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'Free your mind from addictions'

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 19, 2011

Eleven-year-old Hannah Beyonnie of Deline said she sees the signs of addictions in her community and at her school.

NNSL photo/graphic

Hannah Beyonnie and Brett Elemie of Deline present their video, titled We are the Dene Leaders, at the launch of the My Voice, My Choice campaign at the legislative assembly on Thursday. - Katherine Hudson/NNSL photo

She said having the My Voice, My Choice campaign aimed at youth from the ages of 11 to 18 is beneficial because these are the ages where addictions start, and can be stopped before they take root.

On Thursday in the Great Hall of the legislative assembly in Yellowknife, the campaign - developed by the Department of Health and Social Services - was launched with the screening of youth videos from Deline and Fort Simpson.

The occasion also marked the debut of hip-hop artist Aaron "Godson" Hernandez's new single, which mirrors the campaign's name and message: to encourage NWT youth to express their views on drug and alcohol use through video and hip hop.

Beyonnie and schoolmate Brett Elemie presented their video, We are the Dene Leaders, which was filled with Deline youth rapping and singing that they are the future and can choose to "free your mind from the addictions" and to "start today and not tomorrow."

"We made the video because we were brave enough to stand up against addictions," Elemie told the room full of dignitaries and students.

Beyonnie added that "in the higher grades, there's more abuse with addictions. Sometimes during class, they smoke outside and they do drugs and they take drugs when teachers aren't looking. They do it at night, too."

Although only in Grade 6, Beyonnie said she is aware of the consequences later in life of establishing a dependence on alcohol and drugs at a young age.

The second video screened, produced by Tyler Sibbeston and Aaron Nadia of Fort Simpson, took on the topic of Facebook and how partying pictures and images involving drugs or alcohol could have dire effects on individuals attempting to start their careers after school is completed.

Marlene Villebrun, a mental health specialist in addictions with the Department of Health and Social Services, said the My Voice, My Choice campaign is important because it's targeted at youth.

She said research shows youth in the NWT first begin using drugs and alcohol between the ages of 11 and 13.

"Usually, if you can catch people before they start heavily using substances at an earlier age, you can prevent addictions later on," Villebrun said. "Basically the earlier someone starts using substances, their risk of becoming dependent increases," she said.

She said the campaign is attempting to educate youth, engage them in discussions and encourage creativity.

"The topic of addictions does have stigmas attached to it as well, so that's one of the things we want to look at. Yes, addictions can be difficult to look at, but it's so important to address and it's OK to start talking about it. We're wanting to open that door, open that dialogue a little bit more."

In the new year, Hernandez said he is planning to travel to Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Hay River, Wrigley, Whati and Gameti to help youth develop music videos to document their thoughts and feelings on addictions.

"Youth have so many different ideas and their takes on drug and alcohol abuse that you don't get the same story twice. These kids are creative," Hernandez said.

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