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Dawdling puts lives at risk
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 28, 2017
A small detail left out of the coroner's report into the death of 19-year-old Timothy Henderson in April 2015 is the fact that he tried to commit suicide after checking himself into Stanton Territorial Hospital.

And then, within a couple days, the hospital released him. No one was called, according to his father, even though Henderson had made several previous attempts on his life and had admitted to family members that he often thought about harming himself.

One of the biggest complaints from Henderson's family is that it is almost impossible to get continuous mental health care under the current system. Privacy issues and dependency on locum doctors for staffing physicians means only a small facet of a patient's history is available to health-care professionals. They say Henderson experienced these shortcomings first-hand, first when transferring from pediatric to adult care and a second time when he moved to study in Alberta.

This is the problem as it currently exists in the Northwest Territories. Loved ones of people expressing suicidal thoughts have little recourse if the person is 18 years or older. The maximum amount of time health professionals can hold a person under the existing Mental Health Act is 48 hours.

Changes to the legislation sailed through the legislative assembly

with solemn fanfare after Henderson's death. The revamped Mental Health Act would allow physicians to hold persons suffering mental health issues for up to 30 days, or longer if necessary. The new law would also allow persons receiving treatment to be discharged but remain under supervision. They can be detained should they stop treatment.

But 22 months later the legislation still hasn't been implemented. Health Minister Glen Abernethy had said the law would be implemented by last January. An e-mail to Yellowknifer yesterday from the Department of Health and Social Services insists progress has been made but "a great deal of work is still needed" before the new legislation can come into force.

The work remaining includes: the establishment of a Mental Health Act review board; finish drafting of regulations; develop and produce new forms; develop and deliver training for staff, practitioners and review board members.

That's a pretty long list. No doubt this is a difficult business but why does it take two years to draft regulations when it only took five months for the legislation to get through the legislative assembly? MLAs must be wondering this themselves.

Lives are literally on the line. The GNWT needs to get on with it.

Yellowknifers definitely give a damn
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, July 28, 2017

According to a 2010 survey by Statistics Canada, 13.3 million Canadians over 15– about 47 per cent of the population -- volunteered their time for a good cause.

About 89 per cent of those people were involved in fundraising or organizing events. On top of that, another 84 per cent of Canadians donated money, to the tune of about $470 on average each year.

Alas, the Northwest Territories isn't pulling its do-gooder weight, according to the survey.

The NWT tied with Quebec for the lowest rate of volunteering, at 37 per cent.

The latest version of the survey, from 2013, didn't even bother to include the NWT but total volunteers across the country only dropped by three per cent, so chances are the NWT still wasn't winning any statistical prizes.

However, as Yellowknifer has stated before, this simply doesn't jive with what's happening here on the ground. Just ask the YWCA GirlSpace. The group received a donation of more than $18,000 earlier this month, the product of the first 100 Women Who Give a Damn event. Actually, it's more like 131 Women Who Give A Damn, as that's how many descended on the Top Knight to each donate $100 to a good cause. More donations kept pouring in after press time from even more women willing to give. Modeled after the men's group of the same name, the group will meet four times a year to donate to a local charity or non-profit.

Besides 100 Women Who Give A Damn, Pay it Forward NWT celebrated five years of giving back this week but not before organizer Renee Sanderson capped off the latest initiative, 21 birthdays in a backpack kids so every child will get a chance to celebrate. Whether it's writing a cheque or volunteering their time to make massive events, such as Folk on the Rocks or Long John Jamboree happen, Yellowknifers are there in droves, fueled by coffee and a deep-seated love of T-shirts with the word 'volunteer' on them.

Maybe it's about time Statistics Canada figured that out.

Somebody do something
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, July 27, 2017

Inuvik is one of the best places I've ever lived, and it's not just nice for a Northern town. It's remote but still classically Canadian, a little bit Wild West and extremely friendly.

The only problem is the economy.

