Native Cigarettes and American Indians

For generations, indigenous tobacco was a spiritual tool at ceremonies. But as the cigarettes of commercial companies became available, they began to replace the native varieties. The shift blurred the lines between what was sacred and what was not. The result was that many people started smoking, and the tobacco industry made sure to target American Indians by funding cultural events and using their imagery on cigarette packaging, according to Dana Carroll, a University of Minnesota professor who studies tobacco use in the community.Learn more :

For tribes like the White Earth Nation, where smoking rates are among the highest in the country, the tobacco industry has become a major source of income and jobs. The factories produce more than a dozen brands sold at stores on the reservation, and the owners invest five or six million dollars in their equipment. Factory workers make $600 to $700 a week, income tax free. The money they earn makes it possible to purchase new cars and mansions.

Exploring the Native Experience: A Journey into Smoking Culture

But some community members say the cigarette businesses are not helping to solve the smoking crisis. They argue that instead of rolling out generic advertisements about how bad tobacco is or pushing “just say no to smoking,” efforts should focus on regaining respect for the plant as a sacred part of tribal culture.

As he spoke, Greendeer pulled out a deerskin pouch filled with homegrown tobacco that resembled oregano and smelled faintly of dirt. He said he hopes that teaching tobacco to be sacred again will help curb smoking rates in his community, and in other communities across the country.

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