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Be prepared in the bush
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 2, 2016

A possible tragic ending was avoided when experienced outdoorsman Ron Gibeault made his way to a hilltop in the remote wilderness and found cell phone reception 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife.

He was able to call and alert his daughter-in-law to his location and predicament. By the time he was rescued, Gibeault had spent 32 hours in the isolated back country near the Beaulieu River, about halfway to Lutsel K'e as the crow flies.

To briefly recap, Gibeault encountered mechanical problems while on a trail with his ATV near familiar ground. Instead of staying with his vehicle to await rescue he set out for what he thought would be a simple return journey.

He quickly became disorientated and lost. He did not have the basics of back country survival gear with him, not even a compass or GPS.

If a person like Gibeault, who has a lifetime of backwoods experience, could make what he called a "stupid mistake," what does that mean for the rest of us?

The first thing it should mean is that anyone considering an excursion off well-marked trails should do so only with the full understanding that they have essentially put their lives into their own hands.

If nobody knows where a back-country traveller has gone or when the person is expected back, nobody will know to alert authorities of that traveller's absence until it is possibly too late.

Without carrying appropriate outdoor survival gear even a short unexpected stay in the woods can turn into a terrible, trying experience easily avoided with minimal preparation.

Gibeault would be the first to admit he got lucky to find a cell signal so far in the bush but there

are more reliable alternatives to cellphones and luck.

Tracking devices abound that allow for emergency communication via satellite signal and would make it easier for rescuers to make an efficient recovery.

There is no good reason to head into the back country without the resources to sustain oneself in the event of an emergency or extended stay. Further to that, anyone heading out to the bush needs to leave a plan with someone detailing the expected route and what to do if the traveller fails to return on time.

These common sense rules are easy to overlook or disregard but can lead to much unnecessary anxiety or worse if not followed.

Get secret out, North also has summer
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 2, 2016

The days are getting shorter and darker, temperatures are getting colder and leaves are turning. Winter is just around the corner.

Nonetheless, many would assume the beginning of another aurora tourism season is still a few months away. But if one takes a walk around the city streets they may notice throngs of people already amassing at attractions and tourism company buses rolling down the highway.

The number of signatures on the Northern Frontier Visitors centre's guestbook seem to confirm this. Tracy Therrien, the centre's executive director, said while numbers for July are on par with the same month last year, there has been a noticeable bump in August compared to the previous year. Some 2,681 visitors had signed the guest book as of Aug. 19.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, meanwhile, is reporting attendance at North Slave campgrounds are up and more tourists are landing at the Yellowknife airport.

Anecdotal evidence suggests tourists are starting to come in late summer to take advantage of the brief window where the aurora can be viewed without having to put on a snowsuit.

Other activities, such as fishing, can be undertaken without having to endure the nuisance of early summer mosquitoes.

Tourism operators are already capitalizing on this "extra" aurora season.

City hall and the territorial government should as well, by promoting the milder aurora season of late summer and fall. People here already know there is more to the North than snow, dogsleds and long, dark nights but how well is that known outside the territory?

Ceremony spotlights success of youth
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, September 1, 2016

Last week, seven young men and women graduated from Fort Providence's Deh Gah School, to all the usual fanfare and ceremony.

Christina Bonnetrouge, Jade Bonnetrouge, Kelsey Bonnetrouge, Delaney Vandell, Derrick Vandell, Mikaela Vandell and Brandon Thom - as so many graduates before them - donned caps and robes and celebrated their accomplishment with their families, friends and mentors.

They listened to speeches from local leaders, their principal and valedictorian, and had a grand march of sorts with their escorts following the receiving of their scrolls.

But for all its similarities, the graduation ceremony in Fort Providence is not quite like graduation ceremonies elsewhere in the country - in part due to its small nature and in part due to its encompassing of tradition.

This year, same as last year, graduates sat in a semi-circle around a fur rug, by which an elder from the community completed a smudging ceremony.

The ceremony is a close, intimate affair and the graduates are literally the centre of it, surrounded and supported by the rest of the community. They are individually involved and come away with wise words from the elders.

Such a ceremony - and so many successful graduates - speaks wonders for Fort Providence and the youth who live there.

Despite of all the break-ins and crime the community has seen over the past couple years, every year its school produces more shining stars who had the fortitude to finish Grade 12 and claim their degrees.

These people will go on to shape not just Fort Providence but the Northwest Territories as a whole. There is vital truth to the idea that these are the future leaders of the community, territory and country.

