<![CDATA[KEEP TOBACCO SACRED - Blog]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2024 17:41:12 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Leonard Frank, Director at Alberta Blue Cross, Shares His Experience Working with KTSC]]>Thu, 18 Jan 2024 20:59:44 GMThttp://keeptobaccosacred.ca/blog/leonard-frank-director-at-alberta-blue-cross-shares-his-experience-working-with-ktsc
Leonard Frank has worked with the Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaboration (KTSC) and has learned how to effectively participate in an Indigenous-led program. 

We recently sat down with him to learn his takeaways and tips for other organizations looking to partner with KTSC.

Keep reading to learn about his experience with KTSC and what you can learn from it.
How Leonard Came to Work with Indigenous Communities
Leonard is the Director of Health Integration at Alberta Blue Cross, having joined the healthcare organization in 2019. When he began working with the Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaboration, he had a limited understanding of Indigenous issues and reconciliation. 

However, as he learned more in his role, he spearheaded the creation of an Indigenous Development Pathway that encompasses several key areas. One of the primary focuses of his initiative was to enhance the organization's awareness and promote the health and well-being of Indigenous communities. 

Alberta Blue Cross operates under a mandate set by the Government of Alberta that emphasizes the development and participation in programs that contribute to the overall well-being of Albertans. However, one of the gaps is the approach to Indigenous Albertans. 

Leonard and his team recognized this gap and strived to work closely with Indigenous communities, which aligned perfectly with KTSC. He met Indigenous leaders across Alberta and was guided by Jody Stonehouse, an MLA with the Alberta Legislature.

He quickly embraced the concept of “nothing about us without us” when working with Indigenous communities. Additionally, he’s done plenty of work on tobacco reduction projects in the past, making Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaboration a perfect organization to support.

Finding and Partnering with KTSC
Leonard recognizes that Indigenous communities do not need organizations pretending they understand their challenges and have all the answers. He already knew Elder Treffrey Deerfoot well — a key figure and the guiding Knowledge Keeper with KTSC — and someone who has helped shape Leonard’s involvement in working with the collaborative.

The partnership with KTSC began as purely a sponsorship. Providing funding can go far, but Blue Cross wanted to find more ways to play an active role in helping the organization reach its goals. Success means having the right people involved who can make an impact.

From the beginning, Leonard has sat as a member, learning how they conduct meetings and steer their organization. He appreciates Treffrey’s prayers before meetings, the involvement of Elders and storytellers, and the focus on youth empowerment.

As part of the committee, he was able to contribute ideas based on the experience gained throughout his 25-year career. His primary focus was sponsorship, working closely with stakeholders to create sponsorship frameworks for how they can seek funding.

Additionally, he’s participated in several community events and met with other Indigenous leaders, Elders, and youth. He found it’s not enough to just read about the issues; getting out there and into the communities was essential to understanding the problems with and impact associated with commercial tobacco and vaping use.

Working with KTSC Now
Now, Leonard believes KTSC is on the right path. He’s worked in the field for 25 years and has never sat at a table as diverse as the Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaborations. The organization has government involvement, community support, and sponsors. They have a strong organizational push and continue making progress.

Everyone involved is focused on the issue, and working with KTSC has been a wonderful experience for Leonard. He prioritized a First Nations-led approach from the beginning, offering input when relevant but still remaining in a support role rather than trying to lead the charge.

Tips for Other Organizations
Leonard has learned several lessons with his time working with KTSC and has learned some tips that may help other organizations make the most of their campaigns. 

Active Participation Over Passive Support
Providing funds and being aware of an Indigenous community’s challenges and goals isn’t enough. Take an active role in participating in programs like KTSC that strive to make a valuable impact. Once you understand how an organization works and its goals, be an active part of the team working towards those goals.

Find Your Role in the Solution
KTSC offers a clear path for organizations to start making a difference in the community. Follow the lead of the programs similar to them throughout Indigenous communities to start making the right impact, rather than trying to go down your own new path.

