Monday, August 13, 2007
The Catholic church and other Christian denominations were entrusted with the operation of residential schools.
Some of these inflicted irreparable harm on individuals, communities and cultures.
A few helped students reach their goals and give back to their communities.
Many men and women of the church have devoted their lives to serving the people of the NWT. In the 1950s and 60s, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate - a Roman Catholic order - sent a large number of its members to serve Northern parishes.
Bishop Denis Croteau was born in Quebec, was ordained in 1958, and came to the NWT in 1960.
In 1960, the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith had 62 priests, 40 brothers and 112 sisters.
From that time, the diocese has dwindled to seven priests, one brother and about seven sisters.
The number of Catholic priests is shrinking everywhere in Canada; the problem is not unique to the North.
But when there are 35 parishes and missions to be served in a diocese, and they are spread out across an entire territory and in a few provinces, the shortage becomes a special challenge.
The diocese now relies heavily on laypeople - ordinary Catholics - to do the work usually done by priests in those parishes and missions where there is no priest.
But far from being a problem to be fixed, the reliance on community members, both male and female, to take an active role in their church may be what is needed to help the faith survive its spotted history in Northern communities.
We thank Bishop Croteau not only for the 47 years of service he has already given to the North, but for remaining in the territory after his retirement to continue his contributions.
We hope he is with us for many years to come.
And we welcome the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese's new bishop-to-be, Murray Chatlain, to the NWT, and wish him wisdom and vision in his service to the territory's Catholics.
In 1987, the federal government introduced a means to help Northerners improve their standard of living.
That benefit was called the Northern Residents Tax Deduction, and it entitled people living North of 60 to $5,475 in tax-free income.
Twenty years ago, that was substantial - a perk for those pulling in a large salary, a necessity for those making low or part-time wages.
As the years have gone by, the tax deduction has been heavily eroded by inflation.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada has taken up the cause, starting a petition in Iqaluit to lobby Ottawa for a boost in the allowance. The cost of living, according to the union's calculations, has taken a 65 per cent bite out of the Northern Residents Tax Deduction over the past two decades.
The food mail program, which subsidizes the cost of staples such as milk, bread and produce shipped to remote communities has been around for 30 years.
It's useful, but it's not enough.
The median household income in Nunavut was $52,300 in 2005, according to Statistics Canada.
That's a fair drop from the Canadian median of $60,600.
Not only that, but expenditures in the territory are steep. Booking a flight from Arctic Bay, Gjoa Haven or Whale Cove is outrageously expensive.
Even flying from Iqaluit to Ottawa will set you back a bundle.
Placing a barge order is also a costly ordeal.
Paying for heat in such a cold Northern environment isn't cheap either.
Sometimes union demands are outrageous.
This isn't one of those occasions. It's an undertaking in the interests of all Nunavummiut.
Therefore we should be loud and clear - whether by way of a petition or by contacting our Member of Parliament - the tax benefit ought to be increased and tied to inflation, nothing less.
The often forgotten North has been receiving more than its share of attention on the national stage over the past few years.
Climate change and sovereignty, in particular, have put Nunavut front and centre. International Polar Year is bringing reams of scientists to the North. A Canadian Coast Guard ship has been outfitted with hundreds of academics who are studying melting sea ice and Inuit health.
Nunavummiut ought to participate in the fact-finding. Clyde River has set a superb example through its own research committee, which is aspiring to use local labour and knowledge to gather data.
Who better to aid the process than the people who call the land home?
Deh Cho Drum
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Yes, barring a change of plans, Stephen Harper was scheduled to visit the community on Aug. 8.
With the visit, Harper was set to become the latest in a growing line of officials and dignitaries that have stopped by the village. The most recent guests have included Canada's Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean during Aboriginal Day last year and Margaret Trudeau, the wife of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, during the Keepers of the Water Gathering last September.
Although the reason behind the Prime Minister's visit and what he will say or announce will undoubtedly be commented on by a variety of people, these visits by officials with impressive titles are almost all the same.
The official flies into the airport, gets whisked away to some location in the village, meets with a few people such as the mayor and chiefs, makes a few public comments and mingles with some of us commoners before being whisked back to the airport and on to their next destination.
It's not that these visits aren't exciting because they certainly are. The visits provide lots of fodder for conversation. It's also a feather in Fort Simpson's cap to have so many people visiting and bringing the village to the attention of the larger, national audience.
It's just that what the visitors do, in this case the Prime Minister, is almost less important than what they don't do.
It all comes down to this: visiting dignitaries are presented with the polished version of Fort Simpson. They are taken to see all of the bright spots including the Papal grounds and the Visitors' Information Centre. They are also often presented with a shining example of the local youth in the form of the Kole Crook Fiddlers.
The same thing probably happens at every other small community the officials visit. It's only natural for people to want to show off the best parts of their hometown.
The only problem with these milk and honey tours is that they have people leaving with the impression that things couldn't be better in the village. It would be nice if this were true but it isn't.
Maybe the standard for these visits, especially ones by someone with real power such as the Prime Minister, should be based on what the average resident would like the leader of the country to know about.
What is it that the average resident of any Deh Cho community would like to say to the Prime Minister?