Last year, the school had about 150 students from Grade one to 12.

Now, five per cent of those students are getting ready to move on.

All of Fort Providence, and indeed all of the Deh Cho, should be celebrating this accomplishment with these students - especially given youth from the community are in the rather unique position of shouldering much of the blame for the hamlet's crime levels.

With so much frustration, anger and fear from community members who have been victim to those crime levels, it is more important than ever to celebrate the success of these graduates.

A community is only truly healthy when all members of the community are healthy. And although healing can take a long time and many different forms, it is vitally important to acknowledge the positivity that comes from accomplishments such as graduating.

Hopefully, people will take that opportunity to see the good instead of just the bad.

Grief impacts the community
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 1, 2016

Death in a small town, like life, is a community affair. So too is often the grief that follows.

Every culture on the planet has some sort of public mourning tradition, a kind of performance of grief that has evolved to help those in pain categorize, compartmentalize and control their suffering.

Victorian Englishwomen had a full protocol for mourning, including how many ruffles a person could wear following a given number of weeks after a specific kind of relative died. Some Scottish traditions dictate a woman be paid to wail the lament at the funeral.

Whether these cultural mechanisms work to curtail what is at its core an intensely personal and individual process is up for debate. Good people know there is no proper way to grieve, no timeline for when the chasm left in the soul after a loss is supposed to be spanned, no fail-safe method for recovery. It is what it is and it takes the time it takes.

What we do know is that a death, particularly a tragic and public one, affects more than the immediate family, although they of course bear the brunt of the trauma.

Sasha Larocque-Firth's death in 2014 was both tragic and public. Its cause is at the root of so many tragedies -- both public and private -- in this community. Drunk driving as a symptom of a wider disease of rampant alcohol abuse is hardly news, even when its most drastic consequences are newsworthy.

The wider community, even if they didn't know Sasha personally, can see themselves and their loved ones reflected in her. Maybe this is the point of collective mourning. People take to social media to vent the feelings they repress in real life, to seek the solace of a shared experience and perhaps -- in some cases -- claim some of the attention for themselves and their own struggles. Maybe we haven't come as far from professional wailers as we might like to think.

Justice Andrew Mahar noted that typically a sentencing decision in a case of this magnitude would take time, sometimes even months, but that in this case, it would not be fair to the families of all involved. The number of people in the courtroom was testament to just how many of those families there are. Maybe now, along with grief, there can be some closure. And maybe after that there can be some healing.

Council serves people, not bureaucrats
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

There is much to mull over regarding the downtown bench debate.

Downtown beautification, poverty, addictions, the need for public space -- these are all meaty issues. But as large as these issues are they obscure another important concern with the way Mayor Mark Heyck works with council and city administration.

The bottom line is, administration is beholden to elected officials, who represent the public. When administration removes seating that residents of all walks of life enjoy, our elected officials have the right to direct administration to return it. At the very least, administration should expect council to be critical of a controversial decision it has made without their knowledge - such as removing a bench downtown earlier this month.

And that's what happened during last Monday's city council meeting. So it's incredible to see one elected official -- our mayor, part of whose role is to preside over council debates -- step down from that role to defend administration's decision. Stepping down to vote forced Coun. Adrian Bell into the presiding officer's position, thus erasing Bell's vote.

Now, Heyck can step down from his seat to vote for any reason, so in terms of council procedure he did nothing wrong.

But every single city councillor with the exception of Steve Payne voted to direct administration to return the benches, making council's stance pretty unequivocal.

Nonetheless, Heyck thought it necessary to scold council for not standing by administration's decision to remove the benches "even if we don't agree with it."

By doing so, Heyck perpetuates a mistake that has afflicted other predecessors - usually after long careers in city politics - that it is the mayor's job to defend administration when city hall falls under controversy.

The temptation to do so is understandable but people don't elect a mayor to carry water for administration. The mayor is elected to implement the will of council, whose power resides in the trust voters have given them at the ballot box.

If people really don't want benches downtown, presumably they will make their feelings known to council - and the mayor.

No doubt, keeping the benches clean in the face of chronic loitering and addictions issues in the city is an unpleasant job but there are many unpleasant jobs the city is required to perform. City ambulance drivers deal with intoxicated people every day.

It could be that maintaining benches downtown proves impossible, and administration may wish to argue that to council in no uncertain terms.

But for Heyck to take the side of administration after it chose not to consult with council, he is signalling his loyalty is not with the people he was elected to serve but to the people who are supposed to serve them.

