Return to: Tobacco Lesson 03

The Sacred Use of Tobacco

Elain Cimino, Ann Marie Sayers and  Richard Roods
Costanoan Ohlone Indian Canyon Resource

 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 in the
commercialization which glamorizes cigarette abuse. This raises a confusing conflict between abuse and the Ann Marie introducing groupnecessary 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. 

students in circle
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 everyday affair."
-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" .

tobacco ties at indian canyon
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. 

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