Nunavut hooked on Internet - EBay a big draw for isolated northern communities
Nathan VanderKlippe, CanWest News Service
Published: Sunday, September 17, 2006
YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T. - Like many women in Nunavut, Billy Etooangat's wife spends days every fall picking tundra berries on the steep fiord slopes near Pangnirtung, their home on the east coast of Baffin Island.
But this year, she's the talk of the town after Etooangat used a new high-speed Internet service to buy her a Swedish berry-picker, a device that's helping her outpick the other women.
"We never had that in the North, a berry-picker," he says. "So I found it and she liked it and everybody wants to have one."
Such stories are increasingly common in Nunavut, where thousands have leaped to take advantage of the new satellite Internet service, called Qiniq, which just celebrated its first anniversary.
"We're between 25 and 50 per cent over projected sales in every market," said Lorraine Thomas, project manager for the Iqaluit-based Nunavut Broadband Development Corp.
"We've met our end-of-second-year projections, and we're at the end of the first year. So we just expect to continue to grow."
The program's success has spawned plans to roll out Internet phones, online video conferencing for training and distance education -- even a kit that will power Internet access on the tundra using a snowmobile battery. It is also forcing Thomas to scramble for more government funding to keep the heavily subsidized Internet service running.
The Northwest Territories hopes to have a parallel service in place by October.
"In this day and age, it's almost a human right," said Margaret Gorman, whose Yellowknife-based Denendeh Development Corp. spearheaded the effort to bring Internet to 31 territorial hamlets.
"Everyone should have access to the same information and opportunities."
For $60 a month, the service offers speeds equivalent to the cable Internet sold in major Canadian cities. It has revolutionized Internet access in the North, allowing hunters to download satellite ice charts before leaving town and community art shops to sell Inuit crafts online.
"Everybody wants to have a laptop and get connected and make new friends, chat with people, keep in touch, get the weather," said Bob McLean, the Qiniq provider in Sanikiluaq, a hamlet of 800 located on an island in southern Hudson Bay and arguably Nunavut's most isolated community.
"EBay's pretty big around here -- people buying barbecues, Honda tires, Ski-Doo parts, stuff like that."
In Pond Inlet, a hamlet of 1,400 on the northern tip of Baffin Island, more than 100 people have signed up for the service, which also powers the community's municipal offices and major grocery stores.
Before Qiniq arrived, Martha Kyak used a fax machine to order supplies for Kisutaarvik, the convenience store she runs out of her basement.
"But there would be no pictures," she said. "With the Internet, I can actually see the pictures and it seems like it opened the doors to more variety of stuff."
Promoters of the service have billed Qiniq as a critical step in promoting the territory's economic development, allowing students and entrepreneurs access to information and markets never before possible.
Thomas once shared a cab with a person who told her, "It's the best thing that's ever happened in Nunavut."
"Better than hospitals? Better than Grade 2?" she asked herself, before reflecting on the importance of online access to health care and education.
"It's critical to every part of the services and products and economic development," she said.
In reality, said John Henderson, Pond Inlet's Qiniq representative, "I would bet that most people are on for chatting."
Some worry their kids are getting hooked on instant messaging programs, which have spread like wildfire across Nunavut.
"They spend too much time on the Internet," Kyak said. "They could be doing other stuff, but they end up being glued to the computer."
Increasingly, they're also accessing bandwidth-hogging material like videos. That, along with the program's unanticipated success, has sparked concerns over the cost of keeping the North online.
Ottawa kicked in nearly $4 million to install Nunavut's network, plus nearly $1 million per year over eight years to offset the cost of satellite bandwidth, which is hundreds of times more expensive than southern fibre optic connections.
But as people begin downloading movies and using their computers to video-conference, Nunavut will need to double or triple the size of its data pipes in the next few years. Thomas says the only way to do that is with more government funding.
"We're going to have to look at federal programs to make sure there's money flowing into Nunavut so (people) can turn around and purchase the bandwidth required to do what they want," she said.
There's no way around it in a place where everything from fuel to potato chips is subsidized, she said.
"It's actually a pretty small investment when you look at the cost of doing anything else," she said. "It's $1 million to build a kilometre of gravel road up here. Compare that to a few hundred thousand for some additional bandwidth for all Nunavut to share."
Leaders demand urgent action to improve Quebec aboriginal health
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 13, 2006
First Nations leaders in Quebec are calling for urgent action to improve living standards on reserves, in light of a new health study that reveals the majority of the province's 80,000 aboriginal people smoke, and are overweight or obese.
'With those numbers, I'm ashamed to be Canadian. Our health is the same as people in Third World countries.'
- Dr. Stanley Vollant, aboriginal surgeon and former president of the Quebec Medical Association
The study, which was based on interviews with 4,000 Quebec aboriginal people living on and off reserves, found the obesity and overweight rates among adults and seniors were two and three times higher than the national average.
The study also found that more than 50 per cent of people participating in the study smoked cigarettes.
The situation is scandalous, said Dr. Stanley Vollant, an aboriginal surgeon and former president of Quebec's Medical Association.
"With those numbers, I'm ashamed to be Canadian," said Vollant, a member of the Montagnais community of Betsiamites. "Our health is the same as people in Third World countries."
The study found the following obesity and overweight rates within aboriginal communities:
Aboriginal communities could face an alarming number of cases of diabetes and respiratory disease in the near future if nothing is done to address the situation right now, said Vollant.
"You can expect in 10-15 years, an epidemic in diabetes. The rates will increase two, three, four times," he warned.
Economic and social conditions on both reserves and in urban settings exacerbate the problems, said Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador. The combination of underemployment and poor access to healthy foods makes it hard for people to make the right choices.
It's time all three levels of government — band councils, the province and Ottawa — act fast and act together to stem the tide, said Picard.
"Maybe the investment we have so far from the governments hasn't been properly placed," he said Tuesday.
The study was carried out by the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Committee in 2002. Aboriginal people living on 23 reserves and in Montreal, Quebec City and Val d'Or took part in the investigation. The study excluded northern Quebec Crees, the Mohawk community of Kahnawake and the Inuit.
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