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Northern News Services Online

Monday, August 6, 2007

Democracy in action

Last month Tlicho citizens gathered in Behchoko to sit in on one of the regular gatherings of the Tlicho Assembly, which ran in conjunction with the Dene Assembly.

Ratified in 2005, the Tlicho Land Claims Agreement set up a system of government for the Tlicho people, representing a landmark for Canadian/Aboriginal relations and the democratic process in the NWT.

Some may not agree with that sentiment considering the article 'Tlicho lash out at meeting', which appeared in the July 30 edition of News/North. Former Grand Chief Joe Rabesca was quoted as saying, "I'm not happy with the way this government is operating."

The assembly was also assailed with questions about overspending, conflict-of-interest hiring and the public not being able to access reports on the government's finances.

All governments face such questions and the ability of citizens to voice concerns to their leadership is fundamental to democracy. A criticized government is not a failed government, but is instead a government evolving. The right to hold government officials accountable is enshrined in our political structure and should be encouraged by politicians and practised by their citizens.

But questioning government is only one side of the coin. Politicians must also hold themselves accountable to their constituents. Listening to what is being said and incorporating changes that will make government more open and accessible to the public is vital to creating a viable democratic system. As Rabesca pointed out, elected officials must remember they work for their constituents.

We also agree with the wise words of elder Elizabeth Mackenzie, who closed the Dene Assembly telling people that although there are times when harsh words are necessary, it's important to speak with one another instead of against each other. "It's difficult to to listen when someone's scolding you," she said.

Further to Mackenzie's words, it is also important to remember that if a government is to succeed, people must respect the procedures and protocols in place, which are designed to make it effective.

This is a lesson we hope Mary-Ann Jeremick'a learned when she spoke against MLA Jackson Lafferty and Chief Leon Lafferty about letters of support they wrote for a convicted sex offender.

She appeared before the Dene Assembly representing the Native Women's Association about the walk between Yellowknife and Behchoko. Jeremick'a blindsided the Assembly with her criticism.

Although we agree her questions needed to be asked and politicians must be held accountable, that forum was inappropriate.

For a government to succeed, both its elected body and its citizens must agree to follow the rules and engage in dialogue that demonstrates mutual respect and understanding.

There is a place for criticism and lobbying for change, but there is a way of doing things that will ensure the Tlicho people create a government they can be proud of and one that will work for them.

Stop hurting our babies

Two recent reports have drawn a great deal of attention to the suffering of Nunavut's infants, and Nunavummiut can do something about it.

In July, the results of a health study conducted during the first quarter of 2005 showed that 27 of 49 children under the age of five examined in Nunavut were afflicted with a lower respiratory tract infection, sicknesses like pneumonia and bronchiolitis.

Twenty-one of those children were so sick that they required medical care. Sadly Nunavut has the highest rate of hospitalization in Canada in such instances.

The study's author, a doctor who specializes in infant breathing problems, placed the blame on poorly ventilated and overcrowded homes, as well as indoor smoking.

The federal government has rightfully been taken to task many times by Nunavut's leaders for failing to provide adequate housing.

The lack of living accommodations in the territory and the shoddy state of many dwellings is atrocious.

A second study, from the Canadian Institute for Health Information from 2005-06, revealed that Nunavut has the highest rate of low birth weight babies in the country. The reasons given for this were young mothers (often teens) and, again, smoking.

While Nunavummiut have no authority over the amount of housing money that Ottawa grants, they have full control over the harmful cigarette smoke wafting through their homes, or, in the case of pregnant women, into their wombs.

Figures from Statistics Canada show that 53.1 per cent of Nunavummiut were smokers in 2005.

Obviously too many of Nunavut's smokers are selfishly lighting up indoors or while carrying a child. That's inexcusable.

It's time to take charge and let babies be as healthy as they can be.

Admirable actions

Two families in Arctic Bay lost their duplex to fire on July 22. That's tragic, but at least they're alive.

