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Homelessness help required
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 30, 2017
Dettah Chief Edward Sangris isn't happy about the recent problems on the Bullmoose-Ruth clean-up project.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief is calling for an indigenous oversight group to monitor ongoing work after an inspection report by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) was released stating its lead contractor failed to comply with the conditions of its land-use permit.

Bullmoose-Ruth is a government project to remediate seven former mine sites 60 to 90 kilometres east of Yellowknife. Rowe's Outcome, a joint venture from Hay River, was awarded the contract back in late 2015 after submitting a winning bid of $14.9 million, which INAC said at the time was "less than anticipated." The company also promised it could complete the work a year ahead of its competitors.

The issues listed in the May inspection report include improper storage of fuel drums, equipment leaking fluids without drip trays, creation of an unauthorized quarry, a truck burnt in an unreported fire and a "very large" hydrocarbon spill near the Spectrum Lake shoreline.

None of this looks good for the government, which endured intense skepticism last fall about its ability to protect the land while opening up a winter road to access the mines.

Sangris, one of the skeptics, must feel like he is perpetually sitting on a bruise. He has spoken to Yellowknifer several times about his concerns relating to the Bullmoose-Ruth project - with worries over the winter road construction and lack of consultation with indigenous groups.

To the government's credit, it has demonstrated a commitment over the years to clean up abandoned mine sites and other eyesores and environmental messes. This has led to other issues in some cases, such as its decision to bulldoze a landing strip at the former Salmita Mine, as reported in today's Yellowknifer. More on that in a later edition.

But for the government to fulfill its commitment, it will necessarily need to open up winter roads to access these sites. This inevitably leads to increased traffic - at least for a few years - by recreational users such ice fishers and hunters.

This scenario was all very apparent when the federal government was remediating Discovery Mine north of Prosperous Lake several years ago.

To its credit, INAC did the right thing after releasing its inspection report: it took responsibility, ordered the contractor to fix the issues quickly and agreed to increase its oversight. That the issues were picked up and publicly reported in the first place also show its monitoring and inspection system is working as intended.

Everybody knows what the problem is now and everyone can consider the issues and provide suggestions to avoid these problems in the future.

The department's mistake was not involving Yellowknives Dene more closely from the beginning.

Given the project is on Yellowknives Chief Drygeese territory, their traditional land, it makes sense that the First Nation should have a significant say over how the area is cleaned up.

A couple of community meetings don't provide that. Working with an indigenous oversight group would go a long to building trust in these types of projects and make sure they are done properly in the first place.

Of course Nihtat wants self-government
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nationalism versus globalism has taken centre stage in international politics the last few years.

But the debate isn't new or limited to entities the size of countries.

The Nihtat Gwich'in Council, which represents Gwich'in in the Inuvik region, appears to want its own self-government agreement separate from the Gwich'in Tribal Council, the territorial body for Gwich'in.

Desire for the most local government is only natural.

If all funding levels were the same, who knows Inuvik better and can care for its citizens more closely, the Town of Inuvik, the Government of the Northwest Territories or the Government of Canada?

The more local the government, the more accountable it is, the more it can tailor its actions to people's needs and the more connected to its citizens it will be.

This idea can be pursued right to its logical end: that the most local government is the one of individual over himself. No one can know better what's right for the individual than the individual.

That doesn't mean the individual is flawless in her decision making but she is the only one who can know her heart and is entirely responsible for her actions and any repercussions they may bring.

The more distant the government becomes, the less responsible the actors are for mistakes and the more blurred their perspective is.

You can have the smartest technocrats in the world but if they're not responsible for their actions, they're working with bad information.

For Nihtat Gwich'in, the debate is whether to take complete control over their own affairs or subject their power to a regional body.

It might not always be a simple decision to go more local.

Perhaps there are benefits in letting the established GTC lead self-government.

That organization has built up its infrastructure to take on the task, and it might just be less of a headache to let the larger authority take control.

We're not talking the International Gwich'in Union here - the GTC would preside over a fairly localized territory already.

What makes sense for the Nihtat may not for the Gwich'ya in Tsiigehtchic.

A designated Gwich'in organization taking self-government into its own hands doesn't mean it is adversarial with the tribal council.

Organizations with different levels of authority and jurisdiction coexist happily all over the country.

The only way it could turn adversarial is if it gains the air of a power struggle.

Even if it does, that's only healthy. These are big decisions being made.

Those who roll over when action is needed deserve their fate.

Good on housing minister Cochrane
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne is correct when he says it's important to get the implementation of new laws right.

There is no doubt the new Mental Health Act, passed in October 2015, is complicated legislation. As Health and Social Services staff tell Yellowknifer, the work includes preparation of regulations to go along with the new law; development of new forms and documents; creation of a review board to hear concerns of individuals held involuntarily; and staff training on the new law.

Previously, Health Minister Glen Abernethy said he hoped it would come into force in January of this year. It's reasonable to think he may have underestimated the amount of work it will actually take to properly implement. That said, 21 months have now passed with no new timeline. As more months pass by, the line between meticulousness and lethargy gets thinner and thinner.

