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Nahanni Butte paves the way
NWT News/North - Monday, April 16, 2012

Nahanni Butte's recent resource funding agreement with Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. demonstrates how fruitful negotiations between industry and First Nations can be in the NWT.

Aboriginal leaders have been given a bad rap by prolonged negotiations with government over land claims, resource sharing and development plans. However, that reputation should be shovelled onto the Canadian government, which is most often responsible for the delays that make developers wary of stepping foot North of 60 -- combined with the NWT's cumbersome regulatory system.

To the Government of Canada, negotiations with First Nations groups are nothing more than a process and whether that process concludes quickly or is dragged out for years is of little concern. So, as the bargaining meanders, the government is free to shuffle negotiators at will, bring reports back to numerous sub-committees and refuse to compromise because in the end, Ottawa has little to gain.

Fred Tesou, chief of the Nahanni Butte Dene Band, proved last month that First Nations leaders are not steadfastly against development nor are they unwilling to deal with industry. Tesou said Nahanni Butte needs resources -- a statement many aboriginal leaders understand -- and he credited Selwyn Chihong for being upfront in its approach with the band and the community.

Those particular negotiations can serve as an example, a message to developers and the government that First Nations are willing to deal if they are treated with respect and both parties come to the table with something to offer.

Woman's housing battle pays off
NWT News/North - Monday, May 14, 2012

How long would you fight for your rights? Many would give up well before the two-decade mark, but not Cecilia Kell. The Behchoko woman should be commended for defending not only her rights but those of all women in the NWT and Canada.

The UN recently ruled in Kell's favour following a judgment under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This ruling stemmed from her case originating in the 1990s, when her name was wrongfully removed from the title of her home by her ex-husband, a director of the Housing Authority Board at the time.

Flaws in the Canadian legal system, including cultural insensitivity and lack of supports, contributed to the drawn-out proceedings and the eventual filing with the UN.

As Sue Glowach, senior communications adviser with the GNWT Department of Justice, says, a lot has changed in the past 20 years.

More court workers are aboriginal, access to services for women is improving and cultural knowledge and sensitivity has advanced. An argument could also be made that an angry husband would unlikely be able to so easily remove his ex-wife's name from the title of their home these days.

That said, this ruling might still further improve the legal system in the NWT as it pertains to women and aboriginal women. Glowach said the GNWT, in conjunction with the Government of Canada, will review the UN recommendation and assess the need for changes stemming from the report.

Hopefully any shortfalls identified in that review will help to better safeguard women in the NWT and across the country when they are dealing with legal matters.

Getting the most out of growth
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 14, 2012

Nunavut leading the country in economic growth for the second year in a row is excellent news, and is due mainly to Agnico-Eagle's Meadowbank gold mine - but the mine's employee absenteeism issues mean the average worker is falling through the cracks and not reaping the full benefits of this growth.

Agnico-Eagle's presence has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to Nunavut businesses since 2007, and in July 2011, 38 per cent of the workforce were Inuit, receiving an average of $66,000 in salary. Other than being spent during trips south, much of that money remains in the territory. However, on average last year, 22 Kivalliq employees did not show up for work each day.

Community liaisons have now been brought on board to help people catch flights, but what hasn't been acknowledged enough is the cultural differences that may be at play.

Working at a mine is about as different from traditional culture as an industry can get - workers are confined to the mine for days or weeks, living regimented lives, whereas traditional Inuit culture has had nothing to do with the 24-hour clock and standard industry work-week.

Though culture wanes, and many are thankfully trying to keep it alive, lifestyles can take a long time to change, and change must never happen at the expense of culture. Maybe a different employment model might be something to consider - whether this means a one-week-in, three-week-out setup, or more flexibility in when shifts begin. Training opportunities for Inuit skilled trades are paramount to improving life in the territory and local labour reduces costs for Agnico-Eagle, but there might be better ways to maximize the skills, success and efficiency of Northern employees.

This mine, and the others that are gearing up, mean huge benefits to the territory. Why not maximize the benefit it will bring to the average Nunavummiuq? Jobs in mining are as important as the seal hunt, the caribou hunt, fishing or traditional arts, in terms of bringing stability to Inuit lives and putting food on Inuit tables.