We can thank Clare Kines for that.

He kicked in the door to one family's home and woke them up while flames consumed the structure. His five-year-old son may also deserve some credit, alerting his dad to the emergency after noticing the fire.

In Kugluktuk a few days earlier, hamlet foreman Phillip Katik's rapidly co-ordinated heavy equipment operators to redirect raging waters from heavy rains. Katik's efforts limited damage in the community, which lost a few roads wash out.

While disasters are an unfortunate fact of life, we can be thankful for people like Kines and Katik, people who make a real difference.

Living with bison
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum
Thursday, August 02, 2007
There are a few things that come with living in the North.

They include dealing with cold and lengthy winter seasons and having long distances to drive before reaching other communities. Somewhere in the sizable list that could be compiled is sharing a living space with wild animals.

This sounds a bit strange but it is all too true. You will know all about this if you have ever accidentally left a garbage bag outside unprotected and returned later to find ravens tearing it apart in search for food.

Human residents of the North have to co-exist with animal residents such as ravens and black bears. There are also the bison.

A number of communities in the Deh Cho including Fort Liard, Fort Providence and Nahanni Butte have the dubious distinction of counting bison among their neighbours.

As the largest land mammal in North America, bison can weigh anywhere between 550 to 1,000 kilograms. Male bison can reach 3.8 metres in length and more than 1.8 metres in height.

In the Wildlife Division's portion of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' website they provide a handy overview of the local bison. Among information about historical ranges and current population sizes is a description of what bison like to do. According to the website, "In summer, they can be found in small willow pastures and uplands where they feed on sedges, forbes and willows."

What the information page fails to mention is that bison are also fond of communities.

Added information could note how bison enjoy creating wallows in sandy areas such as playgrounds and like the vegetation offered by lawns, gardens and airports. According to one gardener they are particularly fond of cabbage.

While some people, would say that we're lucky to live near bison considering how they were almost hunted to extinction during the nineteenth century, most of them don't have to deal with the consequences of such a close relationship.

Most recently some residents of Fort Liard have had enough of bison. After enduring years of repeated garden trampling, fence breaking and tree deaths, some say that if they see one more bison on their property they will be tempted to take matters into their own hands.

It's easy to understand their frustration.

If you go to the trouble of coaxing a garden out of the ground up here one of the last things you want is to find bison in it, eating what strikes their fancy and trampling the rest with their big hooves. The same can be said for people who have trees on their properties and see bison destroy them by rubbing against them or knocking them down.

While staff with Environment and Natural Resources have a number of measures for removing bison from populated areas and have suggestions for property owners on how to minimize damage, the fact is that they can't guarantee it will never happen.

What you're left with is a number of annoyed humans on one side of the ring and a grazing bison, is just doing what bison do, on the other.

Unfortunately, there isn't a solution that will suit everyone. You could get rid of all of the bison, which would solve the problem once and for all but wouldn't do much for the bison.

Measures should be taken to control the actions of bison, but the reality is humans and bison will just have to co-exist. The occasional garden and the occasional bison may have to be sacrificed to keep the balance.

Could this be the End of the Road?
Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik News
Thursday, August 02, 2007

It all started at Gwich'in Territorial park. I was standing there, surrounded by a forest and lichen.

The moss was soft to the touch and the mosquitoes were having their way with the back of my neck.

Life is pretty relaxing at six in the morning. I couldn't focus on any of my responsibilities and it was hard not to think about the lake.

All I could do was stand there, being eaten by a horde of bugs. I think I needed that, because I certainly wasn't going to find that sort of solace in town.

The next morning I was back en route to Inuvik.

We got back into town and I went to sleep. I woke up later that day and went outside, to take a stroll to the store.

I don't know what I was thinking about, but all of a sudden I got this urge to talk about the End of the Road music festival.

After talking with some friends about the annual event, we agreed that it should be bigger.

Yes, the first years of the festival were something else. Then, the festival was turned over to a society, as the town did not want to run the event.

