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Not a bathroom free-for-all
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 14, 2015

Gender can seem pretty straightforward: pink for girls, blue for boys. Trucks for boys, Barbies for girls. Janet for girls, Joseph for boys.

But more often, people are learning that gender can be seen as more of a spectrum and as this seeps further into mainstream society, the black-and-white norms that define gender so rigidly are being pushed aside.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration of a place for boys and a place for girls are public bathrooms. Not much is left to interpretation in front of doors with only two very specific options.

For some, which door to walk through is not obvious and standing in this very spot sets the stage for isolation and confusion. Although many places do have a single-use wheelchair-accessible washroom, this is not always the case, nor is that washroom meant for those struggling with their gender identity.

As Yellowknifer reported last week, Yellowknife Education District No. 1 is responding to a push from students to consider a third, gender-neutral washroom in school to support students who are transgender, meaning they do not define their gender as stated on their birth certificates.

This is not a bathroom free-for-all. The school district is not intending to rip off the male and female signs and let all people walk through any door as if Yk's public schools have taken a hint from gay nightclubs in downtown Vancouver.

This is a third door.

This is the grey area between the black and white of gender norms. This is looking at a very specific and possibly a very small sector of students and saying, "You're normal. Here's a place where you belong. It's OK to be who you are."

This is of the utmost importance, especially because students who identify as LGBTQ - 'T' being transgender - face the highest suicide rates in the country.

Seventy-seven per cent of trans-people surveyed in a study posted by the Canadian Mental Health Association had seriously considered suicide and 45 per cent had attempted it. Twenty per cent of trans-people had experienced physical or sexual assault because of their identity; 34 per cent were subjected to verbal threats or harassment.

The very existence of a third, gender-neutral bathroom can go a long way in obliterating the ignorance that is often the root of such violence against trans-people.

And there are plenty examples to take a cue from.

Just this May, City of Edmonton councillors unanimously decided to add gender-inclusive bathrooms into all present and future public buildings.

School districts hold a lot of power in creating a fertile ground for the development of strong, healthy individuals and this move goes a long way in tending to that soil.

Can there be only one Northern 'Net provider?
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 14, 2015

We've watched as SSi Micro's position in the North has slowly eroded. Earlier this year, the Internet provider was an alternate choice to Northwestel in 10 NWT communities, as well as Yellowknife.

As of July, SSi has been reduced to serving only Yellowknife and Fort Providence in the Northwest Territories.

Northwestel reduced its retail rates for Internet service earlier this year, while not passing on any reduction in rates to wholesale client SSi Micro. This, according to SSi, left the company at a competitive disadvantage.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently rejected SSi's claim that Northwestel's pricing strategy unfairly took advantage of its position as owner, wholesaler and re-seller of the North's sole data backbone, the fibre optic cable running up from the south.

After reviewing Northwestel's wholesale and retail pricing structure, the CRTC determined Northwestel was not "subjecting SSi to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage" in the marketplace.

As unlikely as that sounds, that was the CRTC's considered decision.

SSI has indicated it will appeal the ruling but is anyone listening as the bell tolls for the little guy?

It appears Northwestel is in a position to use its not "unreasonable" advantages as owner, wholesaler and retailer of the North's only fibre optic line to push out all competitors. It's already done so in all smaller NWT communities save Fort Providence.

If SSi cannot continue to provide an alternative to Northwestel in Yellowknife, be prepared for the escalation in home Internet costs once Northwestel has no competitors to consider when developing its pricing strategy.

This, after all, would be the company's reasonable advantage as a virtual monopoly on retail Internet service in the North.

Be careful what you wish for
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 20, 2015
In the late afternoon on Aug. 17, the Department of Transportation announced it was going to be changing the hours of the MV Lafferty ferry.

The announcement lasted just over 24 hours before the department decided to scrap the plan, since the two-hour block drew community ire from the Chamber of Commerce, village council and other public representatives.

The changes would have seen the usual 8 a.m. start pushed back to 6 a.m., closing hours wrapped up at midnight instead of 11:45 p.m. and a two-hour block from 2 to 4 p.m. with no service.

Originally, the chamber had petitioned Transportation Minister Tom Beaulieu to extend the ferry's hours from 6 a.m. to midnight.

The Chamber started that petition with a single purpose in mind: finding a solution to the traffic backlog that bottlenecks at the ferry, especially in the early hours on weekends and holidays. Past president Angela Fiebelkorn said during the organization's annual general meeting in June it was not uncommon to wait at the ferry for hours before being able to cross.

The petition was dropped off at the village office and at the Nahanni Inn as early as June 25.

A little more than one month later, on July 27, Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche hand-delivered the petition, with 333 accompanying signatures and supporting letters from himself, Liidlii Kue First Nation and the Village of Fort Simpson, to Beaulieu.

From there, all the chamber had to do was wait for the Transportation minister's response.

Admittedly, that response took a somewhat different shape than expected.

As the only transportation method for vehicles leaving or entering Fort Simpson, the ferry is an essential service for businesses as well as residents.

If residents had known an early start would mean two hours of service outage in the afternoon, perhaps they would have thought twice before signing.

However, it still remains that more than a quarter of the village's population signed their names in the hope that they would see earlier service.

Transportation officials responded in the only way they could: by trying to accommodate that request.

An extra two hours of running time means hiring additional crews or overworking current crews.

So for now, changes have been booted to the curb. While that undoubtedly makes some residents happy, it puts those 333 who signed the petition right back where they began.

A compromise will likely need to be made by all if extending ferry hours poses a difficulty, but perhaps all parties can reach a happy medium with a little more consultation.

More social housing welcomed
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 20, 2015

Last week, town council discussed approving a request from the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to turn the derelict Smith Apartments on Bompas Road into low-cost housing.

There was overwhelming support for the motion, which in itself was a mere procedural requirement to move forward with the plan.

All this was in response to changes to leasing practices put in place by Northern Properties REIT whereby people on income assistance need to be able to guarantee they will pay the company one year's rent in order to be able to sign a lease.

As a councillor pointed out, leases are agreements between owners and renters stating the amount to be paid. If the renter can't pay up, they are evicted.

To ask that people have a guaranteed income for one year is within the rights of the company and may be good business as heartless as it may sound.

Good business is often heartless.

There are not many people just coming off income assistance who would meet the credit requirement of a large rental company like Northern Properties.

The reality is that homelessness can be largely a hidden problem and comes with baggage beyond the stereotypical person on the street. Homelessness can be caused by losing a job and a bad credit rating.

Many, particularly families with young children, rotate between government housing and sharing accommodations with other family members.

While these people certainly have homes, those homes are far from certain and they do not have a well-documented financial record and good credit rating.

We understand that businesses have to make a profit, and sadly, there is nowhere else for people to turn with so few rental options in Inuvik.

The fact that the territorial government is stepping up to create a real solution -- if a partial one -- to this problem is a very positive thing.

The 10 units set to be created will hopefully help 10 deserving families get their feet under them and be more secure.

Of course, government housing is rarely perfect and hassle-free for the people in it, but this is a step in the right direction.

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.

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