Many American Indian tribal nations have a long history of using traditional tobacco in ceremonies to connect people to the spiritual world. In the last few decades, American Indian people started turning away from using commercial tobacco in non-traditional ways and restoring traditional tobacco to its role as a powerful medicine.
The colonization of America disrupted the connection between Indigenous Peoples and the role of community elders in many communities, and generations of American Indians lost the understanding and knowledge of traditional ceremonies and culture.
Commercial tobacco companies exploited American Indian traditions and targeted them with advertising to use commercial cigarettes. Companies that make commercial tobacco products process the leaves from modified tobacco plants with chemical additives that change the smell and flavor, as well as the amount of nicotine released. When this highly processed tobacco burns in a cigarette, these additives turn into thousands of toxic chemicals and are highly addictive.
Over the last few decades, American Indian tribal communities have been reclaiming their spirituality and traditions and are educating younger generations about the power of traditional tobacco, its role in American Indian cultural and spiritual ceremonies, and the negative impact of using commercial tobacco.
Know the Difference between Traditional and Commercial Tobacco
The key to understanding the difference in tobacco use is the intent of the tobacco use. Traditional tobacco is used in a respectful way, offered to the earth for survival of the people and as a gift of honor to show respect for good deeds. Commercial tobacco contains addictive nicotine and other chemicals that have negative effects on the health of American Indians, their families and communities.
Traditional Tobacco is:
- Not inhaled
- Sacred, ceremonial
- Scarce, blessing
- Simple, humble
- Social, binding of contracts
- Not addictive
- Deliberate, thoughtful
- Generosity, reciprocity, gift
- Intentional in moderation
- Curative, medicinal
Many American Indian tribal nations use tobacco or herbal blends referred to as tobacco for ceremonial purposes. Not all tribes use tobacco in the same way but, in general, it is used for ceremony, prayers and healing. The tobacco blend is a personal, family or clan choice.
Commercial tobacco products contain modified tobacco plants with chemical additives that change the smell and flavor, and the amount of nicotine released. When this highly processed tobacco burns in a cigarette, the additives turn into thousands of toxic chemicals and are highly addictive. Commercial tobacco is used recreationally, individually and habitually.
Commercial Tobacco is:
- Not sacred
- Fast, greedy
- For profit
- Disrespectful to others
- Disease inducing