Tobacco — tradition vs. addition

I work in an environment that treats tobacco with respect.

  • Jul. 1, 2011 4:00 p.m.

I work in an environment that treats tobacco with respect.

You might say “why treat it with respect, when it kills 37,000 Canadians every year?”

It’s true that commercial tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of illness and death in Canada. But traditional tobacco use is different. In aboriginal traditions, tobacco is a sacred plant. It is given to elders as a gift for their knowledge, used to heal sickness, offered to the spirits of animals when hunted, and as a thank-you to Mother Earth for her gift of plants and medicines.

Many First Nations use tobacco as a sacred plant. In the Southern Interior region, Nicotiana rustica is one of the species that has been grown for generations for cultural purposes.

Many tribes call a variety of other plants “tobacco” that are actually sage, red willow, fungus, sweetgrass, cedar or juniper.  These other plants are often mixed with tobacco.

When used for traditional purposes, tobacco is used in small amounts and is rarely inhaled. It contains nicotine, but in smaller amounts than in cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. Risk of addiction is low, and people who use it are not exposed to the 4,000 other chemicals contained in commercial tobacco smoke.

So how did we get from honouring tobacco to misusing it? How did we shift from a culture that respected the Earth’s gift, to a people that use tobacco in an addictive way and then grind it beneath our heel when we’re finished with it?

Many factors have contributed to tobacco misuse. Our residential school experiences, poverty, role-modeling, and marketing by tobacco companies have all played a part.

Recently, an elder told me he’d been given cigarettes at residential school when he turned 14. There was a special smoking room in the school for the “older” students, and it was considered a privilege and bonding experience in a stressful environment.

For these and other reasons, today aboriginal people have the highest rates of tobacco misuse of all cultures in B.C. We are addicted to tobacco and are no longer using it the way it was intended.

So how can we change this picture? First, we can draw upon the strength of our culture and our elders, and teach our children from a young age to respect tobacco and not misuse it.

We can use the tools available through the health-care system: nicotine replacement therapy, other medications, cessation groups and QuitNow Services (http://www.quitnow.ca). We can grow our own tobacco and other plants for use in ceremonies. In all these ways, we can move back to using this sacred plant for healing and respect, and stop our dependence on commercial tobacco.

For more information visit http://aboriginalactnow.ca/ or http://redroadcollective.bravehost.com/SacredTobacco.html.

Kym Howay is the Interior Health tobacco reduction co-ordinator for aboriginal communities.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Williams Lake’s YBC Bowlers Remy LeBlanc (back from left), coach Kevin McAlpine, Kara-lynn McAlpine, coach Lindsey Kelley, coach Lisa Mcalpine, Avrel Kidney (middle from left), Weston Kelly, Renee O’Hara, Lily Stewart, Brandon LeBlanc, Serena Kidney (front from left), Elsa Kunka and Colton Lendvoy have managed to carry on through the COVID-19 pandemic while following health guidelines. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Youth bowlers still throwing strikes, despite pandemic

Young bowlers have been able to carry on relatively unaffected due to the nature of the sport

Members of the Tl’etinqox First Nations are awaiting word of when they will receive their second dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
‘We need the second round’: Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse questions vaccine roll-out

It’s been 42 days since Tl’etinqox First Nation members received their first dose of Moderna

A drive-thru restaurant and beer and wine store is being proposed by Broadway Landco Management Ltd. for the former Chemo RV site at 1704 Broadway Ave. South. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Drive-thru restaurant, beer and wine store proposed for Williams Lake

Owners of property at 1704 Broadway Ave. South have applied for a zoning amendment

Avalanche Canada has issued a special avalanche warning for the Cariboo Mountains effective through the weekend. (Wes Gregg photo)
Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

Most Read