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Real need for expansion of university education
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 17, 2013

You could hear it in their voices. Graduates from Yellowknife's North Slave Campus of Aurora College really want to further their education by completing a degree program in the NWT.

Unfortunately, for some, their only option right now is to pursue their further learning with online studies, or by relocating to the south to attend a post-secondary institution in another city.

Valedictorian Anne Mackenzie is originally from Behchoko but now lives in Yellowknife. She just completed the social work diploma program but wants to obtain a bachelor degree in social work. That is something she can't do in the NWT capital. In the process of preparing her address to graduates, she heard many heartwarming stories from Aurora College students.

At the convocation on May 4 were graduates with either a master of nursing, a bachelor of science, a social work diploma, a personal support work certificate, a business administration certificate or diploma, or an early childhood development certificate.

The personal support work certificate, a 10-month program, was custom tailored by the college after the Tlicho Community Services Agency and Tlicho Government asked it to create a program to train staff for an elders home that is being expanded in Behchoko.

We applaud the college for rising to the occasion and creating the program, which resulted in the highest number of graduates from the North Slave Campus, with 84 students accomplishing their goals.

However, more needs to be done to expand the range of post-secondary offerings by Aurora College.

It is interesting to note that one of the requirements of the NWT Chamber of Commerce scholarship program is that recipients of the two $2,500 awards must plan to return to the NWT after their studies are completed. That is one way to get post-secondary graduates to work in the North.

We suggest it makes more sense to offer those people who want to further their studies beyond high school the ability to take a wider range of university and college courses in the NWT because those students who don't get a chamber scholarship and go south to study may never come back.

Of course, the responsibility for expansion of post-secondary education lies with the territorial government and Aurora College administrators. It is a big-money issue, particularly when one considers a standalone campus in Yellowknife is most desirable.

Territorial politicians have paid the issue some lip service in the past. The fourth session of the legislative assembly is set to reconvene on May 29. Appropriately, the 17th assembly's caucus priorities are stated as, "Believing in people and building on the strengths of Northerners."

We challenge MLAs and cabinet ministers to make expansion of post-secondary offerings in Yellowknife a priority.

Public relations disaster at Giant Mine
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 17, 2013

The federal government is wildly inconsistent when it comes to public communications on Giant Mine.

Yellowknifer criticized the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development last month after it spent two weeks dithering over its response to accusations from Alternatives North that it deliberately withheld the full cost of cleaning up Giant Mine - $903 million to date - during public hearings into remediation plans last fall.

After first refusing to comment, the department issued a guest column to Yellowknifer from Zoe Raemer, its associate regional director, that ignored the $903-million figure and instead embarked on a confusing discussion on the cost of "implementing" its remediation plan, about $449 million. The department didn't acknowledge until much later that there was a difference between the cost of implementing its remediation plan and the total cost.

On the other hand, last week it couldn't get the news release out fast enough that there had been a minor spill of mine muck into Baker Creek.

Such inconsistencies leads one to wonder how many people have a hand in deciding what is being said publicly, and how many of them are in Yellowknife or in far away Ottawa.

The issue was highlighted again on May 8 during a consultation meeting in Ndilo when an audience member asked what sort of disaster plan the department has should arsenic trioxide escape into the water supply. A good question, and one that deserves a detailed response.

Unfortunately, the Giant Mine remediation team member answering questions at the meeting couldn't provide one. Nor could she point to a publicly available source for residents to examine for themselves. This is truly bad form, and exemplifies how every time the feds try to move an inch forward in its communications efforts on Giant Mine, it's driven a foot back by its lack of preparedness.

This is why people are very nervous as the clean-up team gets set this summer to dismantle old mine workings that are stuffed full of arsenic.

Taking responsibility for devolution
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 16, 2013

Devolution. It's something that's been in the news a lot lately and a word that seems to be on the lips of all politicians and leaders.

The question, however, is how much does the regular citizen of the NWT know about devolution and the changes it will bring to the territory. According to Alternatives North, a social justice coalition, most people probably don't know as much as they should.

The organization held a public meeting in Fort Simpson on May 8 as part of an effort to promote thoughtful discussion about devolution and to help people come up with questions they should be asking their MLAs. Alternatives North doesn't think MLAs will debate devolution unless they think their constituents care, which is really the next question.

Do NWT residents care about devolution?

It's impossible to say how much the average person living in Nahanni Butte or Fort Simpson cares about devolution, but even if they don't necessarily care, people do have a responsibility to be informed.

Through devolution, the territorial government will take over responsibility for managing public land, water and resources in the NWT that the federal government currently holds. Devolution, according to the GNWT, will give residents a greater say in how those public lands, water and resources are managed, in how the environment is protected and in how the economy is developed. Devolution will change the territory and the people living in it need to know what those changes will bring.

