A Doggone Good Day in Yellowknife

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Thursday morning started off early, as the interns had breakfast with five Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from northern and rural ridings across the Northwest Territories (NWT). Together we discussed some of the unique challenges facing their communities, including the reliance on seasonal ice roads and air transit for access to goods and services to challenges, high energy prices, and school absenteeism. These discussions illuminated both the geographical and historically rooted challenges faced by these communities. We thank all the Members for sharing with us. Our morning together enriched our understanding about Northern Canada.

After breakfast we had the pleasure of meeting with four representatives from the NWT Literacy Council, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps facilitate opportunities for NWT communities to support literacy and essential skills programs. Our first two speakers were Michael Corbett and Katie Randall. They provided the OLIP interns with an overview of the organization, including its beliefs and mission. For example, part of the Literacy Council’s job is to promote the idea that everyone has a right to literacy, a skill that encourages active participation in social, economic and political life.

Our conversation then shifted to an interactive portion with Pat Ilgok. Pat showed us several books used to promote literacy amongst children, including “Love Grows Brains” and “1-2-3 Chante Avec Moi”. The linguistic variety of books reflected the organization’s holistic approach to literacy, which supports all 11 languages that are spoken in the NWT. Finally, Xiaoyi Yan engaged in a Q&A session with the interns, and talked about a range of topics including encouraging men to participate through the introduction of computer literacy courses, and the issue of ‘connectivity’ in NWT. Ultimately this was a fascinating meeting with an NGO that does important work across the NWT.

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Pictured above: NWT Literacy Council and OLIP Interns

Next we met with the Chief Electoral Officer, Nicole Latour. Previously serving as the first female Sergeant-At-Arms for the Legislative Assembly of the NWT, and Mayor of Fort Laird, Ms. Latour brings a passion for fair governance to the position.

Having met the Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa back in Ontario, it was interesting to compare the electoral processes in both jurisdictions. Noticeable differences include the small-sized yet geographically dispersed ridings, the absence of party platforms under consensus government, the acclamation of some seats, and higher voter turn out rates (particularity outside Yellowknife). We also discussed the recent Electoral Boundary Commission in NWT, and the challenges associated with fair representation when close to half of the population resides in Yellowknife. All in all it was an interesting meeting to end the morning off with!

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Pictured above: Chief Electoral Officer, Nicole Latour and the OLIP interns

Our afternoon meetings had a brief interlude—we went dog sledding! An activity we could not leave the NWT without doing! At the generous invitation of Speaker Jackie Jacobson, all the interns were invited to Beck’s Kennels for an experience we won’t soon forget.

We loaded into traditional style sleds and were taken for a ride around the lake. Grant Beck, the owner of Beck’s Kennels, took us on a fantastic ride. Having coached dog sled teams in the Arctic Winter Games, Grant has a way with the dogs. With only a few whistles we were off!

Many thanks are extended to Grant for accommodating us during a busy day at the kennel. As well, a special thanks goes out to Scott McQueen, who we met earlier in the week, for welcoming us at Beck’s and sharing his fantastic stories with us.

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Pictured above: Grant Beck, Scott McQueen, and the OLIP interns at Beck’s Kennels

After our dog sledding adventures, we returned to the Legislative Assembly to meet with Deborah McLeod, the Director of the NWT Human Rights Commission (HRC). Deborah informed us that the HRC’s goals include promoting the awareness and understanding of the Human Rights Act, as well as educating stakeholders of relevant human rights issues.

She impressed the interns when mentioning that she assisted with the creation of the HRC, as the NWT did not have a human rights act prior to 2004. Such expertise has allowed Deborah and other staff members of the HRC to assist other jurisdictions with their human rights issues, including Nunavut with the creation of their Human Rights Tribunal.

The OLIP interns had many questions for Deborah, ranging from complaints regarding the quality of health care in rural areas, to employment related issues as a result of disabilities. Such discussions reminded the interns that the North raises unique challenges for its occupants, thereby necessitating the important work conducted by Deborah and the HRC.

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Picture above: Deborah McLeod and the OLIP Interns

After a long day of meetings that were both physically and mentally rewarding the interns headed to Bullock’s Bistro, an establishment that has been described on TripAdvisor as the “best place to eat in Yellowknife”. Bullock’s serves a variety of delicacies, including Arctic Char and Reindeer, and has an atmosphere that encapsulates life in the NWT.

The walls are ordained with humorous signs and pictures of past guests, while on the ceiling hundreds of business cards are stapled, including a small section containing those cards left by OLIP interns from years gone by.

At the back of the restaurant the interns met with their hosts, NWT trip coordinator Gail Bennett, her husband Michael Corbett, and Colette Langlois. The interns chatted with Gail, Michael, and Colette about their experiences in Canada’s Great White North, and enjoyed the unique personalities of the Bullock’s servers. Great food coupled with even better company made for a fitting end to a doggone good day in Yellowknife.

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