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10 years of Tlicho rule
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, August 17, 2015

The joy that filled Behchoko as Tlicho citizens celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Tlicho Land Claims and Self-government Agreement earlier this month was hard-earned.

At that same spot in 1921, Chief Monfwi proclaimed the words that still guide the Tlicho during the signing ceremony for Treaty 11, which guaranteed health and education services and other federal programs to the First Nation in exchange for resource development rights: "As long as the sun rises, the river flows, and the land does not move, we will not be restricted from our way of life."

Generations of Tlicho elders and activists have since struggled to make their people's voices heard, maintain stewardship of the land, and protect their communities from colonial afflictions, such as addiction and the loss of language, traditional skills and culture, while wrestling Ottawa into fruitful negotiations.

When Monfwi died in 1936, his successor, Chief Jimmy Bruneau, insisted his people take over responsibility for education, achieving an agreement with the commissioner of the NWT to build a school run by members of the First Nation with the goal of protecting indigenous language, skills and culture.

In the seventies, he led protests against the federal government to demand that land claims be negotiated after land ownership and promises made in Treaties 8 and 11 went virtually ignored for years by Ottawa.

Monfwi, Bruneau and the many Tlicho who worked with them made self-determination possible in this century.

Signed on Aug. 2003 by then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien and representatives of the Treaty 11 Council, the Tlicho Agreement represents the first combined land claim and self-government agreement in the territory.

The 39,000-square-metre block of Tlicho land that envelopes the First Nation's four communities is one of the largest First Nations-owned land in the country, covering an area about equal to Switzerland.

The agreement provides for economic self-determination, certain sub-surface resource rights in Tlicho territory and $152 million in financial support over its first 14 years, allowing for a trust fund supplemented by mineral development royalties in the Mackenzie Valley.

The Tlicho government has law-making powers that reach into education, adoption, child and family services, training, income support, social housing, the promotion and preservation of Tlicho language and culture.

The agreement also established the Wek'eezhži Land and Water Board and the Wek'eezhži Renewable Resources Board to oversee land, water and wildlife protection alongside industrial development.

Nearly 85 per cent of eligible citizens cast ballots in the 2005 elections, reflecting the importance self-determination holds for them.

Today 90 per cent of Tlicho Government staff positions are filled by aboriginal people, the Tlicho Investment Corporation oversees close to 60 companies and joint ventures, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, and the young government is poised to take over a greater share of programs and services.

The Tlicho government has offered classes on the Tlicho Agreement, ensuring youth know and remember the path Monfwi, Bruneau and their successors have tread.

With historical perspective and dreams for a better future, the next generation of Tlicho leaders can be an example for all the territory's First Nations to learn from.


Redevelop markets for natural sealskin
Nunavut/News North - Monday, August 17, 2015

Objects of immense beauty fetch fine prices, whether they be made of diamond or gold. Fur fits into that category, too, especially fur from seals crafted into gorgeous items of clothing.

Rock star Rod Stewart certainly thought so during a concert in St. John's, N.L., this past summer when he stopped at a boutique and tried on a stylish sealskin jacket, as did his backup singers.

In Nunavut, leaders from Manitoba, Alberta, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories were presented with stunning sealskin vests and jackets to wear at the Western Premiers' Conference hosted by Premier Peter Taptuna in July 2014.

A person only has to see and feel a sealskin garment designed with a rich lining, fur-trimmed hood, buttons, zippers and decorative patterns to appreciate its beauty.

Just as history repeats itself, so do fashions and styles. Fur coats and fur hats were once popular in Canada, the United States and Europe. Now a new agreement between Canada and the European Union grants Nunavut an exemption to a ban on seal products, offers a new opportunity for seals harvested by Nunavut hunters to be used for more than subsistence purposes.

The Nunavut government and Ottawa has turned some attention to redevelopment of markets for Canadian sealskin products. Nunavut's seal and long fur industry is to receive $445,360 over two years to support marketing, training and research of the region's ringed seals.

At one time, sealskin coats, vests, purses, handbags, mitts and a variety of accessories were popular at fashion houses such as Prada in New York and Milan, Italy, Gucci on Fifth Avenue in New York, Versace in Milan, Italy, and Louis Vuitton in Paris and the United Kingdom.

Now that the territorial government is able to certify sealskins as having been harvested according to the rules of Indigenous Communities Exemption of the EU Seal Regime, the path is open for Inuit sealers to export their products.