Some people, however, are taking the stance that devolution is inevitable and will happen whether or not residents like it. The danger with that complacency is that it gives people the false sense that they have no responsibility with regards to devolution.

If people don't take reasonable steps to inform themselves, ask questions and raise concerns, then they are as good as agreeing with devolution. If in a few years down the road, there are aspects of devolution that are not working well for the territory, it will only be those residents who raised concerns and tried to make changes that will have the right to really complain. Conversely, if things go well, those same people can say they actively supported devolution.

Devolution is about to bring a lot of changes to the territory. Residents don't have to care about every little detail, but as responsible citizens they should have an overall understanding of what is coming and how it will affect them, their community and their family. That knowledge can be gained by attending community meetings about devolution, visiting the GNWT's devolution website or by questioning MLAs.

Congratulations to graduates
Editorial Comment by T. Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 16, 2013

It was very interesting to attend my first Aurora Campus convocation last week for a few reasons.

First, I didn't expect the graduation ceremony to be such a significant event. In my experience graduation ceremonies are not the social and cultural occasion they are here. So it was a novelty to see the numbers that turned out to view the ceremony.

It was even more remarkable to see the number of senior GNWT bureaucrats attending the ceremony with the blessings of their political masters. All kidding aside about who was minding the shop and doing the work on Friday afternoon, it was another mark of how significant a social milestone it was to have a convocation ceremony here.

I was mulling that over during and after the event, trying to sort out why such a fuss was being made.

Sixteen people graduated during the convocation, which college student wellness counsellor David Bob said is about average, not an unusual or remarkable number for a graduating class.

Instead, it's a reflection of how important education is in this area. To some extent, it's a reflection that access to higher education is still a bit of a novelty here.

I've become a little more familiar with the education system here in the NWT since my arrival and how it differs from my experiences growing up. Even in rural areas of southern Ontario, where graduation rates in high school and beyond have been a cause of concern periodically through the years, it's taken for granted that the vast majority of people will graduate in a timely fashion. A large percentage of them will move on to higher education, either in community college or university. So most people have become blase about the process. Familiarity, after all, breeds indifference.

Not so here. In the North, there's a much better recognition of how much work it takes to earn a diploma or a degree, and how much sacrifice is involved at times. It's also a recognition of a calculated gamble that higher education will pay off with a better life, which is something that people to the south are now beginning to question. A glut of graduates with degrees and diplomas will do that.

Most of the people graduating May 10 were mature students, who have other careers and families. Yet they still made the time to chase a dream to better themselves. As keynote speaker Robert Alexie told them "success begins with education and a plan."

As someone who can honestly be called an "overeducated bum" (two degrees and a college diploma qualify me for that description), I wish them all the best and I too salute their efforts. I also hope to see many more such convocations in years to come.

Bad behaviour, bad bylaw
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

When the city of Calgary passed its public behaviour bylaw in November 2006 - one of the few Canadian cities to have such a bylaw - its stated target were late night revellers getting into fights and trashing the streets after bars closed and after Calgary Flames hockey games.

Opponents of the bylaw argued it would inevitably make homelessness illegal, and result in thousands of tickets being handed out to people who couldn't afford to pay them. Fineable offences include spitting, public urination and defecation, fighting, and inappropriately placing one's feet on public property. Fines range from $50 to $300.

The Calgary Police Service couldn't say who the main recipients of the tickets were during an interview with Calgary newspaper Fast Forward Weekly in 2011. But it did disclose that some 4,869 tickets were handed out in 2010.

Since Yellowknife doesn't have a Red Mile or an NHL sports team it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who the intended target is now that the city is proposing a behaviour bylaw of its own. The item was presented during a city council strategic planning session two weeks ago.

While the city doesn't often contend with throngs of late-night partiers, it does have a homeless problem. Constant loitering, aggressive panhandling, and filthy downtown streets from spitting and public urination are reasons why Centre Square Mall closed off its south entrance in 2010.

But how futile would it be to give bylaw officers the power to give these people tickets for public behaviour offences? It's probably a safe assumption that they would be about as successful as the courts and the RCMP have been at mitigating the problem under the Criminal Code. If people thought parking ticket clerks have it rough, wait until the city unleashes its behaviour patrol out into the streets.

City council has made downtown revitalization a priority. Coping with Yellowknife's homeless population poses a very difficult challenge. But it's wasting its time trying to police it.

Emphasizing street and facade revitalization, along with continued advocacy for the expansion of social programs, such as an in-patient rehab clinic, are more productive paths to follow.

