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Nunavut man homeless in Yk

Jessica Klinkenberg
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 01/06) - Robert Ekpakohak, 46, of Cambridge Bay has been in Yellowknife since April.

A soft-spoken, well-mannered individual, Ekpakohak has a past the casual acquaintance wouldn't suspect.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Robert Ekpakohak stands outside of the tent he sleeps in when he can't get a bed at the Salvation Army. - Jessica Klinkenberg/NNSL photo

As a child he attended Stringer Hall residential school in Inuvik, and said he was abused there "mentally, spiritually, emotionally and sexually," by a priest and a family friend.

At the school, Ekpakohak was punished for speaking anything but English.

Now that he's living in Yellowknife, he wants to go back to school.

"I still want to go to school," he said. "I still want to follow through with my goals."

However he's been having problems applying for student financial assistance.

Because Ekpakohak hasn't been in the NWT for 12 consecutive months, he can't access financial assistance through the GNWT.

Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Charles Dent said that the 12-month rule applies across Canada.

"It's a standard that all of the jurisdictions in Canada adhere to," Dent said.

"If a person has lived 12 consecutive months in another province they can apply there," he added.

Dent said that someone from Nunavut could apply to Nunavut for student financial assistance to attend school in the Northwest Territories.

Dent also said that income support can be used towards education as well, and that it was another option to student financial assistance.

Ekpakohak, who served time in jail 12 years ago, lives in a tent when he can't get a bed at the Salvation Army shelter.

He works part-time at the Salvation Army, and he wants to do more, but feels he's being held back.

"It's degrading for myself, it's very degrading. It makes it hard to go to work," he said of living in a tent.

Ekpakohak said he received certification as an addictions counsellor while in jail.

"Rehabilitation worked for me because I wanted it to," he said.

He said he has tried applying for jobs, but has been meeting nothing but roadblocks.

"I've tried to get back into the mines, however because of my criminal background they wouldn't hire me," Ekpakohak said.

"There's no room for forgiveness," Ekpakohak said.

Lydia Bardak, co-chair of the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition, said that it's not uncommon for someone at Ekpakohak's age to consider going to school after being in prison.

"Long gone are the days when you could get by on a Grade 6 education," she said.

From her own observations of individuals in the northern justice system, she thinks that often "their emotional growth is stunted because they've been absent from their own lives." She said that this happens because of drug and alcohol abuse.

It is possible to erase a criminal records by applying for a pardon, said Bardak.

"The problem with getting a pardon is if someone were to start a pardon now it takes two years," Bardak said.

She said that pardons are available for individuals who have stayed out of jail five years after they were charged, and there is a charge of $125.

Ekpakohak said that he did abuse drugs and alcohol up to nine years ago, but has stopped.

"It's not easy for me to stay sober," he said.

He admitted that he has recently started drinking again because he's frustrated.

"This is how depressing it gets," he said. "I want to give up sometimes."