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Youth rally against drugs

Daniel T'seleie
Northern News Services

Sanikiluaq (June 06/05) - After a week-long workshop of drug awareness, young people in Sanikiluaq are working to change the future.

The 2005 Youth Empowerment Rally shed light on the severity of drug and alcohol abuse within Nunavut and the concurrent effects on culture.

With a substance abuse level nearly eight times the national average, the problem has reached, "epidemic proportions," said event organizer Deborah Thomas.

Surveys conducted by Thomas, the recreation co-ordinator, in the hamlet suggest 90 per cent of Sanikiluaq's residents between 14 and 40 have used drugs.

"Almost always it's marijuana," she said, but she has heard reports of heroin entering the town. Some users even admit their first experience with narcotics occurred when they were as young as eight-years-old, she said.

RCMP in Sanikiluaq would not comment on the accuracy of these numbers, nor would they release information about drug-related arrests in the community.

However, three Sanikiluaq men were arrested and charged Tuesday as part of "a conspiracy ring" relating to marijuana trafficking, said Iqaluit Sgt. Brigdit Leger.

Sanikiluaq's Cpl. Allan Sutherland agrees that drug use is a problem, but he says it is not specific to the hamlet.

"Youth drug problems are everywhere in the country," Sutherland said.

High school student Bilipusie Arragutainaq agrees drug use is a problem. He says he knows a lot of people who use drugs, and who have been changed by drugs.

"They don't want to be around people, and they're afraid to show their feelings," said Arragutainaq, who took part in the rally.

Opening eyes

From May 16 to 20, 31 youths between 14 and 20 years of age attended day-long sessions which did more than give the old "say no to drugs speech," Thomas said.

Some of the most effective talks were given by respected community members and elders, who linked drug use to the loss of culture and other social problems, like sex abuse, domestic abuse, poverty and suicide, Thomas said.

Teaching young people how drug abuse is destroying their culture has a huge affect on them, she said.

Young people who were previously introverted and afraid to speak about social problems and their own feelings are now, "more outgoing," Arragutainaq said.

At the end of the workshops two DJs from Much Music flew in with their equipment and hosted two video dances.

Thomas said the dances were a huge success, with more than 400 people coming through each night, and no instances of intoxication.

Thomas was able to obtain more than $19,000 worth of Community Programs Funding from the Government of Nunavut's (GN) department of Culture, Language, Elders, and Youth for the rally. An additional $2,000 was re-directed, with government approval, through Nuiyak school from the Embrace Life Council.

The youths involved in the workshop are now spreading their message of awareness to others, and help people in the process. The Empowerment Team, divided into three groups, have been gathering water for elders, preparing television and radio commercials, and making posters.

The message is, "be positive, don't use drugs," said Winnie Arragutainaq, a member of the newly formed team.

The team plans to lead summer activities aimed at keeping younger children on a good path in life, says Winnie. This is all just a start though.

"It took 100 years to get where (the people) are now, and it's not going to get fixed overnight," Thomas said.