Yellowknifer asked to interview Abernethy and a member of the staff working to implement the act in order to better discern what work the health department is actually doing. Abernethy did not make himself available and the department did not grant an interview. Instead, Yellowknifer received a canned statement assuring residents the department has "achieved substantial progress" with vague mention of the finalization of regulations, training of staff and drafting of forms.

Unfortunately, the department offered no substantial details to back up the substantial progress touted. Why won't the minister speak to Yellowknifer on this issue? Is he embarrassed by the delay? If he is, he needs to move past that and start holding his department's feet to the fire. Same for Vanthuyne. He is in a position where he can ask questions and apply pressure to cabinet on this issue. Instead, he is being very generous in giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Sure, the department needs to get it right but this work also needs to get done. Because every day, every month, every year that passes, the more people continue to suffer under outdated mental-health legislation.

Timing is right for Airbnb tax
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two simultaneous things are happening between the city and territorial government.

While the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs works to update legislation to allow the city to implement a hotel levy, the city is reviewing its business bylaw to allow for the regulation of unlicensed accommodation rentals such as Airbnb.

Airbnb allows anybody to create an account and post spaces for rent, kind of like a hotel room. People can peruse listings for any city or area to find accommodation. There are currently 92 rentals available in Yellowknife, according to the Airbnb website.

The city is reviewing its business bylaw in response to business owners in the city who feel as though companies such as Airbnb create an unfair playing field by circumventing business licence fees, inspections and regulations. Meanwhile, the territorial government is just starting to look into updating legislation to allow the city to charge a hotel tax.

It seems like now is the perfect time for both levels of government to be aware of what the other is doing, and make sure Airbnb and similar unlicensed rental sites are included in the new territorial legislation.

To Kivalliq with love
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

For most of my time in the Kivalliq, I've taken my late Dad's advice in trying to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut.

There was so much to learn and absorb, but, in most cases, I grew to understand why some things worked and some didn't.

Understanding is a big thing with me.

It's not enough to know and apply the formula. I am driven to understand how the formula works.

I was driven batty for the longest while trying to understand how an audio CD sent to me from Liverpool, England, would often be in my hands in a week, while a package sent from the Maritime provinces, right here in my own country, would take between two to three weeks to find me.

That led to many hours of reading about, and getting a grasp on, different postal systems, and the effects of privatization, outside contractors, unions, etc., to understand why some systems are inherently better than others.

There are some things about calling Kivalliq home that simply defy logic, and to dwell on them is a recipe for disaster.

Prices, of course, top the list. For a small population base in the big picture, those who set our prices did such an outstanding job of holding us for ransom, that retailers across the country began to take notice.

I still take it personally when I see advertisements for free shipping anywhere in Canada, and then I'm told somehow we slipped outside the Canadian borders overnight.

You learn to deal with companies that, once they realize you're not about to hop into your vehicle and go to their physical location to complain, have a quick drop in customer service.

Then there are the ones that don't have a clue where we live.

After paying a ridiculous amount of money to have new speakers express delivered in an attempt to beat any confrontation between them and -40 C temperatures, I will never, until the day I die, forget the FedEx employee who was ready to swear on a Bible that their truck had been to my home twice that day attempting delivery.

Nor will I forget one year when I had to prove I actually live in Rankin Inlet (you're all aware of that notification, I'm sure), and, while speaking to a representative in Newfoundland, I was asked how did he know I didn't commute to Rankin. Can you imagine?

I can get annoyed, at times, when there's a certain hockey game I want to watch and then, much to my chagrin, I find out I don't actually live in any region of Canada. Access denied!

The only time I completely fell into the trap, and almost drove myself bonkers through frustration, was during the first few years of the program to end all programs, Nutrition North.

My gosh, I'd be listening to someone toeing the party line, defending the program, and telling me it was working exactly as intended, when, suddenly, it would hit me right between the eyes that these people are running the country. Our country! And they dress so sharp, too.

At least now, every time the feds throw millions more at it, it's great fun to think back upon the fact that Canada Post preparing to raise its rates to deliver the old Food Mail program was one of the catalysts behind Nutrition North. That, and some guy bragging about how he shipped his new tires up under the Food Mail program. If I heard a Tory politician tell that story one more time ...

There are still times you have to bite your lip so hard, that you almost draw blood.

Companies up here don't worry about PR because, being almost all monopolies or oligopolies, they don't have to.

Still, while your hand shakes holding the Visa that's about to be dinged two grand for your flight to Winnipeg •„ and one of the suits with the airline you're flying on is saying publicly they won't even miss the $10-million annual contract they just lost •„ you tend to swallow hard, if your mouth isn't totally dry with the realization that the fish on the hook is you!

And yet, at the end of the day, there's still nowhere else I'd rather be. Go figure!

The more you learn the more you earn
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, June 26, 2017

The last two editions of News/North have featured inspiring stories about perseverance and hope.

