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Another chance for change this fall
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, August 21, 2017

Indigenous people are the future of the NWT. The process that began with the devolution of governing powers from Ottawa in the 1970s will continue until the sound and fury of colonization fades into the history books of this Indigenous majority jurisdiction.

There is no doubt that European settlers' callous disregard for the Indigenous people they encountered has slashed deep wounds in the body and minds of generations of people. But when will it be time for the scales of social justice to be balanced?

Many believe today's children could indeed be the first generation that has a fighting chance to grow up taking advantage of all the tools laid at their feet to build a successful life for themselves. How will they do this?

Education is the key. Not just from the lessons learned in classrooms but the help being provided to young children before they can even read or write. Despite all the problems rolling it out, this is the praiseworthy goal of the GNWT's junior kindergarten program coming to all communities that have a school this fall.

In October 2013, the territorial government issued another one of its glossy, colorful and long-winded reports, this one entitled NWT Education Renewal and Innovation Framework: Directions for Change.

Among the 66 pages of dense verbiage were some shiny nuggets of insight into the state of the struggling education system and some direction for the future.

The report explained there are "disturbing differences across the territory between small and larger schools," and that the territory struggles in comparison to the rest of Canada. "This data points to a very strong link between low academic achievement and poverty."

As part of a vicious cycle, poverty produces children who might not have enjoyed a happy time in the womb, don't get adequate sleep or nutrition and have less-than-positive role models around them. This sets them up to struggle at school, fail to get a good education - or don't even graduate high school - and they end up in the same type of impoverished lifestyle as they experienced.

In last week's News/North, ("Less gossip, more action needed"), Gwich'in Tribal Council president Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, president of the council, said many youth today seem to show little ambition to achieve.

In that story, she relayed hearing from high-school students about their desire to live on income assistance as an adult. She said the lure of welfare seems stronger and doesn't carry the same stigma she remembers from her elders.

"The mentality it's not looked at as a last-resort thing anymore," said Greenland-Morgan. "For some, it's almost looked at as the government owes it to me. It's free money."

Indigenous organizations with straight-talking leadership such as the one that represents Gwich'in beneficiaries in the Mackenzie-Delta will play a key role in changing the life view held by some of today's youth.

There are jobs to be had - it's sad and unnecessary the GNWT must boost immigration to satisfy workforce needs - and leaders that are needed. There is no such thing as "free money" - it's called welfare and is a social safety net - as that kind of attitude not only hinders personal growth and achievement but hobbles entire communities and the NWT as a whole.

In that 2013 education renewal framework, then-education, culture and employment minister Jackson Lafferty stated: "I believe in years to come we will look back at this moment, with its combination of strategic initiatives, and see it as a turning point in the success of our youth and our territory."

We hope Lafferty's words do come true. We hope students entering school this fall can find success and not only help all of us head into the future, but also tend to previous generations still wracked from the effects of colonization.

Biases show systemic failures
Nunavut/News North - Monday, August 21, 2017

As we reflect on the results of recent coroner's jury inquests in Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet, our hearts go out to the families of the Inuit men - Paul Kayuryuk and Victor Kaludjak - who died while in the hands of police and medical professionals because they appeared drunk, despite being in medical distress.

The people who fought in vain to get these men the care they needed are hoping to see systemic changes, and they can't come soon enough.

These incidents occurred in 2012 and 2013, yet we can expect more questions after similar recent incidents across the North. Our sister publication in the NWT has told the story of a man who died in Aklavik in 2016 after being dismissed as drunk when visiting the local health centre with a stroke. This week, a media outlet reported that a Gitxsan First Nation man in northern B.C. suffering a stroke had to attend hospital four times before being taken seriously.

In each case, an Indigenous man of a certain age was withheld proper care from people in power, from people in positions of public trust. We give police and doctors the power to make life or death decisions, and in each case, however unintentionally, they chose death without just cause.

Unfortunately these are not the only cases, as affirmed in the case of baby Makibi in Cape Dorset, who was also sent home despite being in medical distress.

How is this happening?

It's not much of a mystery. Far too many doctors, nurses, police and other non-Inuit professionals make an assumption that their main clientele - Inuit and other Indigenous citizens - are drunk by default.

But anyone who has taken a basic first aid course knows that the signs of a stroke or diabetic episode often resemble alcohol use, and that it is better to err on the side of stopping a medical emergency. Throwing someone in a jail cell is not the right approach.

Recognizing that the North is a place where new doctors and police come to cut their teeth, those in positions of hiring need to be more vigilant about providing better training in first aid, care, and cultural competency.

Unfortunately, we are a long way from achieving a fundamental level of Inuit representation in the ranks of Nunavut's doctors and police. And some of these people are here such a short time that there is no time to look past stereotypes, to become part of the community, to learn the language and the territory's culture or history.

