Paraphrasing, he said, “The child looked at my chocolate bar with hope in his eyes. I threw it to him but bigger kids around him grabbed it. He laid down and died.”
With that, the veteran speaking during a video broadcast at Weledeh Gymnasium on Remembrance Day paused, his grief still palpable, though the incident happened 73 years ago. There are some things you never forget.
Yes, Remembrance Day is about remembering those who fought during the First and Second World Wars and other wars, many giving their lives, but it is also about reflecting on why they did that. They fought to preserve our democracy so that people here would not have to suffer like that child did.
This incident happened during the Korean War about which many of us know little, but this too was a battle to protect democracy. Thousands starved to death or were orphaned and though our soldiers gave what they could, many did not survive.
This too, reason and purpose, and the preservation of democracy, is what Remembrance Day is about.
Here in the territory, we just voted for a new team of politicians. Sadly, it is probably safe to say at this time of writing, the day before the election, that less than 50 per cent of the people in the NWT voted. We need to ask ourselves why, considering that the North is one of the most threatened jurisdictions in the country. Climate change will continue to hit us hard, our infrastructure is under threat, housing is third-world status in some communities, our water is eyed and already exploited by another province and outside industries and Arctic sovereignty is imperiled.
With our sparse population and over-governance, which makes getting anything accomplished difficult, the North has its plate full. Politicians often become negotiators with beaucrats who are supposed to be taking their marching orders from those elected, not the other way around.
So is the almost embarrassing story in the North where people refuse to change the style of governance which is not working. After all, many of the GNWT’s 6,600 employees’ survival depends on maintaining the status quo, so they will not let go easily.
As for the election, it had its own failings. While the forums divided the city into smaller regions reducing the number of ridings (thus candidates) per forum (a good thing), there was little or no room for questions from the floor. Instead, concerns were sent in through a website or sometimes accepted at the door, then vetted and worded by those who ran the forums. In many cases, the questions were sent to candidates who prepared responses and read them. This is hardly the stuff good political forums are made of.
Their reasons were understandable: they wanted to control the sometimes heady input from the audience, but that is essentially a control mechanism and something a good moderator could handle. The result was often long, mundane gatherings which made some wonder why they bothered at all. This is not the true stuff of democracy.
Indeed, the best input came from a First Nations person at a Dene Najho forum who, caught up in his frustration and despair, asked why he had to sleep at the Salvation Army when this was his land. They tried to remove him but fortunately, that failed. After all, a community is only as strong as its weakest link and our ability to fix it. No one at any of the forums spoke from their hearts as this man did. This is what forums worth attending are made of.
The election may be over but our work has only begun. Our responsibility did not end with casting a vote. It means holding our politicians and GNWT personnel accountable and making sure our territory is able to meet the incredible challenges of the next four years. That is participatory democracy. That is the gift our veterans gave us.
Remembrance Day may be over. A territorial election may be behind us. But our work is never done. Let’s participate in the development of the North in a way that would make our veterans proud and that makes their sacrifices worthwhile.
—Nancy Vail is a longtime Yellowknifer concerned with social justice.