A new front in the seal hunt debate
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 14, 2012

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern has taken full advantage of what Twitter can do to get her word out to not only Iqalummiut and Nunavummiut, but to Canada and the world.

Those following her @madinuk account will have noticed her recently taking on anti-seal-hunt activists with fewer than 20 followers and political brass, such as Green Party leader Elizabeth May, with thousands.

Redfern has adamantly defended an industry that has immense traditional value and, until recently, a huge economic value for the territory.

She's been backed mostly by fellow Nunavummiut, but her words and those of others - @nuliayuk, @Teirersias, and @RadicalOmnivore, for instance - are reaching a national audience. These debates are in plain view for anyone with Internet access.

We wish them well in using modern technology to uphold a valuable and longstanding tradition.

Road to more opportunities
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 11, 2012

Competition is the engine that drives economic growth. So, it is understandable that questions are being asked after the Department of Transportation entered preliminary negotiations with the Det'on Cho Corporation for the Ingraham Trail Realignment Project without soliciting competing bids.

Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny condemns these dealings, conducted under the negotiated contracts policy, as unfair.

The policy allows untendered government contracts when they will result in benefits for businesses or residents unlikely to be achieved through competition, or where the negotiated contract would build competitive capacity for NWT businesses.

Dolynny criticizes the department for a lack of transparency as it meets with Det'on Cho, the economic development arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, which considers the Ingraham Trail part of its traditional lands.

However, the department's choice to potentially invoke the policy, which was also used to award a contract worth more than $3 million to Det'on Cho to work on the Dettah access road in 2009-2010, does not come as a surprise.

Discussions of benefits of the realignment project for the Yellowknives Dene have been a prominent part of the overall picture since the project was envisioned five years ago.

During the 16th legislative assembly in 2010, David Ramsay, now minister of Transportation, heralded the proposed realignment project as a beneficial opportunity for the Yellowknives Dene, long before he held a cabinet post. As minister, Ramsay is now overseeing the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Done correctly, the realignment promises to open up much-needed space for urban development, which would create future opportunities for which many Yellowknife companies should be allowed to compete.

The law has failed union tenants
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 11, 2012

As the Union of Northern Workers widens its intractable stance with four female tenants living in apartments inside the organization's headquarters on 52 Street, we find ourselves asking why the law is performing so badly in this dispute.

It has clearly failed in this case.

NWT rental officer Hal Logsdon ordered the union to provide its tenants access to their apartments through a fence on the west side of the building for a second time last week but as Logsdon himself has already pointed out, he has little power to enforce his edicts. The real power rests with the NWT Supreme Court where his first order has been languishing since Jan. 17.

As Logsdon's latest ruling concedes, if the union doesn't provide access to tenants within 21 days the applicant can hire a contractor and have it done herself, unless of course "the order is stayed."

Considering how the union has done everything in its power these last few months to keep the fence closed, including trying to have one of the complainants criminally charged for cutting a hole through it, no doubt this latest order will wind up in Supreme Court as well. That's a shame because everyone seems to agree that it's not safe for these women to have to go through the back alley to access their apartments while they say drug dealers linger in the area.

Union members should challenge union leadership on this issue.

The tenants have spoken out repeatedly, the rental officer has issued two rulings -- the fact that union leaders are fighting so hard to keep the chain link fence around its employees' vehicles intact is an acknowledgment that they too feel the area is unsafe. Now if only the courts would do something about it before someone gets hurt.

Nature's show
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 3, 2012

A seasonal marker has passed in many Deh Cho communities.

For those communities along either the Mackenzie or Liard rivers breakup is an important yearly milestone. No matter how long people have lived along one of the rivers, even if it is all their life, breakup holds a special draw.

The importance of break-up can be gauged by the activities that are linked to it. For days, even weeks before break-up, speculation over when and how it will happen is a major source of conversation. Some people put their money where their mouth is and enter into the break-up pools a variety of organizations run fundraisers.

As breakup draws near people move from talking to action. For many people, watching the rivers becomes a pastime and almost an obsession.

