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Monday, March 21, 2005
North must be defended

The irony was unintentional, but too heavy to be missed by anyone who witnessed the tightly controlled exercise in vox populi last Tuesday in the Great Hall of the legislature in Yellowknife.

Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Minister of State for Northern Development, and Premier Joe Handley were there to answer questions about Northern Strategy.

The strategy's primary purpose, Prime Minister Paul Martin said when he revealed it last December, is to "make a real difference...in the capacity of Northerners to manage their own affairs."

Ottawa is spending $120 million over the next three years to help the three territorial governments achieve those ends, and has promised to include First Nations governments in the process.

Unhappily for the federal government's credibility, the DIAND minister chose to appoint a new person to chair to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

In doing so, he ignored a slate of recommended candidates, all of them residents of the Northwest Territories.

In fact, Scott didn't even have the courtesy to inform Handley before announcing the appointment.

The minister's explanation for naming Todd Burlingame was hardly convincing. Burlingame is the best person for the job; he is not a political appointment, Scott insisted, then confessed: "I don't know the man."

That's a less than ringing endorsement for someone who will play a key role in examining the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline.

As for the Northern Strategy, it remains to be seen if this is the biggest brainstorm to hit the Arctic since John Diefenbaker's Northern Vision, or just another snow job thrown up to obscure federal neglect of Canada's last vast frontier.

Wise women are North's gold

The annual Wise Women Awards reminds us there's a lot of gold in the resources of knowledge in many senior Northerners.

This year's honour role includes Tonya Cazon of the Deh Cho region, Alphonsine McNeely from the Sahtu, Sister Agnes Sutherland for the South Slave, Helen Tobie representing North Slave, and Ruth Wright of the Beaufort-Delta.

These women have been described as dedicated volunteers who are leaders in their communities and sources of traditional culture.

In applauding these five, we also show respect for other elders and what they can always teach us.

A building block

Knowing full well there were problems with Nunavut Arctic College on many levels, the department of education paid for an external report to be done on the college last year.

The findings in the report titled "Aaqqigiarniq" were pretty grim.

Among them: the college doesn't support Inuit traditional knowledge; senior management is not dealing with the critical issues and challenges they face; the college is in debt; and it has no vision for the future.

A lot of work needs to be done, including updating student information and organizing its programs and services.

But it's important to understand Arctic College has come a long way in the five years since division from the Northwest Territories.

It's not easy building a new college.

Let's also consider some of the other pressures.

There is a huge demand for NAC programs, demonstrated by enrolment, which has increased 50 per cent since 2001. That is a lot.

The state of secondary school education, the dropout rate, literacy levels and the challenge of teacher turnover must not be left out of this picture, either.

Also add the financial constraints that every institution and government department in Nunavut faces, then ask people who are interviewed to be open and honest and you have a recipe for some very damning comments.

The report is chalk full of them. But the review should not overshadow the college's extraordinary successes, including its first-ever nursing graduates.

Students are graduating and they are getting jobs. They are going on to universities in the south where they will earn the degrees and become the professionals Nunavut needs to build for the future.

This report should be viewed as a building block, not a wrecking ball.

Now that all eyes are on the college, let the gaze be firmly set on the future. It really has nowhere to go but up.

It's easy to point fingers and assign blame. The real job is to come up with solutions and build a college that fills Nunavut's needs today and into tomorrow.

Expand youth program carefully

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

The Kivalliq News has been a staunch supporter of the Nunavut Youth Abroad program (NYAP) since its inception in 1997.

The program helps Nunavut youth develop job skills while gaining all-important work experience.

The NYAP also exposes the students to other cultures, helps them build self-confidence and self-esteem, and increases their leadership abilities.

Since its humble beginnings, more than 100 Nunavut students have taken part in the combined Canadian and international phases of the NYAP.

Now the NYAP is looking to expand its horizons and become Northern Youth International.

The plan calls for the program to expand into the NWT this year and then look at moving into Nunavik and Labrador.

This is all being done under the banner of the program being such a success, it's time for the NYAP to share the wealth and offer the same opportunities to other Northern youth.

Sounds good in principle, but we're worried the operative word here just might be wealth - or a lack thereof.

Funding struggles

While the NYAP has always been quick to throw accolades towards its various funding sources since 1997, the program has struggled to meet its financial goals during the past few years.

The NWT may appear to the NYAP to be a much-greener pasture for raising those funds, with the name dropping of Nunavik and Labrador being more of a diversionary tactic than a concrete plan for future expansion.

Add that to the fact funding dollars are going to be even harder to come by in Nunavut for the foreseeable future, and, suddenly success alone isn't so convincing as the motivating factor in the expansion.