I have to applaud the people who stepped in to hold the festival up, but the weight of the load was too much and cuts were made.

Acts were downsized and the whole event seemed to get smaller. I feel sad because there are so many people in town that gave their all to help the music festival.

Countless hours of volunteer work has been done in past years. The society members each work triple shifts so we can enjoy a weekend of live music outside the Mad Trapper.

I don't understand why the town ditched the festival. I guess it just became too much to handle.

I met a great pair of tourists last week who were in town for the arts festival. They both volunteered to help the event.

That's right, they took their leisure time to learn more about the region through volunteering.

I can look around town and say with absolute certainty that we are lazy. We don't want to help the music festival, but we're sure ready to show up drunk and bash the organizers for not appealing to all of us.

There is a handful of really generous people in town that are getting shafted just because they want to share their love of music. You guys know who you are.

Unfortunately, a person can only take so much. The levy has to break somewhere and I think this may be it.

Really, Inuvik, let's smarten up and get with the freakin' program.

That music festival is next weekend. I know the organizers will need help. I don't want to hear any excuses about how you couldn't show up and set up chairs or sell drinks.

All you community-minded businesses out there, spend some money on this festival. Sponsor a band. One of my favourite bands is not on the list this year because of cost cutting.

Join the music festival society, tell your friends and let's make something of the music festival.

If we don't do anything to help keep this ship afloat, we'll end up looking back at the End of the Road music festival as a fond memory, like the old Delta Daze kiddie carnivals at Dave Jones arena.

Oh Inuvik, I thought you were cool.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Great job by top cop, but more has to be done
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

There can be no denying the respect shown to RCMP Sgt. Gavin Nash as he leaves Rankin Inlet for his new position in the nation's capital this coming Friday, Aug. 3.

And, make no mistake about it, the respect is well-deserved.

Now in my ninth year with the Kivalliq News, Nash is the best detachment head I've seen at casting aside the us-versus-them mentality which all too often rules Northern police stations.

That's not a slight towards any of Nash's predecessors in Rankin. It is simply an observation, accurate to my way of thinking.

Nash changed the RCMP in Rankin from a detachment of cops to a group of officers involved with community policing. Not only was that a refreshing change of pace, it was also a taste of how effective that approach to policing can be in building relationships in a community.

It's nice to see people in your community stopping to chat with the officers, waving when they pass, and simply feeling comfortable around those who wear a badge and carry a gun for a living.

There are many communities in this great nation of ours that have never had that type of a relationship with their police force.

Nash also gets full marks for the relationship he established between the detachment and hamlet council during his stay in Rankin.

There are few who would argue against the notion that it was one of the better working relationships of the past decade between the two. Also on the plus side of his tenure are the gains made against drinking and driving, illegal drugs and alcohol in Rankin during the past 22 months.

In short, Nash is leaving big boots to fill for the next detachment head and we can only hope that person is up to the task.

However, challenges do remain in Rankin. Youth vandalism and theft are out of control in the hamlet and more has to be done to alleviate that problem. And, while an argument can be made that's as much a community problem as a policing issue, the police must set the tone in sending out the message that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated in our community.

Granted, that it's not always easy with how the courts deal with young offenders, but that's a topic for another day.

Outside of vandalism, the biggest complaints heard on a consistent basis stem from issues that, arguably, reflect as much on hamlet council and bylaw enforcement as they do our police force.

There are still many people fed up with ATVs racing around at 3 a.m., a number of which are controlled by very young drivers.

Others still grumble about the double standard they see when some can seemingly drive around forever without a helmet -- or with their machine obviously overloaded with passengers -- and never receive the attention others get from the authorities.

These may seem like minor issues, but they always are until someone gets seriously hurt or worse. Maybe Nash will come up with a few ideas to tackle those issues in his new position as a policy analyst with the National Aboriginal Police Service.

Based on what we've seen in the past, we wouldn't bet against him.