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Bye, bye plastic
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The absence of single-use bags at close to 370 businesses in the NWT has changed the way people run errands, forcing them to be more conscious of the environment.

A year and a half since a 25-cent surcharge on disposable shopping bags took effect in the territory, stores such as Canadian Tire and The Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op have lowered the cost of reusable bags and created plastic bag-free zones.

Despite only 41,000 people living in the Northwest Territories, the GNWT's single-use retail bag program has eliminated up to 5.7 million single-use retail bags since June 2010.

The NWT is not the first jurisdiction to have these bans in effect. Leaf Rapids, Man., has been a plastic bag-free zone since 2008.

Alberta is hoping to reduce the number of bags used by 50 per cent by 2013; South Africa banned plastic bags in 2003.

Different locations are using different methods to decrease the use of single-use bags, either by introducing surcharges, fining retailers who hand out the bags or by allowing only reusable bags to be available for purchase.

These methods are effective ways to reduce the number of bags blowing around in the streets, filling our dump or littering our lakes and forests and endangering wildlife.

According to the federal government, Canadians take home an estimated 55 million plastic bags per week, for a total of 2.86 billion per year and with three quarters of those ending up in the landfill.

Bringing bags from home doesn't take a lot of effort. It is changing people's behaviour and the numbers are a telling sign that we're doing a great deal of good for the environment.

Balance key in education
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Yk1 school board is looking at ways to engage its Dene students through expanded aboriginal programming.

While this is admirable, the focus should be kept on cultural lessons and Northern history, not on an aboriginal language. There are nine official aboriginal languages in the NWT, so how would the school board chose among North Slavey, South Slavey, Tlicho, Chipewyan and others? There is no standardized aboriginal tongue, so it cannot be compared to French lessons.

Instead, efforts should be devoted to aboriginal culture and history, like the meanings of place names in the North.

On-the-land camps are already a reality in some schools. These camps serve to help students learn traditional skills like fishing, identifying plants and making shelter. While this knowledge is valuable, it has to, of course, be balanced with academics.

Although statistics are improving, there is still a long way to go: in 2009, 44 per cent of NWT aboriginal students graduated from high school compared to 70 per cent of other students. Expanded aboriginal programming may bring more Dene students into the schools, but literacy skills and sciences cannot be allowed to suffer.

This is not to dissuade the board from examining ways to further engage students, just to advise that balance must be its foremost principle.

A request for respect
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 having just passed, those who often make the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duties were back in the headlines once again.

It's human nature to sometimes take for granted the services provided by our military, firefighters, policemen and other emergency-response professionals - and the price they sometimes pay.

And often, their sacrifices -- past and present -- seem to go almost unnoticed.

There was a group of people in the Second World War whose death rate was about one in seven; an astoundingly high number.

In fact, they suffered the highest casualty rate among our entire military during the conflict.

There are no movies glorifying their storming of the beaches at Normandy, nor are there any of them sailing around Europe in search of a surviving brother to bring home to his grief-stricken mother.

In fact, it took our government almost 50 years to recognize their efforts in the war and grant them official veteran status in 1992.

Yet, without their perilous efforts, many of our troops may not have reached Europe at all, let alone carry on the war effort once there.

They are the surviving members of Canada's merchant mariners, an unheralded group of more than 12,000 who were responsible for bringing troops, food, fuel, weapons and other supplies through U-boat infested waters.

Today, the Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans Association is trying to have a silver bar (a badge of pride identifying them as merchant mariners) added to the volunteer service medal which all former military personnel received for completing 18 months of voluntary service.

One of the first barriers the veterans must get past is the fact, to date, the Governor General's office hasn't shown a whole lot of interest in the proposal, and its chancellery controls issue of the medals.

Maybe Gov. Gen. David Johnston has more important things on his agenda these days, like trying a little Kivalliq seal meat for posterity's sake, but surely the recognition isn't too much to ask from a group of people whose war contributions were sadly overlooked for almost five decades.

All of us, as Canadians, owe a huge debt of gratitude to the men and women of our military who made such sacrifice to keep our country free.

And the same rings true for our modern military operations of today.

But, the truth of the matter is, in retrospect, we, as a country, may owe these veterans a little more.

For far too long have their contributions and sacrifice during the Second World War been belittled by their lack of official veteran status.

Now we have a chance to make up for a bit of that by bestowing the same recognition upon our merchant mariners as was given to those who fought at Dieppe and the Battle of Hong Kong.

The gesture would fill the hearts of these brave veterans with pride and, just maybe, finally have them truly believe Canadians from coast to coast to coast respect -- and will always remember -- the vital role they played in the war effort.

The recognition is deserved, and we could even supply traditional food for the unveiling ceremony to get the Governor General's attention!

The bus stops here
NWT News/North - Monday, September 12, 2011

Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen's push to have the GNWT assist in maintaining a passenger bus service link between the NWT and Alberta might demonstrate a concern for her constituents, but too few of them are actually using the service to justify such a costly endeavour.