Thankfully, a majority of medical professionals and police officers are trying to do their best, and many come here by choice. Make no mistake: it's the actions of the few that make Inuit distrust the system, police, and the medical profession.

Our advice to these professionals: fight to protect those coming to you for help. Give them the care deserving of your family, your friends, your neighbours. Open yourself to opportunities - such as the GN's cultural competency training - to broaden your horizons. Question your preconceptions, and those of your colleagues. Speak up in the face of racism.

If you're here to help, work to make sure we never need to talk about this again.

Answers needed in bail case
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 18, 2017
News that a Ndilo man has been charged with two additional sexual assaults after being granted bail on a previous sexual assault charge has raised questions about whether public safety is a priority when people facing this charge are released before trial.

In March, when RCMP arrested Peter Tsetta's arrest on charges of sexual assault and forcible confinement. He has previous convictions, spanning from petty to violent offences.

Despite opposition from the Crown prosecutor, Tsetta was released by Justice of the Peace Ruth McLean. It was while out on bail that he is alleged to have sexually assaulted two more women.

None of the charges have been proven in court but the situation certainly merits reflection.

Lyda Fuller, executive director of the YWCA, said she was "appalled" by his release and questions how the Department of Justice defines threats to public safety when a Justice of the Peace is assessing release conditions for a person charged with a sexual offence.

Adding to the uncertainty in this case is the RCMP's refusal to say whether a risk assessment on Tsetta was provided for his bail hearing.

Justices of the peace often preside over bail hearings in the Northwest Territories, as they do in many other jurisdictions, except in cases where the charge is murder. While they do receive training, justices of the peace do not typically have a legal background. A department spokesperson said there is "no set rule or guideline" for whether a justice of the peace or judge presides over a bail hearing as opposed to an actual judge.

Whatever the reasons Tsetta was granted bail - given the troubling charges that occurred afterwards - people are right to question whether sexual assault cases are treated seriously enough in the Northwest Territories.

Is it appropriate that bail hearings for such a serious charge be handled by the same court that dishes out fines for traffic tickets?

According to Statistics Canada, as of 2013, the rate of violence against women in the NWT is nine times the national rate. Statistics Canada found that there were 138 cases of sexual assault reported to the RCMP in 2016 -- but these numbers are far from accurate, as research shows that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes.

Status of Women Canada reports as many as one in three women will be sexually assaulted in Canada.

For Indigenous citizens, it gets worse. Status of Women found that sexual assaults account for one third of all violent crimes committed against Indigenous women, who are already more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence.

It's not good enough that Justice Minister Louis Sebert had no comment about Tsetta's case. The justice departments needs to do more than comment -- it needs to prove the system in place works to protect women.

An important step would be to educate the public on how bail works and to publicly examine whether there are any problems with it.

Someone you know, someone you care about, someone maybe sitting right next to you while you read this has been raped and has more than likely not reported it.

One of the main barriers to reporting is the fear that one will not be believed, or that there will be no justice served.

Confidence has been shaken. The justice department needs to take steps to restore it.

Flawed speakers present as honest role models
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 17, 2017

Clear in the opening keynotes at the Gwich'in Tribal Council's YOUth Matter conference this week in Inuvik was the acknowledgement of flawed pasts.

GTC vice-president Jordan Peterson, Inuvialuit Communications Society manager Dez Loreen and Those Kugs podcaster Terrance Allen all began their presentations talking about their struggles with alcohol and finding an identity they could be proud of.

Allen and Loreen discussed the importance of being grateful for the good things happening in life and not focusing on the bad.

It is natural to get into your own head without realizing everyone else is in theirs.

Everyone has experience being hyper-concerned with blemishes or embarrassments that friends, family and significant others don't even seem able to see.

What absolutely distresses one person in the mirror all morning doesn't even register to the people they meet throughout the day, who themselves are likely far more concerned about whatever they have going on in their lives.

Youth are in a particularly fragile time. Many don't yet have a sense of identity and they compare themselves closely with their peers, not wanting to be different from the crowd.

Few seem to get through their late teens and early 20s without fairly severe anxiety issues, challenges with depression, or struggling with personal pride and direction.

Perhaps not entirely, but to some degree the perfect lives people portray themselves living on social media can enhance this anxiety among young people, who see only the smiling pictures of their peers and not the moments of self-doubt between them.

The speakers and GTC president Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan mentioned the importance of being grateful to be alive.

That can be hard to get through to young people, but every second of life is truly a gift, and it can be snatched from us at any moment.

At the base of it, you're either dead or alive. If you're dead, there's nothing to think about anyway. If you're alive, might as well keep riding your one shot on the roller-coaster of life.

There's always room to recover and grow and work toward a better tomorrow so long as your heart is still beating.

It was refreshing to hear how blunt the speakers were at the youth conference this week. In any event like this, there can be the inclination to give more of a stock standard speech, rattling off the qualities of successful people and how to be leaders and whatnot.