A behaviour bylaw can only lead to a ballooning municipal enforcement department no better suited to handling bad behaviour on downtown streets than they are today.

Speaking out about pain
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Patience and pain are perfect strangers, which is why injured worker Bruce McMahon does not wish to wait until next spring for the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) to review its pain policy.

After breaking six ribs in a fall at work in 2007, the construction worker has suffered from back pain due to a pinched nerve. When the WSCC rejected his application for compensation to cover the cost of expensive pain medication, McMahon appealed to the NWT Human Rights Commission, where a settlement was eventually reached with the WSCC.

McMahon's case points to a crack in the system that needs to be repaired, sooner than later.

The WSCC's Permanent Impairment Rating Guide is presently being reviewed and until that task is complete, the subsequent pain policy review, scheduled for next March, will have to wait, according to commission president Dave Grundy.

While it seems the WSCC is decreasing the number of public complaints from applicants, suggesting the commission achieves far more successes than failures, the lack of consideration given to injured workers suffering from pain disorders requires swift resolution.

McMahon is calling on other injured workers to speak out by contacting their MLAs. Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley is asking for a review of the Workers' Compensation Act.

The WSCC should approach this growing outcry as an opportunity to improve, similar to the way the Department of Education, Culture and Employment vowed to immediately address recommendations by the auditor general of Canada on how to fix problems with the territory's social assistance programs.

Anything less than immediate action would be mean prolonged pain for people such as McMahon.

Spirit and pride par for the course
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A heaping helping of Kivalliq kudos are warranted for everyone involved with the Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf Tournament in Rankin Inlet this past week.

Organizer Adriana Kusugak is bang on when she says the community always steps up to the plate when it comes to supporting a cause.

It really has been a constant source of pride and amazement to me ever since I began calling Rankin home back in 1998.

For the business community, contrary to what some people might think, it's not always easy to simply write a cheque or pull a nice item off a store shelf and donate it to a fundraiser.

Yes, there are more than a few businesses in the Kivalliq that, shall we say, aren't exactly lacking in profits, but even they can experience slow times.

And, just as importantly, they can only say yes so many times.

Smaller and/or newer businesses have a much narrower profit margin to draw from.

Yet, time and time again, they find ways to support the fundraising efforts of worthy causes in our community.

And, I would be remiss if I did not mention our airlines.

As much as we all like to grumble about the cost of our tickets or freight, they also step up to the plate time and time again to provide free passes to be used as raffle or prize items, as well as for celebrity personalities or out-of-town guests and organizers to travel to our community.

They also help out a number of initiatives by shipping donated items to our communities free of charge.

But, beyond the obvious financial contributions from our business and corporate communities, there's also a true sense of community pride in Rankin when it comes to charity work and fundraising efforts.

No matter what one may think of our fine community, to suggest otherwise would be nothing less than sheer folly.

From the annual RCMP Christmas Hamper Drive, to the Terry Fox Run and numerous other cancer fighting activities, our own Deacon's Cupboard operation, literacy events, families in need, sports teams needing to travel and countless other initiatives throughout the year - Rankin Inlet is second to none when it comes to its generosity and community spirit.

Folks who come to help with fundraising events are treated with courtesy and respect, and our volunteers go out of their way to make sure, as best they can, our guests truly enjoy the Rankin experience.

The sense of pride even manifests itself during preparations, when our hamlet workers go the extra mile to add a touch of pizazz to the mix, as we saw this past week with the creation of the snowy golf course on Williamson Lake.

Fundraising and charity work can never solve all our ills, but they can certainly help make life a little better for a lot of folks.

To see a community take such pride in its efforts is truly inspiring.

The entire Kivalliq region is well-known for its generosity and fundraising efforts, but that little extra touch of personality can often go a long way.

And, in Rankin Inlet, that's par for the course.

No home sweet home for teachers
NWT News/North - Monday, May 13, 2013

Home sweet home is not a reality for many teachers in the NWT, especially in the smaller communities. In a recent report issued by the NWT Teachers' Association, our territory's educators speak out about issues they face: crowded and expensive accommodations; lack of water, furnace malfunctions, broken windows, and unsanitary conditions, to name a few. The absence of concrete housing information to offer potential recruits severely impairs the territory's ability to recruit and retain teaching staff.

Many job offers - 44 per cent of those who responded to the survey according to the report -- are declined because there is a lack of acceptable housing. Inadequate housing also creates stress, which filters into the classroom, affecting job performance.

RCMP officers stationed in small communities have accommodations provided for them. Locum nurses and doctors are provided staff housing for short periods of time through the GNWT. The territorial government was responsible for staff housing up until the 1990s. When it gave up this duty, that is when the housing crisis began to escalate, the report states.