Understand your role in the campaign. You can then contribute your financial support and experience in the right way.

Valuable Branding Through Action
Organizations can significantly benefit from the positive impact on brand image by actively participating in meaningful campaigns. Donating isn’t challenging, but lending your expertise, time, and attention to specifically advancing a cause improves your public perception. 

Dedicating time and resources to Indigenous communities demonstrates your commitment to social responsibility. You’ll also set an excellent example for your peers, creating a cascade of positive impacts.

Find a Strongly Committed Organization
KTSC is a committed organization with a clear goal to work towards. Leonard has worked in healthcare administration for 25 years and found that participating in the organization’s steering committee was unparalleled in terms of having a strong direction to move forward with making an impact. After all, the many goals and strategies KTSC continues to pursue are based on (and supported by) the voices and teaching of Elders and Knowledge Keepers from communities representing Treaty 6, 7, and 8.

Engaging with KTSC and other Indigenous organizations with clear goals and commitment can be highly beneficial for First Nations and Canada overall. Leonard found it was easy to get behind the organization and become part of the solution.

For other organizations, finding Indigenous organizations with a similarly strong commitment to their cause is a powerful way to make the most of funding and time. Being part of the solution for Indigenous-led organizations is the best way for organizations to make an impact

<![CDATA[Traditional Tobacco vs. Commercial Tobacco]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2023 20:38:11 GMThttp://keeptobaccosacred.ca/blog/traditional-tobacco-vs-commercial-tobacco
"In my heart, the tobacco, once it’s lit, the smoke is going to take my message to the Creator for whatever my vows are."

- Elder Genevieve Bruised Head

What Exactly Is Traditional Tobacco? 
To many Indigenous people, the use of traditional tobacco is considered to be a sacred way of sending our thoughts, hopes and prayers up to the Creator as the smoke rises on the wind. Because tobacco is considered a gift from the Creator, it's incredibly important to be clear on the role traditional tobacco usage plays in many ceremonies and rituals. It's also incredibly important to differentiate it from commercial tobacco.
Traditional tobacco is not:
  • Chemically processed.
  • Commercially packed and shipped.
  • Associated with vaping. There isn't actual tobacco in most nicotine-based vaping products.  

How is Traditional Tobacco Used? 
Traditional Tobacco is offered up and ceremonially burned to establish a direct link with the spiritual world. Other uses include maskihkiy (medicine) or using tobacco as an offering to elders, and mother earth. By giving tobacco as a gift to an elder, you show your respect, gratitude and appreciation for their guidance in spiritual matters.

What Is Commercial Tobacco? 
Commercial tobacco is a highly addictive substance, the smoke of which contains more than 7000 chemicals. Seventy of these chemicals are known carcinogens. Smoking commercial tobacco involves inhaling smoke that, in addition to containing these toxic additives, contains a high concentration of nicotine. 

In addition to cigarettes, products like vape liquid and chewing tobacco also contain chemical additives to facilitate easier absorption of the substance. 

Healthcare professionals have been aware for quite some time that commercial tobacco is harmful to humans, and most people are at least somewhat cognizant of the health damages involved in prolonged usage.

Is Commercial Tobacco Really That Bad? 
Statistics show that each year, over 3000 Albertans die as a result of commercial tobacco usage. Even more Albertans suffer from  tobacco-related illnesses such as cancer, COPD, emphysema, and worsened asthma, among several other spiraling health effects. What's more, with so many booked surgeries cancelled or on hold due to Alberta's surgeon and specialist backlog, the problem has gotten even worse. 

Even people with a "good" prognosis for a tobacco-related illness may not recover if they have to wait years for treatment — these kinds of health issues don't simply go away because there's no one available to treat them. 

The reality is that approximately half of all people who smoke commercial tobacco will die from a related illness. While growing awareness of the product's harmful effects has helped reduce this number to an extent, many Indigenous people recall all of their family members smoking cigarettes during their childhood. This exposure to commercial tobacco at such a formative age increases the chances that a person will also start smoking. 