But efforts to re-establish the market, which dried up in 2009 when the ban was put in place, is also the responsibility of the people in the European Union who incomprehensibly stained the product with diatribes and hyperbole.

It's been more six years since the damage was done to a healthy, sustainable part of Nunavut's economy.

All the players must be involved to return it to glory, so people around the world can once again appreciate the unique natural beauty of sealskin products.


Street fentanyl kills
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 14, 2015

There's a killer on the streets and it doesn't discriminate.

Anybody who comes in contact with this killer risks being its next victim - a perpetual Russian roulette. The killer's name is Fentanyl, just now gaining recognition and starting to turn heads and stop hearts permanently.

Drug use and abuse is intrinsically dangerous but throw a toxin up to 100-times more potent than morphine into the mix and it's deadly.

The warnings about fentanyl should be loud and clear.

Last week, Yellowknife RCMP and the territory's chief coroner released numbers and a warning: deaths linked to drug use more than doubled between 2011 and 2014 in the territory - from five to 11 respectively, with the numbers on the upswing each year.

The news release stated both first-time and long-time drug users have died. But the accompanying warning was more like a vague and general murmur about the dangers of using illicit street drugs. Chief coroner Cathy Menard did attribute the increased deaths to a combination of alcohol and fentanyl or "any other combination of drugs."

In February, Menard pointed to fentanyl as the cause of death for three people since 2012 - two from Yellowknife. There's no data available for this year.

Other media reports state the drug - a synthetic opiate used to treat severe pain - gained steam on the streets after a 2012 manufacturing change to OxyContin made it impossible for users to crush the pill up.

Authorities believe fentanyl is entering the country illegally and in powder form, and is often cut with other street-level drugs including heroin or sold as fake OxyContin. Pharmacies also dispense the drug, usually in patch form. In August 2014, Yellowknife RCMP seized 88 pills and another 593 pills in April.

In February 2014, Yellowknife police first warned of the existence of fentanyl-laced OxyContin pills on city streets. At the time, RCMP said the pills were green and stamped with "80" or "CDN" or white and stamped with "10."

Between 2009 and 2014 there were at least 655 deaths in Canada linked to fentanyl, according to a report by the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use released this month.

Sons, parents, daughters, couples - this killer doesn't discriminate in its victims.

Official warnings in the city have come in staccato bursts over the last few years.

Those warnings need to be sustained and widespread whether this means going into schools to talk with youth, equipping drug users with Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose in minutes, or encouraging parents to speak with their children about safe drug use.

Vague warnings just aren't going to cut it.


Housing more important than golf
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 14, 2015

It appears Coun. Niels Konge was the primary voice of dissent on council regarding an application for property tax exemption on the part of Habitat for Humanity.

The well-known not-for-profit completed a duplex in 2013, providing homes for two Yellowknife families which may not have otherwise been able to afford them. The organization now plans to open a re-use centre that would divert building material from the landfill to sell, generating revenue for future home building projects in Yellowknife.

What's not to like?

Habitat for Humanity is putting a dent in Yellowknife's affordable housing problem, a council priority. Unless we welcome a future where Yellowknife home ownership is the sole privilege of the well-heeled, we should be supporting this non-profit, not holding it back.

What is the value of creating affordable housing and keeping families in Yellowknife? It's a lot more than the $2,348.52 the city stands to lose by granting the exemption. Each person in the family represents $29,412 in extra territorial funding, much of which will be spend in the capital.

Is Konge arguing the city shouldn't grant Habitat for Humanity a tax exemption because this would encourage other not-for-profits to seek exemptions?

We say, if this "opens the floodgates" - to borrow coun. Konge's words - for other not-for-profits to set up shop in Yellowknife and improve circumstances so more people stay North, so be it, even at the cost of some missed municipal tax revenue.

The city has already seen fit to exempt city churches and groups such as the Yellowknife Golf Club from paying property taxes.

Supporting efforts to provide affordable housing should take precedence over improving a golf swing Councillor Konge.


Spotlight on mental health the first step
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 13, 2015
With mental health first aid courses ongoing in the Deh Cho region, communities have more opportunities than ever to learn about the struggle facing individuals with mental health problems.

Trauma of all kinds can lead to deep psychological impacts, the effects of which can last a lifetime.

Little by little, these impacts are being dragged out of the shadows and examined in the public arena.

However, the current general understanding of mental health problems only touches the tip of the iceberg. While many organizations and people take advantage of existing resources, the majority of people still fall through the cracks.

