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Monday, December 18, 2006
Residential schools or more teachers

Every industry in the NWT is suffering from a lack of skilled people to fill much needed jobs.

Tradespeople are in such short supply, people from other provinces and even abroad are brought in. Our health care system is facing financial disaster due to the need to hire short-term southern nurses and doctors.

Ironically, Aurora College was forced to suspend its nursing program this year due to a lack of qualified Northern candidates.

The solution, as always, is obvious: More Northern youth graduating from community schools.

That's why it is disturbing that in Paulatuk, 75 per cent of students are not showing up for classes.

Truancy happens across the North. Paulatuk has made an important first step by hiring a counsellor to encourage students and educate parents about the importance of being in class.

But nothing destroys the credibility of an education system more than low graduation rates or graduates who find they need upgrading to get into university or college.

What is there to motivate students to attend classes if they feel the experience is a waste of time?

Karen Balanuik, who served on the Sahtu Divisional Board of Education for 10-years, part of that time as chair, decided not to run for re-election this year out of frustration.

She has four children in school at various levels. This year she decided to send one of them to school in Edmonton after seeing the course schedule in Norman Wells.

In many communities, single classes are split between three different grade levels, as well as different streams of the same subject.

How is it possible to teach effectively when one teacher delivers six different levels of curriculum?

To make matters worse, she said there have been times core classes were not offered because qualified teachers were not available.

So what is the solution? More teachers in the communities is an obvious start. A quality education that will engage and challenge students will go a long way to get them back into their desks.

But, is that feasible? Does the territory have the money to support enough full time teachers in each of the smaller communities?

The alternative is to return to the controversial concept of regional high schools. That would allow all students access to the curriculum and resources necessary for a solid education. But at what cost to families?

With the sordid history of residential schools issue so imprinted on people's minds, the subject is almost taboo.

Something has to be done and fast.

The North is growing and self-government is the hottest topic on the agenda. The North is going to need leaders as much as it is going to need nurses and tradespeople.

If our youth do not have the skills to fill those positions, we will continue to have to look south for people who do or we will go without.

Avoidance isn't the answer

The Department of Health and Social Services has adopted a new media relations strategy that has created confusion among staff.

As reported in last week's Nunavut News/North, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq insists that her directive was meant to keep department staff from deciding whether she would speak to the media on any given topic. The minister said that is her own decision to make.

She doesn't want to be on the hook on topics that are too technical, she explained.

That's fair enough, but when such occasions arise, Aglukkaq should make sure that an authority within the department is made available to speak to reporters. If she doesn't feel qualified, she can turn the microphone over to someone with expertise.

In the meantime, it seems that a number of health employees have become paranoid about talking to the press. To them, the point of Aglukkaq's media policy obviously isn't so clear.

As Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo pointed out, "the employees should know what things...they can comment on."

The health department took a bit of a beating last year when some Nunavummiut were angered that the government took three months to get the word out on the HTLV-1 virus. The disease killed at least one person in Nunavut and it's thought to have infected about 20 others.

Because health officials took so long to acknowledge the malady - and to inform the public of the effects of the virus and how people could best protect themselves - it created an environment where rumour and speculation thrive.

Then earlier this year, a few Nunavut doctors -- who, like in most jurisdiction across Canada, are badly in need -- weren't asked to continue practising in the territory. Their patients were disappointed. The rationale wasn't clear.

Eventually, medical director Sandy Macdonald shed some light on the department's approach to recruitment and retention of personnel. It was a constructive response, even if it didn't convince all the detractors.

Corporations spend millions of dollars trying to present a polished image and spin their messages in their favour.

The Department of Health isn't a corporation, it's an arm of a public government that should be forthcoming and accountable at all times.

Have someone step up to the plate and help people understand what they need to know.

Avoidance isn't the best media policy. It only leads to suspicion and doubt.

Looking for trouble

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) has gone looking for a fight and we wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it gets one.

Judging by the tone of his voice this past week while speaking about NTI's billion-dollar lawsuit against the federal government, Premier Paul Okalik won't be too surprised if Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice decides to drop the gloves.

NTI alleges 16 breaches of contract against the federal government in its statement of claim.

It, basically, contends the feds have failed to live up to their obligations in implementing the 1993 Lands Claim Agreement.

While there were some valid concerns raised in the claim, such as Inuit still lacking the opportunity to gain the employment skills needed in today's workforce, others are almost certain to put up roadblocks in ongoing negotiations.

NTI's decision to draw attention to the fact Nunavut's Hunters and Trapper Organizations (HTO) are badly underfunded is particularly baffling, considering the trouble they've had with financial mismanagement -- and not all of it the honest-mistake variety.

Negotiations to increase HTO funding are ongoing, and the decision to file this lawsuit could hold them up for some time.

On their side of the coin, the feds claim implementing everything NTI wants is just too costly.

But want seems to be the operative word in all of this, especially if one listened to NTI president Paul Kaludjak this past week.

A number of the sentences in Kaludjak's speech about the lawsuit began with, "We want..."

Kaludjak also said NTI warned federal representatives during a recent visit that the government had better start complying with NTI's requests or legal action would be forthcoming.