On Oct. 24, Greyhound's Peace River, Alta., to Hay River route will be axed along with 12 other under-used routes. Will the passenger bus service be missed in the NWT? For a handful of people, possibly. The truth is, Greyhound isn't ending its passenger service and leaving hundreds of travellers stranded.

According to the company's most recent ridership numbers, an average of 6.4 people were using the service per trip - and that's on a 54-seat bus.

Victoria Lynn Enciso hit it on the head when she spoke to News/North after getting off the bus -- which carried a mere five passengers -- on Aug. 24. She said although she thinks the bus service should be saved, it won't affect her because of inexpensive flights to the south.

The difference between flying and busing to Edmonton from Hay River is approximately $330.

For a round-trip ticket that difference might seem hefty at $660. However, usership, or lack thereof in this instance, is what's telling.

Ensuring people have affordable options to travel, considering our vast distance to other points in Canada, should be a government priority, but when choosing to assist or subsidize private business we should target services with high usership. Such a subsidy or incentive would make more sense targeting people from fly-in only communities.

Unfortunately, in this case to passengers taking the bus south it seems like a nice service to have and not a necessity. Perhaps a private business will step in to fill the void and offer a route to Peace River that will connect to Greyhound's service.

No one wants to see fewer travel options in the NWT but, in this case, a solution should come from private business and not the GNWT: the usership just doesn't justify it.

Motorized vehicles under scrutiny
NWT News/North - Monday, September 12, 2011

Garth Wallbridge, a Canol trail enthusiast, wants all-terrain vehicles banned from the historic 335-km route that goes from Norman Wells, through the Mackenzie Mountains and onto the Yukon border.

Considered by many as one of the most challenging trails in Canada, the Canol Trail was originally built by the United States military as a service road to construct and maintain an oil pipeline during the Second World War.

When the effort came to a halt, the trail was left littered with abandoned vehicles, supplies and equipment. Considering its past nature, it seems ironic to want to keep motorized vehicles off the trail. However, there is an argument for preservation.

This is definitely a situation where a concrete management plan for the region must be drawn up after consultation with people who live in the area.

We imagine the solution won't be as easy as simply banning all-terrain vehicles on the trail, especially if hunters are using it to access traplines and hunting ranges.

We agree that our historical sites should be protected and maintained but let's not take a knee-jerk approach to management based on tracks left behind by southern and irresponsible ATV riders.

Empty shelves, empty calories
Nunavut News/North - Monday, September 12, 2011

According to a representative of the food bank in Iqaluit, perishable food has "unattainable" status for many Nunavummiut.

For most it's a matter of fresh food being priced beyond what they can afford.

But the experience of four hamlets that endured food shortages this summer shows the how unattainable fresh food is, often due to it simply not being available.

In Iglulik in July, a breakdown of the community freezer coincided with a delay in the arrival of old-age security cheques due to a postal lockout. Elders lost country food to spoilage, and didn't have the money to buy food at the store.

Then Resolute's Co-op ran low on food due to a breakdown in communication - food shipment orders weren't being placed while a manager was away from the community.

In August, Cape Dorset ran out of perishables when flights were cancelled for eight days straight due to fog. Luckily that community had just received its sealift and was well-stocked with non-perishables.

And in recent weeks Grise Fiord's co-op had its own headaches trying to get food into the community after the plane crash in Resolute, the airport through which all of Grise Fiord's shipments are routed.

The freshest food is found locally and keeping community freezers in good repair is important to maintaining a supply of country food year-round. Earlier this year the Government of Nunavut committed $1.1 million to upgrade, repair or replace community freezers.

But fresh food from the south, the milk and fruits and vegetables experts urge people to make the mainstay of their diets to stay healthy, comes on airplanes. And what's been exacerbating the consequences of late orders and disrupted flights - a common enough occurrence in the North - is the current lack of priority for food cargo, priority it had under the old Food Mail program.

Now under Nutrition North cargo is cargo is cargo, and cargo can get bumped for a variety of reasons, regardless if it's perishable. The longer pallets of fresh food sit at the airport, even after the weather clears, the worse its condition when it finally gets where it's going.

Getting fresh food to Nunavummiut communities by air while it's still edible is a challenge at the best of times. Classifying food as cargo instead of as food is hindering these efforts instead of helping.

The members of the Nutrition North advisory board would be wise to take note of this, and add it to the list of things that aren't working with this new program.

Cleaning downtown's wounds
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 9, 2011

It was a particularly brazen scene, even for downtown Yellowknife.

A man punches another in broad daylight, takes his money and runs while passersby stare in disbelief. A gory photo of the victim and the story of emergency personnel tending to him in his injured state can be found on page 11 of the Aug. 31 Yellowknifer.

Such images reinforce downtown Yellowknife's rough and tumble reputation. The ceaseless crime and rampant addiction has caused Centre Square Mall to board up one of its entrances, and has city council looking at spending millions to purchase properties on "Range Street" in hopes of somehow regaining some measure of control over the mayhem.

But another story in the Aug. 31 Yellowknifer - this one on the opposite page - paints a different story of downtown.

