| Tobacco has been used for many generations as offerings to the
spirits, for planting, for gathering food, for healings and for ceremonies.
The sacred uses of tobacco are different for many tribes but a basic truth
remains, tobacco should be used for prayer, protection, respect and healings.
Tobacco is medicine. The meaning of medicine can be translated according
to perceptions, i.e. power from the creator and/or knowledge of self.
Tobacco was used as medicine before first contact. After contact tobacco
was used as "gold power" of the Americas supporting the establishment of
the colonies, the clergy and the militia. In 1723 Maryland and Virginia
exported thirty thousand kegs per year requiring 200 ships to transport
it. Still to this very day one can walk through the nations capital building
and see tobacco leaves sculpted to the columns.
The consequences of the dominate culture exploitation is evident today
commercialization which glamorizes cigarette abuse. This raises a confusing
conflict between abuse and the necessary
place of tobacco within the native cultural community. The Costanoan Indian
Research at Indian Canyon Ranch recently hosted a lecture to 300 students
from various colleges of the North Central Coast of California. The students
were surveyed over a 3 month period and asked before and after the discussion
to respond ' to what tobacco has meant to them'. Each Learning Circle was
attended by 10 - 40 students. 80% of Native American Students said that
they "...had seen tobacco parayer ties being made and prayed with but they
did not know how or why it was used.
We hope our future will hold the understanding of what "sacred use"
means to the native people. Tobacco is an integral part cultural traditions
and the right to use it in a sacred this manner must be retained. Costanoan
Indian Research motto is "Honor the Past...To shape the Future," we have
selected some examples of how tobacco was used by Native California peoples.
Yuki Tobacco Use
"...Sometimes an old man and his wife smoked a little before going to bed,
and old men might smoke when gathered in the dance house listening to someone
tell stories. Smoking was done only at night, and was not considered an
-George M. Foster
A summary of Yuki Culture
Costanoan Mutsen Tobacco Use
"They stuffed some little sticks into the end on which they sucked so the
tobacco would not get into their mouths, they stuffed them in but there
was always space where the air could get through. The used to smoke the
torepas only in the evening time, it was like a devotion, their belief."
- John P. Harrington
San Juan Report 59-0249
Excerpts of the article from "News From Native California" .
During the last forty years most of the traditional use of native tobacco
has diminished. However, at present there are a small number of Yurok and
Karuk peoples planting and tending tobacco gardens. We must reaffirm
our beliefs system so that we can provide a greater depth of knowledge
of the sacred herb.