One also needs to consider why people used to go purchase cigarettes on the reserve. Who made that decision, and what were their motivations? Why were cigarettes cheaper there? 

Part of the blame lies with the tobacco industry. Commercial tobacco has used various strategies to target the integration of tobacco into traditional Indigenous life. In addition to manipulative marketing, the tobacco industry sponsors events and makes corporate contributions to Indigenous communities, allowing it to control and maneuver tobacco use for its benefit. 

The attractive and appealing flavors and availability of heavily discounted commercial tobacco on reservations has also further increased consumption.  This increased access coupled with the efforts of commercial tobacco manufacturers has put the health of countless Indigenous people at risk. 

Does Commercial Tobacco Usage Affect Only Adults? 
Unfortunately, no. Even children as young as seven or eight may start smoking or using chewing tobacco, especially if they have easy access to it — such as through a parent who also consumes commercial tobacco products. And while the effects of vaping are not yet fully understood, we do know that there's considerable potential for lung damage. 

Another problem compounding the harm commercial tobacco causes to Indigenous communities is that many Indigenous people either lack proper access to medical care or don't trust maskihkîwiyiniw (doctors) not to lie to them. This avoidance can significantly worsen a person's potential for recovery, as many of these illnesses can go from entirely treatable to "all we can do is make them comfortable" in the space of a few months or years.

We need to partner with Alberta Health Services and the provincial government to start seriously addressing these deep fears and trust issues. It should not be panic-inducing for a First Nations person to go to a doctor. 

A helpful analogy to understand the harm that delayed healthcare treatments can cause is to compare this to the fear of the mîpit-maskihkîwiyiniw (dentist). Dentistry is something many people, irrespective of racial demographics, avoid for a number of reasons. Just like a cavity, a commercial tobacco related illness won't go away if you ignore it or procrastinate on treatment. 

And just like a cavity, it's all too easy to say "just another week, I'll book an appointment then." 

The Harmful Effects of Commercial Tobacco on Indigenous Communities 
Smoke from commercial tobacco products isn't just harmful to the user. When you smoke or vape, you expose people in your vicinity to secondhand smoke or third-hand smoke. In children, this exposure can develop into health problems such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, severe coughs, colds, and ear infections. 

Smoking during pregnancy is especially harmful to both expectant mothers and their children, increasing the risk of prenatal mortality, preterm birth, low birth weight, congenital abnormalities and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Consequently, infant death rates from such conditions are higher in First Nations families, especially those who use commercial tobacco inside their homes. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) — a serious lung disease frequently caused by smoking or exposure to smoke — is also twice as common amongst Indigenous people compared to the general Canadian population. 

There are also increased rates of tobacco-related preventable premature mortality from conditions such as ischemic heart disease. People who smoke commercial tobacco are twice as likely to develop heart disease, ten times likelier to die from it and experience heart attacks and likelier to develop lung cancer. Commercial tobacco products have also been linked to diabetes, which is twice as prevalent amongst Indigenous people as it is amongst non-Indigenous individuals

To add to the above, the prevalence for commercial tobacco use amongst First Nations peoples is roughly two to five times higher than in the non-Indigenous population. 

These facts illustrate how crucial it is to meet Indigenous people on a culturally respectful level that both addresses the dangers of commercial tobacco and avoids demonizing traditional practices. Currently, there are simply too many factors at play that aren't being properly considered. Fear of government interference, fear of being lied to by doctors and other professionals, and a lower quality of education together do nothing to help bridge the gap. 

Why Quitting Commercial Tobacco is So Difficult…
Quitting or cutting back on commercial tobacco usage is vital. The process is incredibly difficult for a number of reasons, including mental connections — going for a smoke when you're really angry, for example. While it isn't the act of smoking that does anything to help the person's anger, it feels relaxing because most people will go somewhere else to smoke, such as outside. This act of leaving a stressful situation to smoke and calm down helps us feel like we have control of whatever is distressing us. 