I walk around town and wonder, what's someone supposed to do here? What jobs are there? What opportunities do they have if they stay?

Maybe they could get one of the trades jobs or a government position but this town's not screaming opportunity.

I wasn't here when Inuvik was bustling. I can't quite understand why leadership seems so blasé about its current state.

Town council rarely seems in a rush to do anything. They talk about writing letters to various government ministers concerning issues affecting town, but seem slow to follow through, hoping they can bring them up next time the minister is in town

"House is burning down. I'll bring it up when I see the fire chief at the café next week."

This place is on its way to becoming a ghost town if something doesn't change.

Only the government can prop up a place like this when there's no natural economy. That's hardly a sustainable long-term plan but in a situation like this, perhaps the GNWT should consider giving the region a shot of life.

It would be a net loss, as all government spending is, but Northern Canada is in a unique situation with regard to usual economic principles. If the territorial and federal governments want the North to stay populated and active, they need to step in when resources dry up.

Canada as a whole hardly needs a lift in the way the North does but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn't have a problem cranking the printing press of fresh dollar bills in an attempt to stimulate the nation.

If anyone in Canada needs a shot in the arm, it's the North.

Though centralizing to Yellowknife may be efficient for the GNWT, perhaps government structure should be reconsidered and the focus should shift to breathing life into the communities.

Money has got to come here one way or another. Inuvik could regain some economic ground by becoming a true regional hub for the GNWT.

Arguably, the historic Dempster Highway access, unique geographical position and vast swaths of open land make this region more attractive to tourists than Yellowknife. As the Town of Inuvik's new tourism site states, Inuvik is truly Arctic. It is at once remote and accessible, mysterious and familiar, unique and Canadian.

Rather than the territory be Yellowknife and the rest, Inuvik should become a bigger player in the North and a focus of government investment.

Ultimately, economics trumps all. You can have the most beautiful piece of land in the world but if no one can afford living there, no one will if they don't have to.

The community puts a lot of focus into nurturing its youth but without opportunities all that investment is going to head south after they graduate.

Ready or not ...
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The territorial government is about to set out on a busy few months. Ahead of the July 2018 date for marijuana legalization, the Department of Justice has posted a survey to collect public opinion on what legal marijuana should look like in the territory.

Questions include: Should the minimum age be older than 18? Should people be allowed to possess 30 grams or should that number be lowered? Where should it be sold? Should communities have the power to become smokeless, mirroring liquor legislation that allows for dry communities?

As of last week, a whopping 686 people had responded to the survey, showing there is a very high public interest in the issue. This is great but it's hard to imagine it being a surprise. Legal marijuana is going to change society in a number of ways - it's going to change the criminal justice system, the economy, health, policing and education.

People who plan to partake will want ease of access. Others worry about keeping it out of the hands of youth. On top of the immense public interest, creating new legislation with so many facets is going to be complicated - and the government is going to have to do this in a very small amount of time.

The survey is going to be online until Sept. 22. In the fall, the territorial government is going on a tour of nine communities to collect public input in person.

Then, government staff will metabolize all of this data into a report, which deputy justice minister Mark Aitken hopes will be translated into legislation by the first sitting of assembly next year -- Feb. 7. This gives the government a four-month window to translate government research and hundreds of voices worth of public input into a report and flip that report into legislation, not counting a two-week break for Donny Days in December. To this Yellowknifer says, good luck with that.

It's logical to think a little bit of proactive work in spring would have loosened this tight timeline a bit.

As it is now, the territorial government seems as though it is definitely behind the eight-ball. Hopefully those who make up the marijuana working group are ready to roll their sleeves up and get to work on legislation that will portend a major change in society.

One piece of a big puzzle
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Last week, Health Minister Glen Abernethy told Yellowknifer if he had a magic wand, he would wave it to offer better care for mental-health and addictions problems in the territory.

