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."
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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.