Mental health affects everyone. Whether it be anxiety, depression or something more extreme, if minds are not healthy then the entire community suffers.

When isolated Northern communities are brought into the picture, as well as First Nations communities whose members are still affected by the atrocities of residential schools and other historic wrongs, mental health becomes a unique issue that is even more urgent to address.

But often, despite growing awareness, mental health is not associated with the general notion of being healthy. It is important to recognize that when the mind is neglected, it opens the door to further problems.

It is as important to know how to deal with the signs of mental stress in friends, loved ones and acquaintances, as it is to recognize those signs in yourself and seek help.

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done, considering the common and all-too-widespread belief that suffering from mental health ailments makes one somehow "weak," "crazy" or irrational.

The stigma surrounding mental health problems has built over generations. It is easier to deny that something is wrong, or to ignore the signs in someone you know, than it is to reach out and offer help.

But today, there is little excuse for people to be unaware of the real effects mental health has on one's actions and interactions.

The information available about mental health is as prevalent as that available for severe physical ailments, such as cancers, heart conditions and diabetes.

It is encouraging to see some community members and leaders take advantage of the resources offered in the Deh Cho to learn and gain understanding about how to help those suffering from mental health problems.

However, there is still quite a bit of progress to be made.

It would be far more encouraging to see more than a couple of dozen people utilize these resources, especially when it costs little to nothing to do so.


Where one is worth 100
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 13, 2015

In a small town, the value of human life is measured far beyond the worth of the individual. It is also measured by the impact that individual has on the community in which he or she lives.

During a funding announcement the other week, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation chairperson Nellie Cournoyea made that point succinctly.

"To us every one person counts as 100 people because that's how important humans are up here," she said.

In places like Inuvik, there is an understanding that the sum of one person's life can reverberate down the line. A good deed done by one can affect many, as can a bad one.

The visitors from China who arrived last weekend were clearly impressed with the kindness and welcoming nature of the people here, as are all those who are fortunate enough to experience life in this community.

All of the many miles of road and wilderness that separates visitors from their homes become but a gap in time because the warm smiles and happy greetings they are met with by the people they pass on the street makes them feel as though they never left.

That is the strength of the North.

I have travelled and lived among a number of different cultures in Africa and Central America, but can honestly say that nowhere else have the people been as open and generous as those I have met here.

In the universal sense, mistakes are forgiven and transgressions forgotten with the ease of a people who understand that whatever someone has done in the past is not as important as the potential positive things that person might be capable of in the future.

With the economic downturn, many people who called Inuvik their home were required to relocate, but it is safe to say that they have never forgotten the feeling of community that they found here.

Inuvik marketing and communications co-ordinator Taylor Giffin said that there are about as many former residents who follow the town's social media feeds as current residents. That clearly indicates that those who left the community still care about what is happening in town.

That level of interest can certainly be attributed to a desire to make the type of money that is found in resource extraction, but it also speaks to the impression the community has on those who visit.

Inuvik has a natural allure - the isolation, the bears, the romance of being north of the Arctic Circle. But allure can only go so far.

It is the people - the Gwich'in, the Inuvialuit, the Metis, the Muslims, and other ethnic groups that have turned this melting pot into a community - that makes those who visit here want to spread the word.


A personal jet for Minister Ramsay
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

If Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay's attendance at weddings is so important that the taxpayer should be footing the bill, maybe we should get this guy a jet.

That way, business people across the globe can boast about more official Government of the Northwest Territories representation at their private family events.

If Ramsay attends enough weddings, wedding anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, church confirmations, brises, baptisms, graduations, high school band performances and family reunions, we'll secure enough contacts in the industrial world to pull us out of our recession.

From this perspective, Minister Ramsay's trip to a five-star luxury resort in Montebello, Que. for mining executive's wedding wasn't a frivolous waste of money - it was an investment in our economic future.

Not only did NWT residents have the privilege of paying for Ramsay's opportunity to meet with "key figures," he insists his attendance saved money. He had two free nights between meetings. To his way of thinking, driving an Audi A4 for a two-night's stay at the Fairmont le Chateau Montebello was cheaper than flying back to Yellowknife.

Considering ministers fly business class, a lot of things would be cheaper than the $2,000 minimum it would cost to cart Ramsay back to Yellowknife for two nights.

