North·In Depth

Cannabis education ads air in Indigenous languages in N.W.T

The GNWT has released radio ads and audio recordings of the effects of cannabis in several Indigenous languages. Is that enough to give elders what they need?

Tlicho leader says the territorial government needs to go further

Cannabis plants in a greenhouse in California. While the GNWT and Health Canada have shared some information about the plant in Indigenous languages, community leaders say their elders need more details to understand the issue. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

As cannabis becomes legalized, a community leader is calling for more public information in his Indigenous language.

In late April, Chief Clifford Daniels of Behchoko told CBC he wants to see information about the proposed cannabis laws in his community's language, Tlicho.

"We really need to inform the public. And it shouldn't be up to the community governments to pick up that cost," he said.

According to the Government of the Northwest Territories and Health Canada, communities like Daniels' will get what they need.

Audio recordings available

According to Health Canada, the agency partnered with Drug-Free Kids on a Cannabis Talk Kit that helps people talk to youth about the substance, gives information about its health effects, and explains the current laws.

The territorial government has since translated and recorded two-minute audio excerpts of the Cannabis Talk Kit.  The excerpts have been turned into radio ads for stations like CBC and CKLB.

Those excerpts are in Chipewyan, Gwich'in, North Slavey, Tlicho, and Inuinnaqtun. Healy says others are also on the way.

"We're excited about that," he said. "It's just a matter of tracking down some more translators to help us do the work."

Finding a Cree translator has been particularly difficult, he said. 

Healy says the translations are good "summaries" of the kits and focus on the health effects of the drug.

A CBC staff member listened to a Chipewyan-language summary. The audio goes over how cannabis slows reaction times, negatively affects young people's brains, makes it harder to learn, and can be addictive. The audio also says that drinking while smoking cannabis is a bad idea. 

Daniels said, "That's good that something is done or happening, but you need to further that."

He told CBC that elders need to understand what to expect from the current and proposed laws, so they can keep young people in their community out of trouble.

"Everybody is kind of familiar with the rules around alcohol but we really need to understand what this means pertaining to the law," he said. "If the parents or grandparents don't understand what it is how can they talk to the children?"

The new laws themselves have not been finalized. The federal Cannabis Act is expected to receive royal assent in the summer of 2018. N.W.T MLAs have said they want to finish their own laws on cannabis by June.

MLA Kieran Testart has said that because many people don't know what's in the territory's proposed bill, it has been difficult to solicit feedback on how to make it better. 

Healy told CBC that the government has budgeted $125,000 for its first short-term public health campaign at least until the bills are passed.

In addition to the Northern-language ads, that figure includes mailouts of the Talk Kits in English and French, social media outreach, and the arrival of a brain expert from the University of Calgary to talk in schools about how cannabis affects youth.

"Kids respond differently," he said. "We're focusing our campaign on what we've heard from the youth and how they want to receive materials."

The territory has asked the federal government for help funding a four or five year "social marketing" campaign to "denormalize" cannabis later, Healy said. He says the territory hopes to hire a public health expert to get the message out. The campaign will include "community champions" who can share information about cannabis locally.

Healy says people can also expect posters about cannabis, but the languages for those are "to be determined."

Inuktitut on the way

On the federal level, Health Canada has told CBC that translation is underway to offer the Cannabis Talk Kit in Inuktitut.

The statement was one of several responses from Health Canada after CBC emailed questions about the legalization process.

The department later said it was also translating fact sheets on the effects of cannabis and on the legalization process into Inuktitut, which they hope will be finished in "the coming weeks, pending external translation timelines."

"We are also translating fact sheets about health effects and general information about the proposed legalization of cannabis, into additional Northern languages," said the department in an email.

When asked when that would happen, the department seemed to backtrack.

"The Government of Canada is committed to developing culturally appropriate public education resources in partnership with Indigenous communities, organizations and governments, which can include translation into Indigenous languages," it said. "We are currently working on details for translation into additional Northern languages."

Sharing materials

Health Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories both say provinces, territories and the federal government have been working together on their campaigns and cross-promoting so that jurisdictions don't have to reinvent the wheel.

"Some of our materials, [the federal government is] saying, 'How can we leverage it for other jurisdictions?'" said Healy. "It's a shared responsibility."

The federal budget in 2018 also set aside $62.5 million over five years to support community groups and Indigenous organizations that educate people about the drug, according to a Health Canada statement.

Healy adds that translations of any other information are also available on request but that the territorial government doesn't often receive requests to translate its information into Indigenous languages.

With files by Bertha Catholique