Black lights, disc jockeys, film making, puppet shows and t-shirt making.
These are just a few of the ways youth learned about cannabis and what it is, along with the potential and near absolute pitfalls of substance abuse from Aug. 24-28.
Facilitator Emily Blake explained the approach was to explain drugs to youth in a way they can understand and make good decisions, instead of the classic “just say no” approach which has been shown to not be very effective.
“Kids are smart, they want information and they want reasons why you should or shouldn’t do something,” she said. “We also do a question box so kids can ask questions anonymously if they’re not comfortable asking them in public.
“We talk to kids in a way that’s appropriate for their age level and talk about what are some reasons why people might choose to use drugs and alcohol, then explain to them what it actually does to their brain and body and why they might not choose to do those things because it’s not healthy and giving them other options.”
“There are lots of reasons why people take substances. One of the reasons is they’re bored or don’t feel good, so we’re talking about things other things they can do — make a video, paint a picture, talk to someone.
Having only started last November, the Dope Experience is crafted specifically to each community it goes to. In some places, schools get involved and entire classes participate. In other cases it’s handled on more of a casual, drop in basis. Age of participants range from between 10 to 16 years old, depending on the needs of the community.
Initially the workshop was supposed to be held in the spring, but schools shutting down in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic torched those plans. Instead, a week-long “boot camp” was set up and has been making the rounds throughout the summer.
“It’s a partnership between the department of Health and Social Services, the Association of Communities and Western Arctic Moving pictures,” she said. “When the federal government legalized marijuana, it was up to all the territorial and provincial governments to roll out the education plan. This program is a part of that.
“They didn’t just want to talk about marijuana. They did consultations with youth and were talking about other substance issues across the Northwest Territories, like alcohol. We also really wanted to focus on positive skill building, that’s where the media and arts come in. We talk about things like self-care and wellness.
Here in Inuvik, the experience was hosted by the Inuvik Youth Centre. Coming out of the week were home-made tie-dyed t-shirts, a stop-motion animation with puppets, mediation sessions, photography projects, disc jockey lessons, discussions on health and wellness and one person filmed a short exposing a secret chicken cult in Inuvik.
“We did a nature walk and had talks about feelings,” said centre supervisor Maddysen Kingmiaqtuq-Devlin. “Issues the kids might have in their community, drug and alcohol addictions and support systems they could access.”
Overall, Blake said the week was a fun and creative one with all sorts of activities for the youth who dropped by.