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Native Americans in Minnesota are attempting a remarkable approach to reduce the use of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco among tribal members – they are going to teach people how to grow tobacco.
Indians in Minnesota and other Great Plains states have the highest rate of smoking of any demographic group in America. In Minnesota, a stunning 59% of Native American smoke. Compare that the average rate of 14% for all other Minnesotans.
Not surprisingly, Minnesota’s 60,000 Native Americans have the highest cancer rate in the state.
So how will teaching Native Americans the art of growing traditional tobacco counter a heavy smoking problem? Well, the use of tobacco is one of the most ancient and sacred traditions of Native peoples. For centuries, tobacco was used in spiritual ceremonies, and in a way much different from the recreational way tobacco is used today.
In ceremonial use of tobacco, the product is never inhaled, and not used every day. It is only smoked on ceremonial occasions. Furthermore, naturally grown and prepared organic tobacco does not have nearly the same number of toxic substances that today’s modern cigarettes do. Thus, even when smoked it will do far less harm.
Leader of the Lower Sioux community in Minnesota hope they can readjust the negative relationship Native people have developed with tobacco by returning to proper, traditional use. When that happens, tribal elders hope sacred use will subsume the toxic relationship modern Natives have developed with tobacco today.