When it comes to these problems, which lie at the root of the city's homelessness problem, we all agree. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a magic wand the government could wave to eradicate homelessness?

Unfortunately, there is no one solution to homelessness - there are many small solutions that need to work in concert over a long period of time.

Yellowknife got one of those small solutions last week with the opening of the city's sobering centre.

The accommodations are Spartan - visitors occupy a thin foam mattress in half a tent with a dividing screen. But visitors get a medical examination, a clean and safe place to sleep, a small, healthy breakfast and a ride to the Safe Harbour Day Shelter in the morning if they need.

For people who up until now had no options at the end of a night, this is a critical facet of immediate emergency care many of the city's vulnerable population need.

It's wonderful to see the sobering centre open. Every project the government follows through on as part of the all-encompassing homeless plan is a small step leading toward what will hopefully be a huge leap in quality of life for all of us but especially for the city's most vulnerable residents.

No stereotypes allowed
Editorial Comment by April Hudson
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

As seven girls in Rankin Inlet worked to develop music videos this week, their true objective was deeper and much more important: creating a space where they could see themselves reflected back.

It is no secret that there is an appalling lack of indigenous faces in media. Advertising and other forms of media play an undeniable role in how people see themselves and others, yet the people represented often belong to a very narrow and specific group.

That is why it is so inspiring to see young indigenous people embracing their own forms of representation.

Over the course of two evenings, these girls were able to create a mirror of how they view themselves and their community.

They drew and took pictures of the things that are important to them as individuals and compiled these images into short videos of various lengths, punctuated with music.

The videos involved experiences you might not see represented elsewhere: candid photos of friends and family members laughing and dancing; the unfiltered and unedited beauty of Northern landscapes; in some cases, music written and performed by themselves, for themselves.

Who needs anything else?

The instructor for the music camp, Cassidy Glennie, told me the project was about challenging stereotypes in a media world populated primarily by people with pale skin.

This group accomplished that by aiming to show what life in the North is really like on a very personal level - no stereotypes allowed.

The unfortunate part of this, of course, is that all of the girls who took part in the camp knew of stereotypes that exist, many of them negative. That alone shows how prevalent - and often damaging - such preconceived notions can be.

Thankfully, the opposite of stereotypes is individuals. That's what the videos showed, fearlessly and on-key (although occasionally a little off-key): individuality in spades.

Despite some shyness, these girls shared their videos - parts of which may have been deeply personal and closely held visions of themselves - with each other, their parents and with me. Each one was perfect in its own way.

Embracing individuality can be difficult at any age, let alone when you are young. It requires a level of confidence that may be hard to muster for many people. But it's inevitably a good thing, in the end, as it can help to raise self-esteem.

We should all take the time to celebrate the things that make us unique. But we need to start celebrating the things that make other people unique as well. The differences that set us apart can also bring us together.

It would be nice to be able to wave a wand and have all people everywhere represented in media. While I'm wishing, it would also be nice if that magic wand could make all negative stereotypes disappear.

In the meantime, we need more girls like these seven to throw away the stereotypes they see and hear, and instead take photos, draw and dance to the beat of their own drum.

Drinking ourselves to death
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, July 24, 2017

While the fight against fentanyl and opiods - along with the impending legalization of marijuana - have been grabbing all the headlines lately, the old standby booze has just made a comeback in the news cycle.

A new study states hospitalizations caused by heavy drinking were higher in the NWT than the rest of Canada in 2015 and 2016. To have an alcohol addiction that sends someone to hospital is very serious and very sad.

Both for the person involved, their families and friends, and society as a whole. Not to mention the burden placed on the health-care system.

Since booze is legal and widely available in many communities in the territory - and bootlegged into some that have restrictions or outright bans - it must be considered the most abundant gateway drug around.

As you can read in today's News/North, ("Hospitalization caused by heavy drinking highest in the territory"), the Canadian Institute for Health released the report, called Alcohol Harm in Canada, last month. It states there were 475 related hospitalizations in the territory in 2015 and 2016.

