Native Village
Youth and Education news

Volume 3, December 2011


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Minnesota: American Indian youth in the Twin Cities area are taking a stand against commercial tobacco. The students, ages 13-17, are educating Native businesses and agencies about eliminating it from their workplaces.

The students are part of Mashkiki Ogichidaag, which translates into 'Medicine Warriors'." The program teaches Native youth about traditional tobacco and its use in Native culture.  It also also teaches the adverse effects of commercial tobacco abuse

The Medicine Warriors hold their meetings at The Division of Indian Work.  Hale provides food for students who take time from their day to learn about tobacco.

There are two different types of tobacco: traditional and commercial.

Native Americans Continue See Smoke Signals From Cigarettes Traditional Tobacco.

Group members talk about how traditional tobacco is different from commercial tobacco. They explain how tobacco is used in Native traditions for prayers, gift giving, blessings and medicinal purposes.


"I learned how many medicines come from the earth; and that traditional tobacco is one of those reserved for Natives. People always take from the earth, but they never give. That's why Natives offer tobacco back to the earth, I think," said Jaden Bruener, an Ojibwe student from White Earth.

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Students go into details about the long term health effects of commercial tobacco. They say cigarettes can have thousands of chemicals in them, such as ammonia and formaldehyde.

"There are really bad things that happen if you smoke or chew or use tobacco in ways that aren't traditional," said Ivan Mekeithan, a Kiowa and Ojibwe youth.

Students carry their knowledge back to their communities and educate others. This includes visiting American Indian workplaces to talk about the health risks of commercial tobacco use.

They also use media to create public service announcements against commercial tobacco.


Mashkiki Ogichidaag-Medicine Warriors Program"We ... show them both what the students are learning and also have the students teach others about the dangers of smoking commercial tobacco," said Leya Hale, program coordinator.  "Using the power of media tools such as Powerpoint or DVD's, we try to send a clear message..: commercial tobacco use needs to stop in our community."

Many of the students are at-risk when it comes to tobacco in the household.

"All of the students I work with are very intelligent; they are at-risk youth who are working to promote tobacco-free schools and homes. There are many kids who think that their voice may not matter; that they have to listen to or follow the examples of their older peers. But what these students are doing is showing that if they speak up their voices will be heard," said Hale.

Mashkiki Ogichidaag students have spread their message in others ways. One project was cleaning up cigarette butts around the American Indian Center. Their collection was placed inside an extra large, see-through plastic bag. They hope their message was clear: "Please don't smoke outside because we all share the same air." 

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