Elder in Arctic Canada wants to teach about cannabis using simple language

Ellen Smith is an educator who lives in Fort McPherson. (Randi Beers/CBC)
Ellen Smith says Fort McPherson, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, isn’t ready for cannabis.

That’s not to say it’s bad or harmful — Smith just wants her community to understand what’s coming.

She adds the key to getting people ready isn’t just education, but education using simple language.

“[For the] elders I know, the terminology around cannabis doesn’t coincide with their language,” she said. “So I [call] marijuana the happy smoke. I told my elder that and she said, ‘Now I know what you’re talking about.'”

Smith is an educator with 18 years’ experience, specializing in addictions. She was in Yellowknife this week to participate in workshops about legalization, expected to happen across Canada Oct. 17.

Workshops will inform report for Health Canada

The Thunderbird Partnership Foundation — an Indigenous non-profit organization — has been travelling across the country hosting these workshops. They are funded by Health Canada, and all feedback will be compiled into a report which will be used to guide health and education policies around legal cannabis.

“It’s just like alcohol — we all see it as bad, bad, but you know there’s such a thing as social drinking, there’s such a thing as social smoking,” Smith said.

Smith talked about how some people use cannabis to help with anxiety. However, in some communities residents see the word anxiety as medical jargon. Smith said elders describe anxiety as feeling out of sorts.

“Anxiety too is a [jargon] word, so I’ll say people who have seen bad situations in their lifetime and don’t feel good today,” she said. “[Marijuana] helps them in that area … when that happens, to each his own, because everyone has their own life.”

Smith is calling on the territorial government, RCMP and youth in the community to team up and teach people about the ins and outs of cannabis in a simple way so everybody can understand. Especially youth, she says, because young people know how to talk to other young people.

How will legalization affect northern First Nations?

While Smith was there as an educator, Mason Mantla attended the workshops to learn.

He said he wants to know what legal cannabis will mean for Tlicho First Nations communities (in northern Canada).

“I haven’t seen any information on it,” he said.

“I need to have a personal connection, personal one-on-one to talk about what it means.”

Specifically, Mantla wants to know how mail-order cannabis is going to keep drugs out of the hands of youth. He is curious to know how elders without an Internet connection will access it.

Five representatives from each of the territory’s regions — including one youth representative — attended the workshops.

The Thunderbird Partnership Foundation expects to have its report ready for Health Canada in December.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s marijuana consumption highest in Northern cities, stats show, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s alcohol consumption declines by 15%, YLE news

United States: Alaska’s drug problem worsening as police resources strained, Alaska Public Media

Randi Beers, CBC News

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