By population, this translates to 1,315 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents - more than five times the national average.

Why this is the case? What can be done to help people who are literally drinking themselves into the hospital and likely toward an early death?

This is not social drinking. This is not even weekend binge drinking. This is daily self-torture with beer, liquor and wine.

Well, it isn't always as simple as just taking away the booze. While dry communities do well by insulating themselves from the problem, the wolves are literally at the door for any residents who leave either to travel or for (non-booze related) medical trips into Yellowknife.

It's about a lot more than just putting the plug in the jug. It's about giving people hope.

Many of these chronic drinkers start at a very early age. Either because alcoholism is rampant in their families, or they fall in with the wrong crowd at school.

If young people hope - you know, a reason to get up in the morning and be productive and have interesting things to do during the day - they will really will have no reason to seek escape into another dimension by abusing booze.

Many families are still struggling with the effects of colonization and the residential-school system.

More effective opportunities and alternatives must be developed and funded. Counselling, on-the-land programs, education and employment opportunities (yes, more government jobs).

And something the GNWT has shown resistance to establish - a NWT residential treatment centre, with trained local staff who can relate to the clients.

Another interesting idea that has emerged over the past year is the National Indigenous Guardians Network, which would provide jobs for people to be out on the land. The GNWT appears to be in favour of working with the feds to start such a program.

News/North just hopes it won't take too long to become a reality.

While that won't be a magic bullet to solve the addictions issues facing the NWT, it could be a good start.

A job working on the land could be a life-changing alternative for many, who might otherwise have sought solace in the bottom of a bottle.

Gun safety efforts are not enough
Nunavut/News North - Monday, July 24, 2017

Summer is a great time to relax but it's not a time to relax our gun safety standards. A rash of incidents involving reckless use of firearms -which saw people injured in several Nunavut communities -shows the importance of being vigilant about gun safety.

Accidents happen. Police say it was an accident that a five-year-old Whale Cove child fired a hunting rifle left out after a hunting trip last month, an incident that left three with injuries. It was also an accident when a 14-year-old shot a 11-year-old in the stomach in Arviat.

They may be considered accidents but they're still hard to accept.

It's even harder to accept when firearms are shot off in a community with no regard for public safety. Or when those whose state of mind renders their use of a weapon unsafe for themselves or others. We hear too often of armed standoffs, and of suicides by cop.

It seems the only way to stop the reckless use of firearms - under the current RCMP plan- is to lock up the guns, and the Nunavut government has given the money to get a lock on every gun in the territory. Storing in communal gun lockers might help, too, as Justice Paul Bychok suggests.

But it's clear the RCMP is failing to achieve its goals.

Gun locks are effective but only for the people who choose to use them. Gun lockers are effective but only for those who keep their guns there.

As of May, the RCMP had visited 10 Nunavut communities to distribute gun locks. This is the fulfilment of a program launched in 2012. Why has it taken five years to visit 10 communities?

It's hard to take the plan seriously if the RCMP itself isn't making a more concerted effort. The RCMP must realize the poor optics. The territory's chief firearms officer's views on gun safety efforts are not easy to ascertain, unfortunately, because the RCMP told this newspaper she wouldn't grant an interview.

We'd like to renew our call for increased efforts to recruit Inuit, which would increase the level of trust between police and residents. A return of the special constables program would be a step in the right direction.

But perhaps it's time to go a step further, and call for the creation of a territorial police force.

This year Nunavut celebrates 18 years as a territory. Isn't it time to consider an alternative to the police force many consider a colonial imposition?

The territory is already footing the bill for policing, so the members of this new force should be Nunavut residents, not a revolving door of southerners who have no choice but to leave to their next assignment.

A Nunavut police force won't solve every problem butit's time to consider the benefits of a home-grown police force designed to protect its own people.

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