It's graduation season in the NWT - a time to celebrate the accomplishments of youth who now hold the key to a better life with their high school diploma. You can see the pride in the faces of grads in our annual "Congratulations Graduates" special section that is included with this week's News/North.

As reported in News/North ("'We are strong aboriginal people'," June 12), graduation in a community such as Inuvik comes with a special level of recognition for student achievement.

"The majority of us are aboriginal graduates," said Jackson Christie, valedictorian for East Three Secondary School's 2017 class, said on June 3. "The aboriginal rate of people graduating in Canada is just over 40 per cent. We beat those odds."

He called his class the indigenous future of Canada.

"We are strong aboriginal people," said Christie. "We have challenged each other to succeed."

Christie correctly stated that those graduates who stay in Inuvik will become the backbone of the community in the future. Twenty-three students graduated this year from East Three. There were 17 last year.

In Behchoko, Jamie Wetrade-Stevenson and Noelene Nitsiza had one message for fellow graduates and students at Chief Jimmy Bruneau School during their valedictory speeches - never give up.

Wetrade-Stevenson, 18, moved to Yellowknife from Behchoko last year to complete her final year of high school ('Two valedictorians have one message'," News/North June 19). Struggling there she decided to return to study in Behchoko.

"I wanted other people to know that you can fail a whole semester and still be able to graduate on time," Wetrade-Stevenson said in late May. "You could go through one of the toughest moments of your life and still come out to where you want to be."

She said she hopes overcoming her difficulties will inspire others to do the same.

Statistics paint a bleak picture of high-school graduation rates for indigenous students compared to non-aboriginal pupils.

GNWT figures from November 2016 show the overall average graduation rate in the territory at 67 per cent. But that's bolstered by Yellowknife, where graduation rates are more than 80 per cent, and the regional centres, just under 80 per cent. In the smaller mainly indigenous communities the graduation rate is around 43 per cent.

Graduation rates in the NWT are consistently lower than the rest of Canada. The Conference Board of Canada has noted the situation needs to be placed in context, as people in smaller, more remote communities face hurdles such as: language, family and community support, traditional economic roles, infrastructure and governance.

The board has noted deficits in infrastructure such as all-season roads, energy distribution, and a lack of good Internet connectivity combine to "impede the delivery of education services to remote Northern communities."

Many people are still needed to engage in traditional hunting, trapping and fishing at home to help their families. Moreover, the conference board stated almost a third of indigenous children and youth in the North do not count English as their first language.

Despite all of the roadblocks some youth face, every year you will read stories in News/North about those who manage to make it.

They deserve to be heralded as modern-day trailbreakers for their families and communities. They have avoided the many pitfalls that have sidetracked many of their friends. They have seen what kind of bright future comes with even a high-school diploma.

And if they pursue a college diploma or a university degree and stay in, or return to, the North, statistics show they will earn more than their non-aboriginal counterparts with the same education.

If that means indigenous youth in the North are getting their just rewards after overcoming struggles not imaginable to non-aboriginal students in the south, then it's about time.

Gun crime stats a wake-up call
Nunavut/News North - Monday, June 26, 2017

Nunavut has a problem with firearms. Since 2012, the RCMP and the territory has been involved in a firearm safety blitz, which included town hall meetings, a gun safety video, distribution of military-issued storage lockers to Canadian Rangers, and a give-away of an estimated 11,000 trigger locks, one for every firearm in Nunavut.

RCMP went door-to-door in 10 communities to talk about gun safety and hand out the locks. And in the legislative assembly earlier this month, Health Minister George Hickes stated the government of Nunavut has contributed $180,000 towards the trigger locks initiative.

When the program started in 2012, the RCMP dealt with gun-related calls about once every four days. In 2016, the RCMP responded to more than 200 calls for service where a firearm was a factor -- about one call every 1.7 days.

Those figures are alarming, and gun owners in Nunavut should be alarmed. Rifles are necessary tools in the North for hunting and predator defence-- something most southerners will never understand.

People down south never have to endure watching their money melt away like butter after just one grocery shopping trip in an Arctic community.

The need to hunt to put food on the table means Nunavummiut need guns but the rates of gun-related crime should be a wake-up call for gun owners. There might be no practical way in the North to manage gun ownership but Nunavummiut can manage gun culture.

Gun owners need to take personal responsibility to ensure their firearms are as safe as possible. Education is key, and needs to start young - in the classroom and at home, stressing that guns aren't toys, or a cool prop for taking selfies. They are tools but dangerous tools that need to be handled with respect.

All Nunavummiut need to actively engage in what creates gun tragedies: seven per cent of Nunavut's calls to police relate to mental health, according to RCMP statistics. The territory needs to do a better job at addressing people's mental health, before they reach for a firearm to hurt themselves or someone else. That means increasing services and working together to combat the stigma that keeps many people from accessing mental health resources.

Hopefully the latest statistics will sink home the reality that Nunavut has a gun problem that affects everybody, and everybody should do their part to correct it.

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