Aboriginal Sacred Tobacco Use: What Should You Know as a Researcher and Practitioner? Lynn Lavallée,PhD Candidate University of Toronto Research Grants Manager, Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative
Introduction • The rate of commercial tobacco use among Aboriginal people is almost double the general North American population. • In Canada, 57% of Aboriginals are smokers compared with 32% of the non-Aboriginal population (Health Canada, 2002). • In the United States adult population, 33% of American Indians and Alaska Natives are smokers compared with 23% of the non-Native population (2001 National Health Interview Survey).
Introduction • For youth, this statistic is more dramatic with 57% of American and Alaska Native youth smoking compared to 23% of non-Natives (National Bureau of Indian Affairs). • Smoking rates are not going down as seen in the general population (Assembly of First Nations, 1997).
Introduction • Tobacco control researchers, practitioners and funding agencies have an interest in working with Aboriginal People because of the increased use of commercial tobacco. • Meaning of sacred tobacco within the North American Aboriginal population. • How to work ‘with’ the Aboriginal community.
Pre Notes: • Each tribe uses medicines, including tobacco in slightly different ways. • It should not be assumed that all tribes use tobacco in the same manner. • Aboriginal knowledge is largely oral. In addition, some knowledge is not meant to be communicated to others and/or put into written form. • This presentation is based on my experiences, interactions with elders, and some written documentation.
The Medicine Wheel • The medicine wheel is symbolic for the circle of life with each direction representing various aspects of life. • The circle represents nature and all living things with all things being equal and connect, no beginning and no end. • The four races (white, red, yellow and black) • The four winds (north, south, east and west) • The four aspects of our individual nature (mental, spiritual, emotional, physical) • Opposing of research and/or practice that compartmentalizes. • Mandates of funding agencies, organizations, etc.
Tobacco represents the Eastern direction Cedar represents the southern direction SWEETGRASS Sage represents the western direction SAGE TOBACCO Sweetgrass represents the northern direction CEDAR
The Meaning of Tobacco • We are spirits living in the human experience (Elder Vern Harper). • Tobacco helps us communicate with the spirit world and the Great Spirit. • Tobacco helps us communicate with others, particularly when meeting for the purposes of sharing and healing.
How is tobacco used? • Commercial tobacco is not preferred. • Prayer. • Offerings/gifts to Elders and others. • Offered back to Mother Earth. • Help in the journey back to the spirit world. • Ceremonial pipe.
Tobacco in Prayer • Tobacco is held in left hand, closest to the heart. • Sometimes wrapped in cloth. • Offered as a gift to Mother Earth – placed back on the soil. • Sometimes offered to a sacred fire.
Tobacco as a Gift • NOT given as an offering for the person to smoke. • RECIPROCITY • When requesting the help or knowledge of an Elder a gift of tobacco is presented, typically wrapped in cloth. • A gift of tobacco demonstrates your respect for the person and the thankfulness of their shared knowledge.
Should you give tobacco as a gift? • You should offer something back if you are taking something (asking someone to drum, sing, dance, share stories, research, knowledge, etc). • You should determine if the person/people you are visiting hold tobacco as a sacred plant and how tobacco is used. • Do this by simply asking if you should/can provide a gift of some kind and suggest tobacco.
Should you give tobacco as a gift? • Medicines, including tobacco are typically not sold to Aboriginals, although this may vary. • You can obtain tobacco from a local Aboriginal community or store. • If unable to find pure tobacco you can purchase commercial tobacco and wrap it in cloth.
A Research Experience in the Aboriginal Community • PhD research • I will be asking for knowledge and experiences to be shared by the community and must offer something back. • Offering tobacco is just one of many things I will do to demonstrate my respect to the community for their participation.
A Research Experience in the Aboriginal Community • Community-Based • Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP) Principles. • A political response to the role of knowledge production in reproducing colonial relations • Who’s need? • Practitioner, researcher or the community? • Who’s way? • Hierarchy of knowledge
A Research Experience in the Aboriginal Community • I offer tobacco every time I visit with my elder who is advising me on this project. • I will be offering tobacco ties (bundled) to participants before focus circles. • Tobacco will be held in our hands throughout the interview and circle to help us communicate. • Offered to Mother Earth or sacred fire.