But the speakers presented themselves as flawed people, and even as people who may have reached a good place now but are still in need of working on themselves as much as ever.

That can only be healthy for youth to hear as they struggle reconciling their image of themselves with their lofty expectations and dreams.

What a relief
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sometimes, all a person needs is a safe ride. Up until a few weeks ago, the response to public intoxication was blaring sirens and possibly a trip to RCMP cells or the emergency room.

Now, a discreet white van pulls up and out comes Lydia Bardak, safe-ride program co-ordinator, or one of her colleagues, to help these individuals determine whether they need a ride home, to a shelter or to the hospital.

In the first two weeks of operation, the city's new safe-ride program has picked up a staggering 300 people.

Unneeded ambulance rides and trips to RCMP cells are a waste of money and resources.

According to RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon, the police have already noticed the station's jail is less used since the safe rides started. Considering this positive development, there is definitely a good business case for the program.

Unfortunately, the city is going to have to come up with funding to extend it past Dec. 31, as the federal government declined to fund it into next year.

The safe-ride program hit the ground around the same time another innovative program opened its doors. The sobering centre is a bare-bones place for people who have been turned away from shelters to get some shut-eye. Visitors get a quick medical examination, semi-private sleeping space, a Spartan breakfast and a ride to the day shelter if needed in the morning.

These two programs are components of the comprehensive strategy to end homelessness in Yellowknife and are already making a difference.

Yellowknifer has long held that leaving the police, courts and emergency services to deal with the city's homelessness problem is an ineffective use of taxpayers' money, so it's really great to see change happen with just a small part of the overall plan. It's just a taste of what's possible.

Clever contest shines light on city innovators
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Earlier this month, longtime Yellowknifer and business owner Seiji Suzuki claimed victory in the Win Your Space Yk contest.

Suzuki's vision for an additive-free -- but pun-friendly -- Japanese bakery, Ja-Pain, won over a six-member jury and earned a year of free rent downtown.

Yellowknifer congratulates Suzuki and all the other entrants. From wedding planners, to interior designers, tour operators and crystal sellers, this neat little competition showcased a hidden trove of inspiring entrepreneurs and innovative ideas. Hopefully, a few more of these businesses get incubated and one day set up alongside Suzuki. The more niche businesses, the more vibrant the city.

The City of Yellowknife, along with the territorial government and other corporate sponsors split the competition's $76,000 bill -- money well spent. The contest was a smart, fun way to raise awareness of efforts to revitalize the downtown core, which has a vacancy rate five-and-a-half per cent higher than the rest of Yellowknife -- 7.8 per cent compared to 2.3 per cent.

These types of projects have been successful elsewhere, decreasing vacancy rates and property crime, and adding money to the local economy.

Yellowknifers are generally resourceful, often by necessity due higher costs and isolation from the south. To see so many local entrepreneurs put out fresh ideas and drive residents to imagine what else could be in the city's downtown was inspiring for all who followed the contest.

Hopefully this isn't the last Yellowknifers have seen of this event.

A time for healing
Editorial Comment by April Hudson
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

This week, visitors from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are in Rankin to meet Kivalliq families for the first time.

The upcoming hearing itself, set for mid-December, is still quite a way off, but many people - myself included - are relieved it has even made it this far.

It's no secret the inquiry has been embattled of late, with commissioners resigning and staff quitting.

In fact, some families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have called for the inquiry to be shutdown and reset.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked to Laura MacKenzie about her efforts to encourage people to speak up during the inquiry's time here.

Laura talked of her desire to give a voice to her aunt Betsy. After I spoke with Laura, I wondered what kind of impact a 'hard reset' would have on people like Laura. How many stories would go untold? How many female voices, gone to soon, would miss a chance to speak?

For all its flaws -and there are many - I believe the national inquiry still has the capacity to heal wounds. Commissioners aren't waving a magic wand and saying they'll make everything better; they are simply trying to create a space for families to speak and for voices to be heard.

That alone is a compelling goal and something worth fighting for.

But it is a difficult task. It will undoubtedly re-open old wounds for some people that listen to, or speak of, what happened to their sister, mother, daughter, aunt or friend. But the power of words to help and to heal, and the easing of burdens that sometimes follows the telling of a trauma, are reasons to keep the inquiry alive.

It's certainly not a fix-all. But it might be an important step along the path to wellness for some families, who have been left scarred by deaths and disappearances. It might also help those that felt ignored.

This week, those people will have the chance to put their names down as speakers for the December hearing.

A friend of mine - an Indigenous journalist and survivor -wrote of the hopes she still held for the inquiry, last month. She asked families not to give up on it.

You could hear in her voice a deep hope that burns in the hearts of many families of the missing and murdered - a hope for justice and for reconciliation.

We should all be proud of these people giving a voice to the dead. It's an act of strength and an act of bravery.

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