Crack cocaine problem in Behchokǫ̀ has 'grown exponentially,' residents say

·4 min read
Behchokǫ̀, part of the Tłı̨chǫ region, is the largest Indigenous community in the Northwest Territories. Its chief and other residents say they're seeing a sharp rise of crack cocaine, and it's having devastating effects on the community.  (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)
Behchokǫ̀, part of the Tłı̨chǫ region, is the largest Indigenous community in the Northwest Territories. Its chief and other residents say they're seeing a sharp rise of crack cocaine, and it's having devastating effects on the community. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)

A longtime Behchokǫ̀ resident is speaking out about what he calls the "exponential growth" of crack cocaine use in his community, and he's not alone.

Several people made similar statements to CBC News this week and the government's statistics seem to confirm a trend in that direction.

"I've had enough," said Behchokǫ̀ resident Curtis Grosco earlier this week, on the increasing issue of crack cocaine in the community.

Grosco says many residents enable the problem, by not reporting people in the community who are selling the drug.

"Everyone knows who's selling crack and nobody will step up and do the right thing, meaning, give the police some direct evidence," he said.

Submitted by Curtis Grosco
Submitted by Curtis Grosco

Behchokǫ̀ is located about 100 kilometres from Yellowknife and has an estimated population of 2,100 — making it the largest Indigenous community in the Northwest Territories. It's also one of four communities that comprise the Tłı̨chǫ region.

Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon-Armstrong, who represents the Tłı̨chǫ communities, spoke about the region's high rates of substance abuse in the Legislative Assembly in February. "People are drinking and doing drugs at an alarming rate," she said.

"We even have crack cocaine in our communities. At one time, this was unheard of."

Young people used as drug mules, chief alleges

In a recent phone interview, Behchokǫ Chief Clifford Daniels, said he too is concerned about the amount of crack cocaine and other hard drugs in the community.

"These harder drugs are causing more chaos," said Daniels.

To the best of his knowledge, there's a range of residents involved in drug trafficking. "I have heard that [people who] might have good jobs are doing certain things on the side," said Daniels.

"It's really sad to hear some of these stories."

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC
Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

Daniels said he's heard stories of young people, including children, delivering crack cocaine and other hard drugs on bikes, and says that's because children are less likely to face harsh penalties under the law.

But, he said, figuring out who exactly is responsible isn't easy.

"Everybody's trying to understand who's who and who's doing what," said Daniels.

Daniels believes that the community's high rates of substance abuse are largely due to the intergenerational effects of residential schools. "It's all the impact of things that have happened there. And now we're trying to deal with that trauma," he said.

"These people that didn't really understand — or work or heal — all of a sudden, they have families."

Daniels added that drug issues were not unique to his community. "It's happening everywhere. You see it everywhere," he said.

Mario di Ciccio/Radio-Canada
Mario di Ciccio/Radio-Canada

2018 data on cocaine use in the N.W.T. 

The most recent statistics shared by Jeremy Gibson Bird, communications manager for the N.W.T. 's Department of Health and Social Services Authority, suggest drug use has indeed been rising in parts of the territory.

According to data from the 2018 N.W.T. Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey, the most recent available data on lifetime cocaine use,16.2 per cent of people, aged 15 and up, in the N.W.T. said that they had used crack/cocaine at least once in their lifetime. That's more than a five per cent increase from 2012 data.

Additionally, in 2018, Indigenous people in the N.W.T. had used crack/cocaine at a percentage more than two times greater than non-Indigenous people — 22 per cent versus 10.5 per cent, respectively.

Statistics were also broken down by community type. Behchokǫ is one of six main regional centres in the N.W.T. – and regional centres had the highest rate of crack/cocaine use in the territory – at 22.6 per cent. That was followed by 18.3 per cent in small communities, and 11.9 per cent in Yellowknife.

Police have also noticed the problem.

Reached by email, Inspector Dean Riou with the N.W.T. RCMP said he was unable to provide any information on how drugs are being sold or entering the community. "That [information] would jeopardize any ongoing intelligence gathering or enforcement operations," he wrote.

Drug addictions 'intertwined' with mental health and housing issues 

Daniels said that there's currently no program to assist people with alcohol and drug addictions issues in the community.

"Especially when they're coming back from treatment facilities," he said. "People kind of fall between the cracks."

Daniels mentioned that the the region is working on the "Tlicho Healing Path" to address the problem. "We're putting money towards that and trying to create a five year strategy," he said.

He said there are plans to create a small facility in each community that would provide 24/7 counselling services, as well a strategy to address housing problems in the community.

"All of these issues [addictions, mental health, and housing] are kind of intertwined," he said.

Daniels was pleased about a regional effort for the strategy and hopeful about support from the territorial government.

"Hopefully, people buy into it, support it, and we make it all happen," he said.

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