Good job North West Company for including Indigenous languages on grocery store shelves. Since the beginning of October, 15 stores across the NWT have had between 80 and 100 items translated into Indigenous languages, including Tlicho, Chipewyan, Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun, South Slavey and North Slavey.

This is a good thing. As any Canadian who can’t string together a sentence in French but can ask for beurre d’arachide (peanut butter) in both official languages can tell you, representation matters. Seeing Indigenous languages on the shelves for everyday items is a step toward keeping those languages alive and vital.

Fort Smith also recently launched projects to install stop signs with English, French, Chipewyan and Cree translations, in a project headed by the Northwest Territory Metis Nation. Schools have taken to at least some limited instruction in some Indigenous languages.

These are all definite steps in the right direction, although the path ahead remains a daunting uphill challenge. Only the Tlicho region of the territory can point to appreciable numbers of Indigenous language speakers at home – and those numbers are falling.

In Gameti in 2006, the number of people who spoke Tlicho at home was nearly 59 per cent, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics. That figure is now down to 48 per cent, according to last year’s survey.

The situation is far more grim in Gwich’in and Inuvialuit communities, such as Tsiigehtchic and Paulatuk. The bureau states in 2006 less than 10 per cent of residents in these communities spoke their languages at home. Today that figure is zero.

Short of full-scale immersion efforts in schools it seems unlikely Indigenous languages in the territory will recover to historical usage. And even then, where would we find the teachers?

According to UNESCO, three out of four Indigenous languages in Canada are endangered. Fortunately, more and more young people are beginning to embrace them. Hopefully schools and communities will follow suit, and more translations will begin popping up as efforts culminate to revive them.

Preserving languages is definitely a group effort, something everything from government to grocery stories to grannies speaking to their grandchildren will need to support in order to keep them alive.

Legalization plans leave more questions than answers for communities

Last week the territorial government announced what it intends to do when cannabis is legalized next year. What the government has decided so far is fairly clear: pot will be available for people over 19 years of age to purchase or order by mail from liquor stores initially, with the potential for cannabis-only stores down the road.

That is the easy part. Regulating it in smaller communities will be the challenge ahead.

The plan, released Nov. 24, includes the option for communities to hold a plebiscite on whether to restrict or prohibit cannabis, just like with alcohol.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson says he is happy communities have the final say, as are we, but marijuana is entirely different creature than alcohol, which by its very nature is more difficult to conceal.

It’s no easy task sneaking a cooler full of beer or even a couple mickeys onto a plane destined for a dry community but how hard is it to hide a couple dozen grams of marijuana?

And if the plan is to cut out the dealers, how will that will work in a community that chooses prohibition? Presumably the amount of cannabis entering the territory will only be limited by the amount the liquors can carry and sell.

It seems likely that cannabis will travel just as easily through prohibited communities as those that aren’t. People will just have to be more guarded about using it. Preventing cannabis, and the people who might try to profit from it from entering prohibited communities, however, is going to be a lot tougher than preventing alcohol.

It’s certainly food for thought as the territory prepares for this unprecedented change in society at large.

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