Returning to a government-involved housing program makes sense. Certain standards must be met and accountable oversight needs to be in place.

The GNWT should create a partnership agreement with private business to ensure housing needs are met.

If the government were to cost share the construction of staff housing with a private developer and recuperate the money over time through a return on investment agreement it would provide a construction incentive and free the GNWT from the long-term costs of maintenance and management. Combined with stronger legislation to ensure proper maintenance and building standards and housing would no longer be a barrier to finding and keeping staff. With 97.5 per cent of teachers living in the community in which they work there is a solid business case for such a project as the private owner would be guaranteed tenants. Such a plan might also help free the GNWT of the costs associated with housing temporary health-care staff who might choose to stay longer if suitable accommodations were available.

Through this report, as well as the Department of Education Culture and Employment's review of the territory's education system, and the brave and necessary narratives from the teachers themselves, the GNWT must understand there is a crisis affecting those whose job it is to instill the territory's youth with knowledge. It is an issue that demands immediate action.

The government must listen to the pleas from our territory's educators. An investment in the well-being of teachers through proper housing will in turn invest in higher retention, student success and economic development in communities.

Northern talent showcased on national stage
NWT News/North - Monday, May 13, 2013

Artists from the NWT have returned home from a tremendous opportunity in the nation's capital to showcase their work. Northern Scene featured music, dance, visual arts, literature, food and fashion from the North from April 25 to May 4. The showcase was part of a series of festivals representing Canada's regions over the past 10 years to highlight artists and work from various regions.

Northern art and culture is something alluring and exotic to southern audiences, and judging by the masses that converged on Ottawa's National Arts Centre it's obviously thirsted for. Two shows put on by drum dancing groups were sold out. There was also an artists' market buzzing with shoppers hoping to get their hands on Northern art.

Media coverage from the event also ensured the stories of talent during the festival spread beyond the art centre's walls. Northern Scene opened Southern eyes to the fascinating ingenuity and craftsmanship of NWT artists. Not only did it show off the traditional pieces of art and performances from this territory, but also placed an important spotlight on the contemporary art that is being created every day.

The success of the festival calls for future events similar in scale for Northern artists to visit outside markets and shine.

Words can end the cycle
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 13, 2013

We hope last week's article on Emanuel Maktar's efforts to raise awareness and spur discussion about suicide through a Pond Inlet walk will encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

Maktar, who lost his two older brothers to suicide, told Nunavut News/North that talking about the issue is very important, and that people can't just let their feelings turn dark in quietude when someone they love takes their own life ("Action against tragic problem," May 6). He's right.

First, let's look at it by the numbers. As of last summer there had been 379 suicides since 1999 in this territory of approximately 33,588 people. The age range of that group - 313 males, 66 females - went from 62 down to 12 years old. If we extrapolate, Nunavut's average of 29 suicides per year, per 33,588 people, would be 86 suicides per 100,000 people. Canada's national average is 11 suicides per 100,000 people.

Statistically, the problem is staggering. Looking at the human effects paints an even tougher picture.

The pall of grief after a suicide can wreak havoc on a community. Family and friends are distraught, sometimes irreconcilable. Acquaintances or even friends of friends, if not grieving directly for the victim, are grieving for those they love who are in pain. When considering the population numbers, it usually means entire communities suffer from these tragic death. It takes a while for someone to even wrap their mind around what happened, and then there is the battle to try and shake free of the darkness of it.

All the while, it's so hard to talk about. Such discussions are fraught with questions of why someone would take their life, and with guilt - almost always misplaced - at not having helped prevent the death.

Feelings of guilt, longing, depression and loneliness that arise from a loved one's death - self-inflicted or otherwise - are too heavy a burden to bear alone. The same can be said of bad feelings born from abuse, relationship troubles, or personal struggles with addiction, among other issues prevalent in the North.

Those struggling with depression or loss should talk to friends or family. If that's not a resource they can tap into, or if they want to talk to a professional, they can call the help-phone lines that are available to Nunavummiut.

Walks such as Maktar's and events organized by the Embrace Life Council are the perfect places to go for support. They're opportunities to be open for the day, to have these discussions and to see that those struggling are not alone. As famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was known to say, "There is nothing new under the sun" - other people have climbed out of the dark places one visits when depressed, or when they've lost someone to suicide. If you're there right now, seek these people out and use their road maps to healing. It won't necessarily be easy, but it's worth it. The cycle of suicide, loss, depression and more suicide can and must be broken.

If you need to talk to someone, the number for the Nunavut Kamatsaiqtut Help Line is 1-800-265-3333, and the number for the Kids Help Phone is 1-800-668-6868.

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