to grow their own food.

With the small farm at Bannockland and plots at the community garden, food-growers are proving year after year the North is no barrier to a green thumb.

Randy Sibbeston's farm is full of potatoes, carrots and other vegetables - locally grown and the proceeds of which stay local.

The time he and his family spend each summer working that land is extensive. Hand-weeding three acres is nothing to sneeze at.

Likewise, the amount of vegetables grown in the community garden include peas, beans, peppers and even eggplant - among many others.

Such innovation is great to see, and it is important that it continues to grow.

In fact, agriculture of this sort proves such things are possible in the Northwest Territories, which in itself is worth something.

Of course, the North will probably never be home to big agriculture of any sort, simply due to the cost of mass-producing food. But locally grown produce is taking off, and it's the residents themselves who are getting involved.

The next step in the process of home-grown foods is to get the government or local businesses on board to get that food into the hands of the community.

Whether that means financial subsidization from the government or incentives for grocery stores to buy some of their fresh foods locally in the summers, there are a variety of options available to incentivize growth in the field of gardening.

The question is not whether there are big bucks to be had in Northern agriculture but rather how much local gardeners could impact Fort Simpson's economy and what healthy, home-grown produce is worth.

With a little help, such foods could go a long way.

A return to routine
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 8, 2016

The leaves have largely turned, the barbecues of the long weekend have been savoured, and the time has come for the youngest members of the community -- and their teachers -- to head back to school.

After the heady days of summer, going back to spend half the day under the rule of a bell can be an unappetizing thing.

Getting back to a routine, both in and outside of school, can be challenging, for both younger and older students. although in different ways. It's also tough for parents who, after a few months of relative flexibility, are back to early mornings, drop-offs and pick-ups, and homework supervising.

The cost of going back to school -- the new clothes to replace those that have been outgrown, school supplies, and the return of a multitude of fundraising efforts -- can also be a burden.

Still, despite all that, there is an excitement about this time of year. There's a chill in the air and a pleasant anxiety that speaks to sharp pencils and crisp notebooks, not to mention the reunions with friends who may have spent the summer away from the community. Maybe that's enough for some students and their families, but others need a little more encouragement.

That an education is a valuable and worthwhile thing is a familiar refrain here more than anywhere.

It's disappointing, then, that so many children fail to attend school in such high numbers. While the hue and cry went up last spring when it was found that only about one-third of students were actually in class on one particular day, it is truly a problem all school-year long, although less critical in the colder months.

If there is an excitement about going back to school in September and a corresponding drop-off in interest in the spring, it could be easy to write off that original surge in enthusiasm as a false start. Instead, we propose families look at it as a spark that can and should be fanned into a flame.

The school is a pavilion designed to inspire and motivate, with assemblies involving much clapping and shouting, slogans about staying in school strung up everywhere, and encouraging adults around every corner. One might argue that fervour is even too much sometimes.

School in the North has a complicated and fraught history, but everyone agrees -- at least in public and out loud -- than an education is the key to success.

This week, this month, and this year serve as a renewed opportunity to make that commitment once again to get the children to school, and keep them attending by showing an interest in what they are learning and encouraging them to stay on top of their studies.

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