Earlier this summer BHP Billiton partnered with the SideDoor Youth Centre in a litter clean-up plan focused primarily on Range Street. Youth from the centre, armed with brooms and dust pans and wearing reflector vests, have been combing the streets for trash to pick up twice a month.

The group was out cleaning up the street the same day as the assault near the post office.

It's a noble effort in an age when youth are too often portrayed as inconsiderate and disinterested in their community.

Yellowknife's downtown streets may be mean in some ways but BHP and the SideDoor prove once again that not all is vile and ugly in the city's core.

Making your mark
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, September 8, 2011

The territorial election period has officially started.

During the week of Sept. 5 to 9, people can submit forms to the offices of the returning officers to be declared a candidate. In the two ridings in the Deh Cho region, some people have already stated their intentions to run.

There will be no acclamation for incumbent Michael McLeod this time around. Michael Nadli has stepped forward as a candidate for the position of MLA of the Deh Cho.

In the Nahendeh, only incumbent Kevin Menicoche had thrown his hat into the ring as of Sept. 6, but more people may come forward before the end of the week.

In both ridings, as in the rest of the territory, the key to having a successful election will be voter participation. Candidates can campaign as hard as they want, visit every house in their constituency and plaster posters and campaign material across every yard, but none of it will matter if voters aren't engaged.

Voter participation is always a concern during every election, territorial or otherwise. Our electoral system is all about allowing the people to choose their leaders. Low voter turnout, however, means that a minority of the people usually choose the government that everyone will have to live under.

People often complain they don't like or agree with the way the territorial government is being run. That criticism is only valid if the person in question went out and voted and tried to have a say in what that government would look like.

So what will it take to get the majority of eligible voters out to the polls on Oct. 3?

Part of the responsibility does lie with the candidates. By engaging with voters and encouraging them to get to the polls, the candidates can increase voter numbers.

Most of the initiative, however, falls on the territory's residents themselves. People have to make a conscious decision to exercise their right to vote.

Residents have to decide which issues matter to them and make a point of finding out which candidate most closely matches their values or concerns. Attending candidate forums is a great way to evaluate all of the candidates in a riding. Reading the campaign materials that each candidate produces is also a good place to start.

Residents also have to believe that their vote can make a difference. It's easy to think one vote won't change who will be elected, but there have been some close results in the past.

With less than a month to go until election day, it is more important now than ever that residents get engaged in the election and decide how they will make their ballot count.

Vote for women
Editorial Comment
Samantha Stokell
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 8, 2011

The final day for submitting candidacy papers for the territorial election is tomorrow, Sept. 9. That means you likely have less than 24 hours to get in your nomination papers. If you're a woman debating about whether or not to throw your cap in the ring, here's some food for thought.

As of July 2010, women made up 48 per cent of the population of the NWT, but held only 16 per cent of the seats in the legislative assembly.

In the 2007 election, 40 candidates ran for office and eight of them were women. There are a number of reasons why anyone decides to run or not run in an election, but if the Northwest Territories wants to have a true democracy, more women should run in the election.

How can the government properly represent the people, if everyone is not represented? Women have different issues and concerns than men and while men surely can listen and understand them, they likely have other priorities.

Right now two women sit in the assembly: Wendy Bisaro of Yellowknife and Jane Groenewegen of Hay River. Sandy Lee, also of Yellowknife, did have a seat but resigned to run in the federal election.

Having an equal number of men and women in government will lead to better policies, better laws and better governance, simply because of more diverse perspectives. The United Nations recognizes this and recommends at least 30 per cent of legislators should be women to properly represent women's concerns. In the NWT, that would mean six women need to be elected in the Oct. 3 territorial election.

Ladies, you have 24 hours. Get your nomination papers in.

Prepare for winter now

No matter how many Labour Days have passed since the last time you went to school, there is still a sense of expectation when September rolls around.

Things pause for a second as everyone gathers energy and dreams about what the next eight months will hold.

Anticipation is in the air. What will we learn? Who will we meet? Where will we go?

For those newcomers to Inuvik, there may be a bit of fear mingled with the hope of what's to come. The days are visibly shorter now and we know the darkness is coming.

Seriously, how does one prepare to say goodbye to the sun for such a long period of time and still manage to function every day?

This is where long-term residents can help out. Be our teachers. Use this winter to show us how to survive and enjoy the winter months.

What's the key? Vitamin D? Buying a UV lamp? Socializing?

Should we stay in and hold potlucks, join clubs, get a hobby, learn a skill? There's enough going on in this town to keep anyone occupied.

Or should we get outside and snowmobile, cross-country ski, snowshoe, ice skate, walk the dog, watch the aurora borealis or have a campfire?

Either way, it's best to get organized now so that by Halloween, you're prepared. By the end of November, there will be only 12 minutes of sunlight a day and you better have your routine down by then because the sun won't be back until January.

But it will be beautiful. Streetlights, stars, the moon, all reflect on the snow. There will a be a glow and a warm one if you've got your parka ready. So prepare and enjoy.

Listen to your teachers. They've been through this before and can help. And teachers, remember patience. We know we're not the first southerners to go through an Arctic winter, but it'll feel like that to us.

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