It's not uncommon in Fort Simpson to see vehicles streaming to and from the ferry crossing as residents gauge if the ice conditions have changed. When breakup actually starts, that stream of vehicles becomes a torrent as seemingly everyone goes to watch the ice move.

So what is it about breakup that draws people in?

For the more practical-minded residents, their interest is likely linked to genuine concern. If the ice jams and water levels begin to rise, a few Deh Cho communities, namely Fort Liard and Fort Simpson, risk flooding.

Some people must watch the breakup to assure themselves that everything is going smoothly or to be quickly alerted if things start to go wrong.

For other residents watching breakup is about taking in an awesome force of nature.

Even if you've seen it multiple times, there is something gripping and exciting about watching and listening as what was a flat sheet of ice buckles and cracks and slowly starts moving.

There's inherent drama in breakup as ice is forced against ice and there's a battle to see where the weak spots are and which section will falter first. No two breakups are alike. The show changes every year.

For other residents, perhaps a minority, break-up comes with a hope for excitement. Not that they want their community to flood but after a quiet winter some nail-biting moments would be nice.

Those residents will be disappointed this year. Breakup has seemingly passed Fort Liard and Fort Simpson without much to do and the ice is sweeping northwards.

Residents, however, can rest assured that the ice will be back again next year and the show will start again.

Have Harper cuts gone too far?
Editorial Comment
Laura Busch
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 10, 2012

The federal government seems to be making some pretty selective cuts in the North as it tries to balance the books in Ottawa.

Parks Canada is the latest in a long list of environmental and regulatory bodies to lose part of its federal funding.

Losing eight positions within the Western Arctic Field Unit means cutting out about 20 per cent of a government agency tasked with protecting the cultural and natural heritage of the entire Canadian Western Arctic a job that will no doubt be much more difficult for the dedicated Parks Canada employees moving forward.

The kicker in this story is that the Parks Canada unit based in Inuvik had not been running a deficit they had balanced their books. However, that didn't stop them from becoming casualties of the proclaimed recession.

It's true that when money gets tight and times get tough, everyone should do their share to make ends meet. However, as Dan Frandsen, acting field unit superintendent for Parks Canada in Inuvik said, "Parks Canada is doing a fairly large share."

When one examines the recent cutbacks made in the name of austerity by the federal government, a trend starts to emerge: government-funded environmental monitoring is going the way of the dodo.

While some might consider such concerns to be unfounded or exaggerated, it should be noted there are other changes coming down the pipe from Ottawa that will change how resource development projects are done in the North and who gets a say.

The proposed energy superboard has drawn criticism from all Northern Aboriginal groups, as was displayed at a meeting held in Yellowknife in late March to discuss proposed amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

One thing the superboard and cuts to environmental monitoring have in common is they make it easier for resources to be extracted from the North.

On one hand, jobs are in short supply up here and making the area more attractive to big businesses could benefit many people in the short term.

But what about the long term? Reducing the amount of public consultation and environmental oversight will do more than cut the red tape that may or may not be preventing companies from doing business in the North it could alienate the people who live here and pillage our natural resources until there is nothing left for the future.

Charity is not a business
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Centre for Northern Families, a long-standing charitable organization in the city, is shifting gears to operate more like a business.

However, the shelter's multiple services and programs are not a business, they are a necessity for numerous women and children.

The centre has been dealing with financial woes for many years. To find more money, staff at the shelter began managing the Wade Hamer mini golf course in 2006. That venture has added more problems than help in recent years due to repeated acts of vandalism during summer months. It resulted in more distractions than beneficial income.

The Centre for Northern Families provides valuable services - offering an accessible emergency shelter for women fleeing violence, a community centre operating a variety of programs from daycare to prenatal classes, a medical clinic and youth and mental health programs open to the community.

Arlene Hache, the shelter's executive director who recently announced her resignation after 20 years, has long maintained that the centre is chronically underfunded. She saw the Centre for Northern Families slide into debt to the tune of $350,000. Hache made it clear to Yellowknifer in 2009 that she felt the GNWT's annual $30,000 in core funding, an amount that hadn't changed since 1995, was far from adequate.

