Traditional tobacco is tobacco and/or other plant mixtures grown or harvested and used by American Indians and Alaska Natives for ceremonial or medicinal purposes.
Traditional tobacco has been used by American Indian nations for centuries as a medicine with cultural and spiritual importance. Many Tribes maintain teachings and stories on the origin of tobacco.1 These teachings address tobacco in its purest form, today known as the tobacco plant Nicotiana rustica, and may include mixtures of other native plants.2
Traditional tobacco preparation and use varies across Tribes and regions, with Alaska Natives not commonly using traditional tobacco. These variances are due to the many different teachings among Tribes of North America. In some cultures, the roles of growing, harvesting, and preparing traditional tobacco are held by specific groups of people who use traditional ways to prepare tobacco for a specific use. One common teaching involves the importance of having good attitudes and thoughts while working with traditional tobacco.
Traditional tobacco is a medicine, which can be used in a prescribed way to promote physical, spiritual, emotional, and community well-being. It may be used as an offering to the Creator or to another person, place, or being. A gift of traditional tobacco is a sign of respect and may be offered when asking for help, guidance, or protection. Traditional tobacco is sometimes used directly for healing in traditional medicine. It may be burned in a fire or smoked in a pipe, yet the smoke is generally not inhaled.
In many teachings, the smoke from burned tobacco has a purpose of carrying thoughts and prayers to the spirit world or to the Creator.3 When used appropriately, traditional tobacco is not associated with addiction and adverse health impacts.4
The care and respect involved in the preparation and use of traditional tobacco are part of centuries of tradition that connects today’s youth, adults, and elders with those of generations ago. Continued use of traditional tobacco supports a good life and a healthy community today and for future generations to come.
Traditional Tobacco Resources
A Balanced Community for Health
Culturally Understanding Commercial Tobacco Abuse among American Indians and Alaska Natives - A National Native Network technical assistance webinar recording from February 2015.
A training module for tobacco educators that provides general information about commercial tobacco abuse and American Indian traditional tobacco use.
A smoking cessation program for Native Americans, administered by the Center for American Indian Community Health and the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance, and funded by the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the University of Kansas Medical Center Research Institute, Inc.
A four page fact sheet created by Native American Cancer Research that provides general information about Native American Cancer Research.
A document on traditional tobacco teachings and use among Great Lakes Tribes.
A report on an elder-led, community-based project that aimed to provide elders with the knowledge, opportunities, and support to enable them to assume leadership of a tobacco control movement that was grounded in the ceremonial traditions of tobacco use. Full report published by The American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2012.
A 17-page report on the beliefs of a focus group of Native smokers and nonsmokers about commercial tobacco and the sacred relationship that exists between tobacco and American Indian ceremonial activities, published by the American Holistic Nurse’s Association, 2004
Brochure: “Aboriginal Tobacco Program: Promoting Tobacco-Wise Community”