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Cops at work
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recently released reports on last year's reported crime statistics show mainly good news.

For one, it is a return to the status quo in a certain respect.

It seems the number of reported crimes are comparable to what they were prior to 2013 when the city saw an upward spike.

Secondly, it seems the number of reported serious crimes, including sexual assaults, assaults, break-and-enters, thefts and cocaine trafficking are all down to less than what they were prior to that spike in crime.

If these numbers can be considered an accurate indicator of the amount of crime occurring in the city, there's a perfectly valid interpretation that suggests law enforcement is doing its job and doing it well. Some of the crime stats on the rise since 2009 are mischief and disturbing the peace. There were 3,086 incidents of mischief reported from 2014, up from 2,051 in 2009. Disturbing the peace reports rose to 2,413, up from 1,973.

This indicates RCMP are responding to reports of more than eight incidents a day for mischief and nearly seven incidents a day for disturbing the peace.

Detachment commander Insp. Frank Gallagher said himself in 2013 the vast majority of the assaults that occur in the city are alcohol-related. It seems reasonable to assume the same is true about mischief and disturbing the peace.

Having more people arrested for smaller crimes could mean they are being kept from the more serious crimes that are in decline.

That's good for residents who want to walk the streets at night knowing they're safe from harm, the would-be victims spared from a harrowing experience and the would-be offenders of more serious crime who may find the help they need before they get too far down the wrong path.

The next step, of course, is dealing with the abysmal rates of addiction in the territory.

That, alas, is a problem that will take much more than police intervention to solve.

Three decades nurturing Northern artists
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The North is known as a haven for artists and for many years the NWT Arts Council has been giving them support to pursue their dreams and build the territory's creative identity.

The council is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a lineup of events, including film screenings, live performances and presentations highlighting the hundreds of artists it has helped over the years. ¶It does more than give money so artists can fund their projects, books or films. It provides encouragement to help them realize their goals. This is a different scenario from other arts councils around the country that only fund full-time artists. ¶This council has empowered writers, such as Annelies Pool, who received funding to produce her first book, Iceberg Tea, and is now working on another. She praised the mentorship she received, funded by the council, for helping to launch her writing career.

The community supports artists through their patronage but the NWT Arts Council is crucial in helping connect artists to their audience, giving them that added push to get their work from concept to the public. Art is sometimes overlooked as a frivolous endeavour but it is a reflection of a community's attitude toward itself.

Without art, there is no expression of identity.

The territory has an international reputation for its rich creative culture and the NWT Arts Council is helping not only keep it alive but flourishing.

Musical legacy suffers from ill-informed opinion
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Well, vacation has come and gone and I find myself back in the saddle to begin another working year at the helm of Kivalliq News.

It's good to be home in Rankin, just a couple of short months away from the start of another awesome season of Kivalliq hockey.

At the risk of offending sun worshippers, I can't wait to drop the puck and see the stories-on-ice unfold.

I just hope these old knees are up for the challenge.

I'd like to thank my friend, Michele LeTourneau of Iqaluit, for the great job she did here while I chased my grandkids around Port Morien, Nova Scotia (in Cape Breton, of course), spent an awesome week with my daughter, Lindsey, and had a blast with my mom and closest friends.

So, thanks Michele!

I'd also like to thank everyone for the messages I received -- both favourable and unfavourable -- on an opinion piece I did on the Beatles.

The craziness that always accompanies the final few weeks before vacation prevented me from responding to your thoughts -- until now.

The Beatles are still discussed a lot in the Kivalliq, and their music, for the most part, remains popular 45 years after the group disbanded.

However, there are many Kivalliqmiut who claim not to like the most influential band in the history of popular music.

The problem, as I understand it, is many of these folks cannot separate the Beatles political stances from their musical contributions.

This is especially true when it comes to Sir James Paul McCartney and his opinions on seal hunting.

McCartney earned the wrath of many Northerners when he, once again, called for an end to the commercial seal hunt in Canada this past June.

The former Beatle will also long be remembered for the photos he staged on the ice floes of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2006 to call for an end to the hunt.

And more than a few will chuckle for years over McCartney's faux pas in thinking he was in Newfoundland while being interviewed in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

But, the thing is, while we here in the North know many of Sir Paul's contentions are based on false information, we are also pretty quick to point out we love living in a free and democratic society in Canada.

And, one of the perks to that quality of life is being able to exercise our right to free speech and openly voice our opinion (you get that Prime Minister Stephen Harper?).

McCartney, a vegetarian, has the same right to voice his opposition to the killing of any animal, whether we agree with him or not.

And, for the record, I do not agree with him, yet I remain a Beatles fanatic when it comes to their music.

And there's the rub.

Too often people place importance on, or give credence to, a celebrity's opinion simply because they are a celebrity.

Then we tend to judge, or change our opinion, on their talents because we agree, or disagree, with what they say.

In McCartney's case, the impact of his political views compared to that of his music are light years apart.

And, when it comes to all the hubbub when he decides to become outspoken on an issue, his musical legacy would be a lot better off if both he, and those of us who know better, would just let it be.

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.

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