The truth is that going outside to smoke a cigarette is technically the same thing as taking a minute outside to calm yourself down. Unfortunately, the mental connections to feeling calmer or less angry are often obscured by the addictive properties of the cigarette. This further fuels the association between the consumption of commercial tobacco and a feeling of calmness. 

There's also peer pressure, which is especially prevalent amongst Indigenous youth. Combined with constant exposure or easy access to nicotine products, it's incredibly difficult to avoid smoking or commit to quitting. Commercial tobacco provides a strange sort of solidarity along with an important social connection. 

Humans are pack animals. We're predispositioned with the desire to "fit in" with those around us. When someone doesn't follow the crowd, they may experience bullying, social pressure, a sense of isolation or the fear of missing out on things. None of these factors will help a person in the midst of adolescence who's not had the time to practice sticking to their principles — or even to fully develop them. 

Frankly, it's just so much easier to be the trout following the current instead of the salmon swimming upriver. 

…And How Traditional Indigenous Wisdom can Help 
Traditional Indigenous wisdom such as the Seven Grandfather teachings exist to help us chart our path towards what we are placed here to do, what we want to do, and having a healthy future.

The first step to reducing or eliminating your commercial tobacco usage is to be honest with yourself. Commercial tobacco is HARMFUL, it can even be "straight deadly", and I don't mean in the slang way. 

One day, you may wake up and realize you're the elder or okiskinwahamâkew (teacher) now, even if only for a small circle of people you know and love. Your loved ones may be looking to you for guidance. How can we fulfill the duties to pass down our wisdom and cultural teachings if we are dying many years before we were meant to? 

The Creator did not put us here to inflict harm either, especially on our loved ones and families. But the honest truth is that commercial tobacco usage hurts everyone around you, even if you don't mean to do so. 

Commercial tobacco is so altered from its traditional form that it should be considered an entirely different concept. The use of commercial tobacco strips away the traditions and cultural significance of tobacco.  There is no way to give prayer or thanks, and it does not honour our ancestors. 

Traditional Indigenous values get pushed to the wayside when you use commercial tobacco. Putting the addiction over the safety and needs of your family and loved ones is not right. They could be hurt if you allow your "need" to take precedence over the health of your family.

When you decide to quit using commercial tobacco, think about the steps you should take. 

Perhaps when you're honest with yourself about what you get from cigarettes, you'll realize stepping down slowly or using a substitute product to aid you is a better option than going cold turkey. 

Always remember that you don't have to quit alone, you absolutely can do it, and there is nothing wrong at all with needing a little bit of support during the process. 

Truth is very important in most Indigenous cultures. Telling the truth about the dangers of commercial tobacco, helps protect future generations by arming them with the tools they need to fight against cycles of addiction. At the same time, if we aren't careful we will lose vast amounts of wisdom and knowledge before they can be taught to the next generation and preserved for the future.

Using substances that we know are harmful to our bodies isn't loving ourselves in a healthy way. When you choose to quit using commercial tobacco, you show that you love yourself enough to make positive changes and stick to them, even when they're hard. 

Indigenous youth are far more likely to avoid commercial tobacco if they're exposed to the full truth about how bad it is. For example, let's use the difficulty of quitting commercial tobacco usage in general. When a youth sees someone they respect and admire stick to their commitment, no matter how hard it is for them, they begin to believe that they can do it too.

Seeing a loved one or someone you admire beat addiction is much more difficult to scoff at or ignore than the alternative — some naggy person in a white coat that doesn't understand the traditional usage of tobacco. 

When it's your cool older sibling or cousin who used to smoke and is now quitting, you've got skin in that game. You love them and you want to see them succeed. When they do, it's like a whole new path becomes visible. 

The confidence gained from seeing a loved one bravely fight against one of the most addictive substances on the planet is so needed in our communities, and we can be the ones to provide it.  