If Harper were sitting at your breakfast table or perched on your couch would you want to discuss the most scenic areas your community has to offer, or bring up the things your community really needs?
Probable topics could include creating more job opportunities in Northern communities so adults can work and young people have a reason to stay. There's also the question of housing and whether what we have is healthy to live in and if we need more to meet demand.
Other conversations could cover the cost of services such as hydro and heat or even how climate change is affecting practical things such as ice bridge seasons.
The next time someone with a big title and some power to make changes comes to visit, the focus of the trip should be less on what we can do for them and more on what they can do for us.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Let's cut everything else and get straight into this: I have mucho beef with some people in this town.
When someone uses the term bad apples, they're usually referring to young people. Sure we have some troubled youth who need more constructive things to do with their time, but there are also older people out there causing mischief.
It seems like a daily occurrence for me to get accosted by some street person who smells too nice for their own good.
You all know the scent I'm referring to, the crisp, cutting smell of mouthwash. Man, I don't get the appeal, but it seems to do the job. I've never seen anyone stagger like that woman at a local business.
I just don't get how some people came upon such hard times, such a ditch in their progression that they couldn't get back out.
I think it was some time last week when the line was drawn for me.
See, I don't have the kind of sympathy for their sort that other people in town seem to carry. I can't see past their state and give them money.
I can't harbour them and listen to their drunken ramblings, as entertaining as they are on occasion.
A handful of people spend all their time on the streets of Inuvik, or under NorthMart, behind the bank, nestled under utilidors. I'm sure most of you know these people - probably went to school with them and saw their decline in life.
One day, you're dropping out from Samuel Hearne, the next, you find yourself sipping cheap sherry from a cut off two-litre bottle.
I don't know what they did to get where they are, but we need to make sure that we don't send any more of our people to the same fate.
We have youth in our community that find joy in destroying property. We have people in town that need to write their name on anything. We have hordes of kids roaming the streets at night.
The youth are winning the war and all we can do is keep catering to them. Make a bigger skate park, fix those basketball nets. It all gets done, yet we get no reciprocation from the young generation in town.
Why don't we see youth painting fences, like Tom Sawyer? I am getting tired of taking photos of broken playground equipment and vandalized property.
There has to be a barrier between the older street people and our other generations.
I know that there are countless people working hard to help those streeter dwellers, but it seems like their work goes in vain.
Even just today, I was confronted by a drunken woman at NorthMart. I see her as a missed opportunity. I want that image in my head for the rest of my life, so I can keep applying pressure to the community, to help those who need it.
Somewhere during that woman's life, she ran into obstacles. A hurdle that she couldn't overcome on her own. Now she sleeps where society will let her.
As a young person, I see the youth as the future. With the provisions like the skate park, the pool, numerous playgrounds and day camp programs, I think the older people have done enough for now.
If the young people aren't ready to make a contribution to the community, then all this work was wasted.
Keep the young generations on a short leash and on the straight and narrow. It will work out in the end and we can all be happy.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
It will be interesting to see how the pilot program for recycling beverage containers plays out in Rankin Inlet.
While we support the initiative and hope it proves successful, there are some concerns associated with it.
In fact, the project could actually prove to be a victim of its own success.
Should the entire $37,000 be paid out for returned containers, the hamlet may find two shipping containers and leftover space at the six-bay garage inadequate to hold the returns.
That would leave piles of aluminum and glass outside the garage and, by winter's end, much of that would be spread back into the community by some of our local youth.
Of course, crushing, shredding and stacking the containers is an option to ensure adequate space, but that would be either an added expense for the hamlet or reduced hours for the employee hired to run the program.
The money has to come from somewhere and it's usually the little guy who bleeds the first drops.
The second concern is if those among us who are a bit more, shall we say, industrious, ask themselves why they should walk around the hamlet picking up all those aluminum nickels when there's plenty to be had at the dump.
A few hours cleaning them up (dirty containers won't be accepted) and, presto, an instant pile of nickels.
Our biggest concern is the, seemingly, lack of planning by the government surrounding the initiative.
On the surface, it looks like the komatik may be ahead of the dog.
The future may show it would have made more sense for the government to have enacted legislation, or struck a municipal agreement with another jurisdiction for a deposit fee, before starting the project.
There are no such agreements currently in place.
Even when it comes to barge orders, people who order pop or other beverages of choice pay a deposit fee at the point of purchase.
But, there are no reciprocal agreements with these jurisdictions.
Since the government has no capacity to collect a deposit, money is being paid out with nothing coming back in return - except, hopefully, three communities that end up a little lighter on the garbage side of the ledger.
The hamlet of Rankin Inlet may be taking a novel approach to solving the problem in its own backyard.
The hamlet may look into the legalities and dynamics of a new bylaw that would create its own deposit program.
There may be a way for the hamlet to, for example, put a nine cent deposit fee on beverages purchased in the community, with five cents being given back to consumers when they return the empty containers.
The other four cents would go towards administering the program.
It's a creative approach that could pay dividends in the long run.
But, for now, while we're all for a workable recycling project, it remains to be seen what the cost will be to Rankin when it comes time to send the containers south.
Hopefully a palatable deal will be found.
If not, this is one pilot project that will be canned in record time.