Where is the Syrian family?
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

For almost a year, a group of volunteers has been working to bring a family of Syrian refugees to the city.

They have raised money, sent an application to the federal government, sent paperwork to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, secured housing, and now they wait. And wait and wait and wait.

The group - Yellowknife Welcomes Refugees Number One - have explained the Syrian family has jumped all the hoops to get here. The family's security screening is complete, their travel documentation is ready, they are only waiting for plane tickets. Group spokesperson Lindsay Armer suspects the delay is politics.

Because the issue has dropped off the public's radar somewhat, the federal government has stopped prioritizing these flights, leaving the family in limbo.

NWT MP Michael McLeod didn't bolster any confidence with his comments on the issue. Explaining that refugee cases are "complex," he assured Yellowknifer readers he doesn't doubt the Department of Citizenship and Immigration staff are working as fast as they can to process case files.

This response suggests McLeod didn't take the time to read the group's letter, which clearly states the case file has already been processed.

So, let's try this again: The community would appreciate it if McLeod would please look into why this family hasn't received plane tickets yet. Yellowknife is filled with kind, friendly people who are looking forward to giving them a warm welcome.

No time for asking!
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

While Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council president Elisapee Sheutiapik made some strong comments concerning Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo this past week, and shed some light on weak federal policy concerning the matter, it is mind boggling that the council board is divided on whether to go as far as "asking" for Tootoo's resignation.

This has nothing to do with the former federal fisheries minister's battle with alcohol.

Everyone should be behind Mr. Tootoo's efforts to lead a sober life and support him in any way possible.

This is about his "consensual" relationship with a junior staffer while minister, and how this type of behaviour among Northern male leaders has to stop.

It is heartbreaking to see how many of our male politicians, from the municipal to the territorial and federal levels, have run afoul of accepted behaviours concerning women while in power.

The gauntlet of shame includes inappropriate relationships, sexual, physical and mental abuse, and profane insults spoken in public.

All cultural sensitivity on second chances noted, but the pattern is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore.

At the risk of opening Pandora's Box and letting such terms as scapegoat and making an example of escape -- Qulliit should demand the resignation, not politely ask for it, let alone allow a few board members with ostrich syndrome to place the council squarely on the fence concerning the matter.

In fact, not only should the council be screaming long and loud for Tootoo's resignation, if we are to take the consensual relationship at face value, it should also be sending the junior staffer a loud, public, oral kick in the behind.

While Tootoo is deserving of the criticism surrounding his severe error in judgement (at the very least), the actions of the junior staffer (again taking consensual at face value) are the type that fuel sexism in the workplace.

As much as it may upset some readers, here in the real world, the tar from the brush of those who choose to carry on with their boss has a very bad habit of splattering everyone.

And while true at all stations, it rings especially true when said boss is in a position of great power.

The fallout of such workplace trysts is not, in any way, shape or form, confined to sexuality.

In fact, few workplace behaviours can unleash the torrent of emotions the boss-and-the-underling relationship is capable of and it almost always poisons the work environment.

Sheutiapik has, at least, kept the incident front and centre with the public and delayed the inevitable gone-and-forgotten process from taking hold, which will happen soon enough if more action isn't taken regarding the situation.

And for that she is to be commended.

However, we are bombarded with breaking-the-cycle messages when it comes to many behaviours society has deemed unacceptable, and the same must apply when it comes to viewing women as little more than potential sexual conquests by anyone, but, especially, right now, right here, among our Northern leaders.

Silence equates to inaction, and inaction equates to acceptance, so we can no longer simply ask for change!

Senator vs. the Mounties
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, August 29, 2016

What exactly has the RCMP done to verify information our senator says he has about the death of Billy Cholo, found dead in a gazebo outside the Fort Simpson health centre more than two years ago?

The fact that we have to ask this question is becoming an exercise in the absurd.

Sen. Nick Sibbeston unleashed a bombshell last month while speaking at the Dene National Assembly, when he complained that RCMP have not followed up on a tip from a friend who says he knows the name of a man who had threatened to kill Cholo shortly before his death.

RCMP Chief Supt. Ron Smith, who was at this year's Dene National Assembly, said he would get Sibbeston in contact with an officer who could provide more information about the investigation.

RCMP then declined an interview from News/North about the case but Staff Sgt. Bruce McGregor stated in an e-mail that the major crimes unit was following up on Sibbeston's remarks.

