[Marxism] Tobacco in the Contemporary Native World

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 27 14:23:29 MST 2004

Posted on Sat, Nov. 27, 2004

Indian culture includes tobacco
Anti-smoking campaigns acknowledge ceremonial uses
Los Angeles Times

BISHOP - Raymond Andrews picks through the foliage of wild tobacco plants on
an arid, wind-swept Sierra Nevada plateau.

The 55-year-old Paiute Indian, with waist-length gray hair and a leather
satchel slung over his shoulder, inspects the leaves with an expert eye.
Some, he prunes and discards. Others, he saves to smoke in sacred pipes or
distribute as gifts of honor.

He sets aside a portion for educational presentations at powwows and local
schools, where he urges American Indians to use tobacco as a spiritual tool,
not a recreational vice.

''The tobacco plant,'' he says, ''is a magical being, one that can give
life -- or take life when abused in its commercial forms.''

American Indians smoke more and die at a greater rate from tobacco-related
illnesses than any other ethnic group. Anti-tobacco campaigns have done
little to reduce the toll.

Now, anti-smoking advocates, including those from reservation lands and the
National Cancer Institute, are trying new approaches that respect tobacco's
role in American Indian rituals and traditions. The message: Skip the
cigarettes and use tobacco, if you must, in ceremonial ways -- to bless
marriages and cropland, to banish malevolent spirits and promote peace.

Anti-smoking message|

Shaping an effective anti-smoking message for American Indians has not been
easy. Asking them to give up tobacco completely is unrealistic because it is
central to their religious beliefs and culture. In addition, many tribes
rely on revenue from lucrative, tax-protected reservation ''smoke shops.''
Even urging tribal elders to set an example by kicking the habit is asking
for trouble. They generally don't appreciate outsiders telling them what to

Generic anti-smoking messages delivered by non-Indians, such as the U.S.
surgeon general's warning, have fallen flat in American Indian communities.
So the theme that smoking kills is being repackaged in ways considered more
culturally relevant.

In the support groups she leads, Jacelyn Macedo, a member of the Yurok tribe
in far northwestern California, compares quitting smoking to weaving a
basket with sticks and fiber. Both undertakings involve motivation, a will
to persist and renewal -- all powerful themes in American Indian culture.

Billboards going up on reservations in Humboldt, San Diego and Alameda
counties encourage Indians to boycott tobacco products marketed with
American Indian icons such as bison. Such images imply that the product is
culturally acceptable. ''Don't buy the lie,'' the signs say.

Support from tribal elders|

When it comes to tribal elders, anti-smoking forces now make special efforts
to seek their advice and support from the start. A strong relationship with
such figures, organizers say, can be the difference between success and
failure for a health program.

''After 15 years in this business, we now have a good game plan,'' said
Michael Weakee, director of the state-funded American Indian Tobacco
Education Network in Sacramento. ''We've got billboards up on reservation
lands and along freeways. We're training people to give presentations that
won't upset tribal leaders. We produce anti-smoking posters.''

Andrews, the Paiute educator, is a consultant for Weakee's group. He is
among a growing number of American Indians who are seeking to revive ancient
tribal traditions.

Mindful of the trend, the current anti-smoking campaigns acknowledge the
importance of ceremonial uses of tobacco, which often do not involve

''We even hand out advice on growing and caring for tobacco plants,'' Weakee
said. ''More and more people are asking us for information about this
traditional medicine; how to identify it, gather it, prepare it and use

Steven P. Schinke, a professor of social work at Columbia University in New
York and a specialist in smoking prevention, said that such efforts tap into
a renewal of interest among American Indians in ''things traditional.''

They also reflect Indians' deeply conflicted attitude toward tobacco.

'Confluence of cultures'|

''What we have here is a strange confluence of cultures,'' Schinke said.
''The sacred and the profane -- a plant traditionally rich with meaning for
native people as a purifier, and tobacco products associated with disease
and death, economic expense and damage to the health of one's own

Many tribal members, such as Tucson, Ariz., art gallery manager Vonda
Talaweti, feel torn between two worlds when it comes to smoking. Growing up
on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, she was taught that women were not
supposed to smoke cigarettes.

''The only women allowed to use tobacco smoked it in ceremonial pipes,'' she
recalled. ''That's why I get an uneasy feeling inside whenever I smoke an
occasional cigarette with friends.... Every time I light up, I think about

Long before Columbus reached the shores of the New World, American Indians
were using wild tobacco for religious and ceremonial purposes.

After commercial tobacco products became available in 1884, they joined
millions of other Americans who got hooked on cigarettes, cigars, rolling
tobacco and chewing tobacco. Eventually, American Indians began to use
commercial products in their rituals.

HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR]   Micmac /St. Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear]

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