We have grave concerns about an organization threatening the federal government in a territory so dependent upon federal dollars.

Kaludjak has a point when he says negotiations have been too slow during the past five years, but a billion-dollar lawsuit has the potential to halt them all together, rather than speed them up.

How this lawsuit affects ongoing negotiations between the territorial government and the feds also remains to be seen.

Okalik sounds worried about the fallout from the move, as well he should be.

There is the chance the feds will soften their stance and come back to the table in earnest because of the lawsuit.

However, there is also the chance the government will draw a line in the sand and become difficult to work with.

Think what you will about Prentice and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, they are not men lacking backbone.

Either way, Nunavut has lost its innocence with the tabling of NTI's lawsuit.

If the aim of the top thinkers at NTI was to get the feds' attention, they've certainly achieved that goal.

But which way that attention will take us is still anybody's guess at this point.

One thing is for sure as we wait for this to play out. There were ominous tones to Prentice's promise that the feds "will handle" NTI's lawsuit.

Hang up your keys this holiday

Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik Drum

We all know the holiday season is upon us and that people are coming home for Christmas. What a great time of year, with family and friends gathering and sharing stories of the past four months, and parties to crash.

The holidays are a time for forgiveness, where friends will speak to each other after time apart and old wounds heal even faster. I know I will be attempting to rekindle a few friendships over the next few weeks.

For the older people in town who socialize with their friends and enjoy having a few drinks, there will be many opportunities to do so.

There will be Christmas parties, long weekends with no work and of course, the biggest party night of the year, New Year's Eve.

While you're out with your friends at a raging house party, or at a bar enjoying drinks with a loved one, please remember to leave your vehicle at home.

It's pretty simple to avoid driving. Just take a cab, or arrange for a ride to and from the place you're drinking at.

I'm not only targeting youth here, because I am sure they have had enough of me on their back ranting about every topic in town.

No, this also goes out to the adults who are supposed to be the role models in town - the ones who fill parking lots with their oversized trucks.

Watch yourself. It's common knowledge that RCMP officers step up their traffic patrols during the holiday season. I can already see the glowing red and blue lights reflecting off the post office as the annual check stops are performed.

I know it is cold out and walking never seems like a good option after a rowdy night of partying, but driving yourself home is never an option.

To the parents who are out enjoying themselves: call your kid for a ride home. I'm sure they wouldn't mind breaking up their Halo tournament for a few minutes. Watch out though, they may charge more for the ride than a cab would.

By calling for a ride, you're showing your kid that you are responsible enough to admit you need assistance.

To the youth who will party hardy: call your parents for a ride, or another responsible adult. I'm sure they will respect you enough to wait until the next day to start ragging you out about underage drinking.

But in the midst of the fun and games, remember to take time out to spend time with the younger members of your family. After all, Christmas is all about family.

It's also the most important time of the year for a kid. Make it a memorable one. Don't spend it in the drunk tank.

The final stand

Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum

It's time for the residents of Fort Simpson to show where they stand on the issue of Dehcho Hall.

The government of the Northwest Territories, after many years of debate, has finally stepped forward and made what they say is the final decision -- the hall will be closed.

After so many years of the closure looming on the horizon this might actually be it. If the government can be held to their word, there will be a brand new building somewhere in downtown Fort Simpson by 2008.

In that sparkling new building there will be offices for all the government departments and agencies who now call Dehcho Hall home, including Education, Culture and Employment; the Dehcho Divisional Education Council and Aurora College. The currently spacious offices that these people now have will probably be reduced to cubicles, but it will be better than nothing.

Those left with nothing will include the John Tsetso Memorial Library, the Fort Simpson Historical Society and the Open Doors Society.

The Historical Society is working towards renovating the rectory and will move its offices there. The Village, which is responsible for the library, will presumably step forward to find it a home.

That leaves the Open Doors Society which will probably be the worst off if the closure happens.

Occupying a fair part of the ground floor of one wing in the hall, the society has large rooms that provide lots of space for children to play and enjoy themselves. The society has been given this space for nothing more than janitorial fees.

The current position of the society sounds like something out of a fairy tale or an utopian world where groups that do nice things for children are rewarded. That fairy tale, however, is starting to look a bit more like a nightmare.

Faced with the possibility of eviction by 2008, Val Gendron, the society's co-ordinator, has gone as far as to say the society might not survive the hall's closure.

With so many children and families in the community benefiting from the program, it would almost be a crime to allow it to die.

On top of all the organizations who will lose their homes, there is also the question of meeting space.

Every third day someone holds a meeting or an event in the hall, according to Nolan Swartzentruber, the superintendent of the Dehcho Divisional Education Council which also occupies the building.

All those meetings and events will have to be held somewhere else. This will put pressure on the other facilities in the village.

So what can be done?

Government officials say they've made their choice. It's up to the residents of Fort Simpson to decide if they will accept that choice or go out with a fight and maybe even win the war.

At the last village council meeting on Dec. 4, Coun. Bob Hanna said that the people of Fort Simpson can be very powerful when they stick together.

The time has come for community members to decide if the continued use of Dehcho Hall is something they believe in and want.