Regardless, the Centre for Northern Families' mandate was, and must remain, to help the most disadvantaged people regain control of their lives.

A good business plan will help maximize the centre's benefits and achieve its objectives, which would be helpful. But what must be remembered is if the centre is in any business at all, it's in the business of taking care of women and their families at any cost.

City's towing policy should be equal
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

City council wouldn't tolerate a cab company setting its own rates so why are towing companies allowed to charge whatever they like when bylaw officers call to have a vehicle removed?

The discrepancy seems obvious. When someone needs a taxi they call one knowing they all charge the same rate. You can thank city council for that. Yellowknifer has long argued that the rate a cab company charges ought to be the left to the marketplace but council has decided to keep that prerogative for itself.

However, when it comes to tow trucks, it's an open market, even when a bylaw officer places a call. When the municipal enforcement division wants a vehicle towed its officers have a choice: go with the company that charges $150 plus GST during regular hours or the one that charges $100 more.

It's unclear to us why Age Automotive puts the price of a tow during daylight hours at $150 and DJ's Towing goes with $250 but in the absence of any city hall direction on their rates, that's what they charge.

Asked about the difference in rates and the random process by which the towing companies are available, Mayor Gord Van Tighem didn't offer an explanation - he only said he tries to avoid situations where he'd be towed.

It is up to vehicle owners to make sure they are following the rules of the road but council should make sure the rules - and penalties - are fair.

If the city is using a private service to have vehicles towed it should be put out to tender like any other contractor the city uses.

That way citizens can be assured of equal penalties, a demand which is certainly within reason.

Baby step towards prosperity
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It's encouraging to see the Government of Nunavut (GN) continue to be proactive with trades training.

For more than a decade, training has been the key word in almost every discussion focused on being gainfully employed in the Kivalliq mining industry.

Nunavut Arctic College worked with Baffinland Iron Mines to develop curriculum for its environmental technology diploma and, this past month, the GN entered into a memorandum of understanding with AgnicoEagle Mines (AEM) Ltd. to help develop its high school trades curriculum.

The new partners will work towards developing mine and tradesrelated curriculum and career-development activities for Nunavut students.

These developments will prove to be a huge boost to Kivalliq students, both at the school and postsecondary levels, especially with the trade school also off to such a fine start in Rankin Inlet.

While it's true it may be too late for AEM's Meadowbank gold mine near Baker Lake, now slated to close in 2017, the curriculum could produce ready-for-employment grads just as the company's Meliadine project kicks into high gear in Rankin.

With the combination of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) being all positive from receiving its first royalty payment of more than $2 million from AEM, and the company insisting it's committed to Nunavut despite its financial struggles at Meadowbank, opportunity should continue to abound for years to come.

And that doesn't even take into account the numerous other mining companies hoping to open shop in the Kivalliq before too long.

No matter how you view it, company involvement with curriculum development is a win-win situation, especially for those who have decided to seek a career in mining or mineral exploration, and those who will in coming years.

All that being said, equally encouraging is the GN forming partnerships with mineral companies in the true sense of the word, not just in ways that use fancy titles to mask the only objective of "give us more money, please."

While it may be seen as a baby step in some quarters, it is, nonetheless, a step in the right direction to ease the perception of Nunavut being such a hard territory, in which to conduct business.

I had the chance to speak with Brian Tobin during the former minister's visit to Rankin more than a decade ago.

He told me although it was early in the game, prime importance had to be placed on the way Nunavut's bureaucracy (GN, regional Inuit associations and NTI) interacted with companies wishing to do business here to ensure the best interests of all were met.

Being from Newfoundland, Tobin was well versed in both sides of that equation.

The Innu were not consulted before their land was used for the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in 1969, and it flooded vast stretches of their land for which they were never compensated.

Conversely, Inco signed Inuit impact benefit agreements that worked for all parties for the Voisey's Bay nickel-copper-cobalt project.

Today, many of its employees are Inuit or Innu. They took baby steps of partnership and co-operation and now reap the benefits.

Hopefully, we've started down the same path.

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