However, on Aug. 10, another media outlet ran a story which seemed to discredit the senator.

"This information that he has provided was followed up well in advance of Senator Sibbeston raising these concerns at the Dene Assembly in Fort Simpson," RCMP Insp. Peter Pilgrim, who head's up RCMP's south district of the NWT while based out of

Yellowknife, was quoted as saying.

When News/North attempted to confirm what Pilgrim had said, RCMP declined to comment, except to say, "Insp. Pilgrim has been in contact with Sen. Sibbeston," which really doesn't explain anything about what was said or when.

Sibbeston, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns.

He declined a phone interview with News/North late last week but did state in an e-mail: "RCMP have not interviewed the person who was told by Billy that he was told by an individual that he would be killed. I stand by my statement and it's now up to the RCMP to confirm or deny it."

He confirmed he had communicated with Insp. Pilgrim but nothing was stated "that has resolved the issue."

One thing is certain: Cholo, a 45-year-old avid outdoorsman from Fort Simpson, is dead.

As News/North reported at the time, Cholo was reported missing in December 2013. His remains were found by an RCMP officer on Jan. 9, 2014. His death was ruled a homicide following an autopsy.

The other certainty is that the RCMP's public reaction to Sibbeston's concerns - a sitting senator, lawyer and former government leader of the NWT who has no reason to lie - has been deeply unsatisfying.

And confusing.

It is perfectly understandable that there are many details police cannot divulge during an open homicide investigation but the clarity needed here is not regarding potential evidence. It's whether the police have done their jobs following up on a potential tip that could crack the case.

RCMP at present may very well be patiently building a case that results in charges but they don't help their cause by blowing off people who are trying to help on one hand and then refuse to confirm their response to criticisms to other media.

People need to have trust in the RCMP. Citizens need to feel safe and secure in their understanding that if they provide a tip on an investigation - especially into a homicide - it will be followed up on.

The territorial government pays good money for the services of the RCMP. While it isn't the role of any elected official to get involved in any particular investigation, it's time Cholo's family, the community of Fort Simpson and the taxpayers of the entire territory get some clear answers in this communications breakdown.

It's time for Justice Minister Louis Sebert to demand clarity in this matter. The public has the right to know.

No shortage of opportunities for training and education
Nunavut/News North - Monday, August 29, 2016

A 14-week work readiness training program specifically for people on social assistance is being offered in partnership with Nunavut Arctic College at no cost to students starting Sept. 12.

Aimed at making people more self reliant, the program assists them in building self confidence, includes work experience, development of resume and interview skills, upgrading in literacy and an introduction to computers. The Getting Ready for Employment and Training program targets the approximately 8,400 Nunavummiut who receive social assistance payments every month.

Meanwhile, Nunavut Arctic College is offering a certificate course in aboriginal language revitalization. Running from mid-October to mid-May, the cost of tuition, travel and accommodation is covered for participants.

On another front, five Iqaluit high school students are taking a five-day course in Toronto to learn about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, anti-bullying, stress management and more in the Bay Street Bootcamp.

The students work on a business plan, pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, then sell their idea to a panel of experts and an audience made up of their peers, parents and guests. The best business plans are awarded with scholarships and prizes.

These are just a few of the many opportunities available for young people who are looking at charting a successful path in life.

Students who get good marks in school, are involved in activities within their communities and have a desire to succeed have a wealth of options available to receive assistance.

Arviat student Shelby Angalik made headlines earlier this summer when she was named as one of 20 students from across Canada to win the TD Scholarship for outstanding achievements in community leadership. She will receive up to $80,000 to pursue a university education over four years.

At the same time, young Iqaluit mother Neoma Cox was just awarded the Qikiqtani Inuit Association's John Amagoalik Journalism Scholarship, worth $5,000, and plans to attend Arctic College's environmental technology program.

There is no shortage of assistance for Nunavummiut to expand their options. Programs are available with Polar Knowledge Canada, Students on Ice and Northern Youth Abroad. Many youth are involved with the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, the Junior Rangers program, sports groups, Girl Guides and other organizations.

Young Nunavummiut involved in business can have a large impact because every small business has the potential to become an employer, paying money that stays in the territory.

Many students who go south to further their education want to come back to Nunavut to share their skills and experience for the betterment of everyone in the territory.

Opportunities abound for those who want them. Sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find assistance in a specific area of interest.

However, it is proven that people who have the desire and determination to embark on a journey of personal development can find success.

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