Expansion impact

All that being said, what's most worrisome about the plan for expansion is what may happen to Nunavut's involvement once the NWT program is up and running.

With our government's purse strings as tight as they are, Northern Youth International doesn't sound half as compelling a program to support as Nunavut Youth Abroad.

And we're also more than a little worried about the NYAP's ability to entice the necessary human resources to support such a move.

Nunavut needs NYAP

With a high school graduation rate hovering around the 21 per cent mark, the last thing Nunavut needs is to find itself in danger of losing one of its top student/youth development models.

Hopefully, NYAP executive director Chris Dasilva and his board of directors are moving in this direction cautiously and are being fuelled by optimism, not desperation.

If not, the change in acronyms concerning Nunavut's involvement with the program might go from NYAP to simply RIP!

Part of the scenery

Editorial Comment
Jason Unrau
Inuvik Drum

If the Turning Point emergency shelter can be pulled out of its most recent predicament, the creation of a more inclusive facility should be the order of the day.

Currently, the shelter offers a bed and two meals a day only to those who are not under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately, there are many in the community who are homeless at least partly because of their addictions. As the shelter is currently not filled to capacity, there should be some flexibility in its policy regarding people under the influence who could freeze to death if they don't find shelter.

Those involved with Turning Point - staff, volunteers and concerned citizens - are focused on putting together a successful proposal to secure more funding from Education, Culture and Employment so one can forgive them if Turning Point policy is not at the forefront of their collective agenda. However, as many in the community have expressed that there is a need for a more-encompassing type of facility in Inuvik, it is too bad that initiative is at a standstill while ECE puts shelter financing up for grabs. It's almost as if the powerbrokers in Yellowknife are not hearing the community's call for some action in dealing with homelessness and more importantly its root cause: addictions.

In a conversation with the health minister last week, Michael Miltenberger said no plans for community treatment and/or rehab facilities would be made unless numbers could justify it. He cited the 236 addiction treatment referrals given to territorial residents in 2004 as part of the rationale for not changing the ministry's position.

Which begs the obvious question: if only 236 referrals were given in 2004, how many more are there out there who could use treatment, but for one reason or another, didn't ask for or get referred?

While there's no way to get an accurate number, to say 10 times 236 would be a relatively conservative estimate. Leaving one's community to seek help can sometimes create more stress that does nothing to facilitate success in breaking an addiction. It would be ridiculous to have treatment centres in each and every community. However, for somebody in Sachs Harbour, travelling to Inuvik instead of Alberta for help is a pretty good alternative. Not to mention the fact that NWT dollars would stay in the NWT instead of going into the coffers of another province.

Proponents' calls for a treatment centre in Inuvik are obviously falling on deaf ears in the capital.

Its legislators are obviously distracted by much more pertinent topics of the day, such as devolution, the pipeline and holding the territory to a budget.

Meanwhile, the homeless who can't access the shelter wander the streets, existing on a loonie here or a coffee there until next time.

Maybe the homeless have become such a fixture in the human scenery of Inuvik that many have just come to accept their existence as an unfortunate reality.

That would be unfortunate indeed.

Learn your history Mr. Dent

Editorial Comment
Andrew Raven
Deh cho Drum

Last week, the territorial government announced it would push ahead with plans to build a $41 million courthouse on a plot of swampland beside the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife.

The decision was criticized - and rightly so - by several MLAs who said the government should focus instead on providing basic services to the territory's smaller communities.

In the Deh Cho alone, there are five settlements without resident police forces.

The territory as a whole faces a chronic shortage of doctors and other professionals. Substance abuse continues to be a major problem and new drugs like crack-cocaine and methamphetamines are finding their way into the communities.

So how does the government decide to deal with these problems? Build a $41 million bauble in Yellowknife, that's how.

This courthouse scheme is a textbook example of government waste on a monumental scale.

It is also a remarkable about face by the Justice Department, which cried poverty earlier this year when it decided to slash jobs in Hay River and Inuvik. The department has since reversed some of those decisions.

In defending the plan, Justice Minister Charles Dent said the existing courthouse - which occupies three floors of downtown government building - is unsafe.

Somehow I doubt that would be a very persuasive argument for the people of Wrigley who can wait up to two hours for police to respond to a call.

The courthouse folly is reminiscent of ancient Rome, where emperors spent vast sums of public money building monumental arches and pillars to commemorate military victories.

While these triumphs - as they were known - were often brilliant architectural feats, they did nothing to alleviate the social problems facing the Roman Empire.

Bread lines in the capital grew, the highway system disintegrated and frontier defences were scaled back.

The Romans, like so many advanced civilizations, forgot the golden rule of governance: take care of the people before you embark on legacy building.

The government and Minister Dent would do well to learn this history lesson.