<![CDATA[Renewing Our Spirit, Youth Empowerment Conference – hosted by the Urban Rez Cultural Society.]]>Tue, 26 Sep 2023 14:15:54 GMThttp://keeptobaccosacred.ca/blog/renewing-our-spirit-youth-empowerment-conference-hosted-by-the-urban-rez-cultural-society
  • From October 12-15, The Urban Rez Cultural Society is hosting their 5th Youth Empowerment Conference
At 4 pm on October 12th, the four-day sacred fire will be lighted. Over the next four days, people from all walks will come together to connect, learn, and share.
Through daily workshops, guests can learn about everything from cultural teachings and ceremonies to self-care and mental health.  They can explore traditional crafts such as drum making, ribbon skirt making, and rattle making while simultaneously gaining an understanding of important concepts like sacredness of self. And they can do so while participating in a wide range of different activities, including a round dance, a feast, and a drum dance. Treffrey Deerfoot, the Guiding Knowledge Keeper for the Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaboration, is a guest of this conference.

The conference will also feature special guest speakers, vendors, a fashion show, giveaways, and much more. 

The Edmonton Inn and Suites is located on 11834 Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta. Registration opens on October 13 at 1 PM. No pre-registration is required, and all registrants will be fed for free for the duration of the event. 

For more information, you can visit www.urbanrezsociety.ca or email info@urbanrezsociety.ca

We are coming together Honoring and Empowering our Future Leaders.
<![CDATA[SepteMBer 7, 2023]]>Wed, 06 Sep 2023 21:14:28 GMThttp://keeptobaccosacred.ca/blog/september-7-2023


An important part of community change is having all the necessary tools to implement it.

Thanks to the The CAMH TEACH Project, we're excited to share a First Nations-specific version of IT'S TIME — Indigenous Tools and Strategies on Tobacco: Interventions, Medicines, and Education.

This invaluable toolkit provides community members, community workers, and others with culturally-relevant commercial tobacco cessation tools.

IT'S TIME — a collaboration and integration between mainstream cessation resources and Indigenous ways of learning and knowing.

​Click the link to download your toolkit.
Download The Toolkit
<![CDATA[June 25th, 2023]]>Sun, 25 Jun 2023 15:46:11 GMThttp://keeptobaccosacred.ca/blog/reaching-across-the-generational-divide RSS Feed


"My hope is to educate our young people," explains Elder Susan Quinney, speaking to a panel of her peers. "To show them how sacred our tobacco is. How we use it in so many different ceremonies, how we put tobacco down whatever we do, whatever we're picking."

"I put tobacco in water because water is life for us, too," she continues. "We live through water. That's how we live to survive." 
Canada may have closed the last residential school in 1996, but that did not mark an end to its cultural genocide. Countless youth have been thrown to the mercy of the foster system, forced to grow up without the traditions that were their birthright. Many who avoided that fate have not fared better, struggling through generational trauma with little guidance or direction.

It needs to change — and that change starts with reaching across the generational divide. For that, we need to listen. Because if our youth don't feel heard, then why should they listen to us? 

"We have to understand our youth and where they're coming from," Elder Joe Quinney explains. "As parents, we don't just tell them what to do. We have to listen to them too, see what problems they're having — maybe they want to tell us something." 
"They're our kids," he continues. "And if we listen and don't get mad or push them away, maybe they'll ask us why we're doing what we're doing."

Passing on Knowledge

One of the most important lessons to impart is not to be ashamed of what one knows. To willingly embrace both language and tradition, and show others through example. This, explains Elder Doris Coutorielle, is what she and her husband have done with their granddaughter.

"We've raised her since she was fifteen months old, and now she is eleven years old and she knows and recognizes a lot of the traditional medicines we harvest — she helps clean them and put them away, and with the tobacco, she does the offerings," says Elder Coutorielle. "One of her teachers was addressing the Elders a week ago, and she told them what a knowledge keeper is." 

"She said Anabelle is a knowledge keeper and she's eleven years old," she adds. "Recognizing those things in a child will give them a lot of self-esteem in the future." 

The Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaboration represents a step in that direction. By explaining the incredibly important role tobacco plays in many of our cultures, our hope is that we'll ignite in our children a spark — the desire to learn their language, their traditions, and their histories. The desire to reclaim what they lost. 

In that regard, it's not just youths we seek to help. Many of the people driving the initiative are re-learning things, as well. 

"Some of this stuff is new to me too," says Elder Calvin Badger. "When you're five years old and in residential school…I never knew nothing. So now that I'm in my senior years, and the things I've been picking up the last 25 years about my culture — Cree Culture — where I come from, and who I am; I'm trying to instill that into my grandkids and granddaughter." 

"I want to know more," adds Elder Doreen Moosepayo. "Every day, we're learning. To learn from each other and to work together, that's so important. One can't do it alone."

Breaking Down Commercialization

The widespread commercialization of tobacco is a massive health risk for both children and adults. That much is clear. But it's unlikely we'll reach anyone by hammering down on how unhealthy cigarettes are. 

Everyone's already heard that over and over, been told not to smoke by someone who proceeds to chain their way through multiple packs. 

Ultimately, we must — as Elder Raymond Bigstone puts it — face the facts of what's actually taking place with young people nowadays. We have to start by being there for them. And hopefully, in doing that, we can work out a solution and find out the ingredients we need to help them surpass their problems. 

It will not happen overnight, though. For many youths, quitting smoking will be an uphill battle. The most important thing is to understand that — and to support them in their efforts. 

"You're not gonna immediately quit cold turkey," explains Trenton Sunshine-Berry. "You've gotta pace yourself and all that. And I'm still struggling with it, but the first thing is that like…if you have kids and all that, do not buy them tobacco products at all, it has serious consequences on someone's brain, having a little dopamine spike and just nothing after that."

Help Us Keep Tobacco Sacred

There are many things we can teach our kids — many things the Elders involved have taught their kids. But we feel that tobacco is the right place to begin. As for how that will look? 

Maybe it will take the form of community greenhouses. Or coaching on ceremonies. Or how and why one should put down tobacco when picking.

But whatever the case, we truly hope that this grows into something more.
<![CDATA[June 25th, 2023]]>Sun, 25 Jun 2023 14:48:16 GMThttp://keeptobaccosacred.ca/blog/reverent-memories-a-discussion-with-elder-louis-lapatack


"Cistêmâw…I haven't heard that word in years," muses Elder Louis Lapatack. "Kayâs...That old word, cistêmâw ê-kî-pêhtamân â kayâs." 

Lapatack is one of several Elders involved in Keep Tobacco Sacred, a united effort to honor tobacco's role in many of Alberta's Indigenous cultures. The goal of Elder Lapatack and his peers is twofold — to convey the cultural significance of the sacred plant while also warning of the harm that can be caused by commercial tobacco products. For Elder Lapatack, that begins the language used to describe it.
It begins with cistêmâw. Tobacco, explains Elder Lapatack, is kihcêyihtâkosiwin. Respected, revered, and highly esteemed. 

And for Elder Lapatack, it was also an incredibly important part of his childhood. 
"When I was a child, I helped my great grandmother go into the swamp to look for tobacco," he explains. "We did that on a couple occasions. One was in Moose Lake when we were kids — it was our annual trip, we'd go there to pick blueberries." 

"I still recall peeling some red willow — mihkwâpêmak" he continues. "I seen my grandmother taking it into a powder, little bits and pieces, and mixing them, but I don't really remember how Kinnikinnick was made. But I recall her putting her pouch on her waist, and taking her pipe, and she filled her pipe with the mixture and smoked a little bit."

Watch the full video


 1 A long time ago.
 2 I Heard.

 3 Red Willow, a common term for the red dogwood shrub.​
4 A traditional smoking mixture made from a combination of leaves or barks. Preparation methods vary, but many mixtures use the inner bark of red dogwood, peeled and crushed. This mixture often includes tobacco shavings, but not always.