The view from the north
It's been a struggle for students at Chief Albert Wright School in Tulita, N.W.T. to follow the federal election campaign.
Vanessa Kenny-Andrew (far left), Roberta Norwegian and Justin Akinneah. The students at Chief Albert Wright School in Tulita, N.W.T. want to see federal politicians address northern issues like the Mackenzie natural gas project.
The fly-in community's only newspaper comes once a week from Yellowknife. Access to satellite TV and the internet is rare. And when the students have taken the time to watch a VHS tape of the debates or read about the parties online, they've found that politicians aren't talking about issues that matter to them.
"It's mostly about money and taxes," says Grade 10 student Roberta Norwegian.
Norwegian, 15, would like to see more discussion from federal politicians on aboriginal land claims,
self-government and the environment.
"Once the environment's gone, you can't get another one," she says.
Norwegian and her classmates are taking part in Student Vote 2006, a mock election held across Canada for students in Grades 5 through 12. The school is in the riding of Western Arctic, which covers all of the Northwest Territories.
The students have spent plenty of time comparing party platforms and leaders, but when they get to talking, the discussion tends to focus on local issues.
"There's a general feeling that Northern issues aren't at the forefront of politicians' minds," says Lorraine Kuer, the school's social studies teacher.
To understand where the parties stand on local issues, the students invited the local candidates to visit. Conservative Richard Edjericon responded with a two-page letter outlining his policies. NDP candidate Dennis Bevington came in person. Bevington told the students, that as their member of parliament, he would fight for an all-season road to Tulita, which is currently only accessible by plane or, in the winter months, by an ice road.
"They loved that idea, that they wouldn't be held hostage to just one store," Kuer says. "To be able to drive as far as even Yellowknife or Edmonton would mean a lot. Just to be able to do the things that kids down south take for granted, like seeing a movie or going to a shopping mall."
The most important issue for the students, however, seems to be the Mackenzie natural gas project, a proposed
1,220-kilometre natural gas pipeline that could be as close as two kilometres from Tulita.
"A lot of people are worried," says Grade 10 student Vanessa Kenny-Andrew, 16. "We're not too sure what will happen to the land and to the animals."
The residents of Tulita, about 95 per cent of whom are aboriginal, rely on caribou as a source of food, and consider hunting a vital part of their lives. Each spring and fall, school attendance dwindles as students travel with their families to more remote parts of the territories to hunt Caribou.
"In a culture where there is such value placed on traditional ways, they're rightfully concerned about a major project like that," Kuer says. "There are a lot that say, ‘Yes, we'd like to see it, if we're assured the jobs are permanent and meaningful, and providing our way of life is not disturbed.'"
Kuer has seen a change take place in her students as the campaign has progressed. "They're becoming more aware," she says.
"We often talk about their individual votes. The idea that your 'X' that you put down is as important as any 'X' put down anywhere in the country. They got the concept of that. Before that, I don't think any of them believed that anything they said would carry beyond the territories."