Smoking out the facts

Researchers look at the relationship between Navajos and Nat’oh

RY---tobacco2WINDOW ROCK

If Native Americans had a communal Facebook page, their relationship status with tobacco might say, “It’s complicated.”

Archeologists believe indigenous Americans have been cultivating tobacco since about 1 B.C., using it in ceremonies and for medicinal purposes such as dressing wounds and curing toothaches.

By the time indigenous Caribbeans discovered Christopher Columbus, the herb was well entrenched in their culture. It didn’t take Europeans long to pick up the habit, and within a century finding suitable climates to cultivate the crop became a driving force for colonization and slave labor.

Natives, meanwhile, continued to use tobacco sparingly in sweat lodges, peace pipe ceremonies and to alleviate fatigue on long hunting trips. For Navajos, it is one of the four sacred “foods.”

These days, there’s no question that the deleterious effects of tobacco outweigh any of its supposed curative properties. But its long association with Native American culture makes it difficult to regulate smoking on reservations, as the Diné and other tribes have learned.

A four-year research project looking at smoke-free policies on Native American tribal lands with a focus on the Navajo Nation wraps up next month.


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