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An 'inspirational' message

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mallory Beland said she sees signs of addictions around town - and even at her school.

NNSL photo/graphic

Taylor Pagotto and Mallory Beland of St. Patrick High School's Students Against Drinking and Driving group attend the launch of the My Voice, My Choice campaign Thursday. - Katherine Hudson/NNSL photo

The Grade 11 student is the president of St. Patrick High School's Students Against Drinking and Driving organization and sat in the front row in the Great Hall of the legislative assembly and, with about a dozen other SADD members, eagerly watched the videos put together by youth in Deline and Fort Simpson for the launch of My Voice, My Choice.

The campaign, developed by the Department of Health and Social Services, was launched with the screening of youth videos as well as 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.

Beland said creating videos with messages about alcohol and drug addiction is something "we'd definitely be interested in."

"We'll definitely be bringing it up at our next SADD meeting, it was inspirational," said Beland.

"Before we came here, we didn't know a whole lot about the program. So today was to come and learn about it and we definitely learned a lot and we're definitely in favour of this program."

Wearing a distinctive green, yellow, white and black SADD jersey along with her schoolmates, Beland said she sees the signs of addiction in her community and at her school. 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.

"We do see it at school. We see it around town. It's really hard not to see it. This kind of program is good for prevention and just to try to eliminate it altogether," said Beland.

The first video screened by Deline youth, was titled 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," Brett Elemie told the room full of dignitaries and students.

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 toward youth. She said research shows that for youth in the NWT, the first use of drugs and alcohol occurs around the ages of 11 to 13.

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

She said the campaign is attempting to educate youth and engage them in discussions and being creative.

"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 students there develop music videos to document their thoughts and feelings on addictions. And Yellowknife schools could be in the plans as well.

"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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