Minister Ramsay, take a cue from Premier Bob McLeod who was also at the wedding. He did it right. He saved himself a lot of embarrassment by paying for the side trip out of his own pocket.

You should show your constituency you have some integrity and pay back the money you spent. It's ridiculous to think NWT residents should pay for your attendance at a friend's wedding. Almost as ridiculous as the thought of buying you a jet.


Invest in solving power problem
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

No one likes a hefty power bill, but a subsidy, like the $20-million bailout the GNWT issued last fall, only kicks the can down the road.

This is something the territorial government has acknowledged. "Continued subsidies are unsustainable and the GNWT has made it a priority to identify ways in which it can encourage conservation, invest in renewable and alternative forms of energy and work at bringing down the cost of generating and distributing power," said Michael Miltenberger, the minister responsible for the NWT Power Corp.

Trumpeting conservation is an attractive way to address the problem. It doesn't require innovation and pushes all the politically responsible buttons. While using less power helps the planet, it also raises the cost of each kilowatt hour for consumers on the Northern system.

The same number of poles are required to power the electrical grid whether it's a single kilowatt hour or thousands so the power corp. would still be out the same cost of staff maintaining that infrastructure and would have to raise the price of power in the long term.

We do not suggest there is a ready solution to our power problem. But spending $20 million on researching alternative technology and commonsense efficiencies is a much better use of taxpayers dollars and offers at least a potential for a solution to unaffordable power, unlike subsidies.


The dream that was and the dream that is
Editorial Comment by Michele LeTourneau
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Six weeks have come and gone. Hard to believe. Thanks to everyone for your hospitality while I covered for Darrell Greer. I very much enjoyed the time I spent here, in Rankin, learning about the Kivalliq region. You can catch me, back to my usual, over at Nunavut News/North.

Perhaps you will forgive me as I wax philosophical and compose a sort of ode to Nunavut for my final editorial.

I don't think people, like me, born and raised outside Nunavut, can fully appreciate what this territory is, nor can people who come up from the south and locate in one community.

I first touched down in Rankin almost 20 years ago. I then moved to Yellowknife from Winnipeg. During my time in Yellowknife I caught glimpses of various bits of Nunavut. As arts editor for Northern News Services I travelled a bit, visited Rankin again, and Cambridge Bay. Another job that would occupy me for 10 years took me to Kugluktuk many times, and I worked with a few elders from that community quite intensively for a couple of years.

Just over a year ago I moved to Iqaluit.

Throwing community names together like that, even though they span the three regions, doesn't begin to catch the scope of the territory, nor does it touch on the extraordinary accomplishment that was the creation of Nunavut.

Two recent deaths really brought it home to me.

During my two-hour sit-down with Tagak Curley, when we discussed Tongola Sandy and his devotion to Inuit shortly after Sandy died, I began to realize the meaning of some of what I'd heard through the years about the land claims and Nunavut. Examples: unprecedented land claims agreement. It's the only one of its kind. It will never happen again anywhere in the world.

Wow, right? Big words. But those big words don't do it justice, either.

What Tagak talked about was the work - what came before the final agreement and what came after. The work. The energy. The commitment. The determination. The courage. The daring. The dream.

In his words: "Those were busy times, when we were negotiating the land claims for so long. When I started the Inuit movement it was so heavy, so heavy. Very heavy. The burden that you carry to try and regain the self-confidence, the self-determination of the people in their birthright land. These were tremendously heavy times and leadership was scarce."

Then, one week later, Bobby Kadlun died. And I found myself learning about yet another leader who gave so much of himself for the creation of this territory - yet I had never come across his name.

It's like his friend and colleague Terry Fenge says, "I think relatively few people are aware now, 25 years later, of his giant contribution to the Nunavut agreement."

More importantly, Fenge had this to say about the cost to Kadlun: "It's my personal view, but I think the stress and strain of representing his people got to him. I think there is a really important lesson here for many people such as me, who are white advisers, that we didn't at the time realize the sort of pressure that a number of the Inuit negotiators and leaders were under as they represented and negotiated on behalf of their people in adversarial negotiations with the Crown."

And Kadlun, from what I understand, was deeply affected about losing Contwoyto Lake - heartland - in the negotiation .... And I know how important that area was from listening to the Kugluktuk elders I worked with.

Yet, so very much of the Inuit homeland/heartland did become Nunavut.

Although the territory lost good men, these remain: the energy. The commitment. The determination. The courage. The daring. The dream.

Those are Tongola and Bobby's legacies.

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