Sacred Breath fights commercial tobacco use

Stephanie Big Crow knows the difference between the traditional use of tobacco and its social use, and she believes that all Native Americans should.

Saturday’s Sacred Breath Pow Wow at the Journey Museum honored those working to make South Dakota a smoke-free state.

About 300 partcipants gathered to enjoy a noon meal and a the powwow. And despite the rain threatening to turn everything to a soggy mess, the honoring ceremony went on as planned.

The purpose of the event carried an important cultural message, organizers said.

“We need to teach the ceremonial use of tobacco, which follows and maintains our cultural protocol,” said Big Crow, Study Coordinator/Research Assistant at Black Hills Center for American Indian Health. “In our culture, the use of tobacco is very sacred. But we also support tobacco-free legislation and don’t promote the social use of tobacco.”

Rebecca Weathers, also of the health center, said that the organization aims to “put the word out that we are available to help people stop smoking.”

Weathers expressed concern for the health risks of smoking.

“There is research that of the 4,000-plus chemicals in tobacco, 60 or more of them are cancer-causing,” she said.

The powwow honored three individuals and the organizations they represent for their efforts to make the state commercial-tobacco free.

Awards were given to Oglala Lakota College President Tom Short Bull, Dr. Kevin Weiland of the South Dakota Tobacco-Free Kids Network and Roger Campbell from the state governor’s office.

“We need to do the right thing — and in this ‘here and now,’ the right thing is not to smoke,” Short Bull said. The Oglala Lakota College campus is completely smoke-free.

“We are probably the only college in the United States that can say that,” he said. “Most have designated smoking areas, but smoking is banned everywhere on OLC.”

Dr. Kevin Weiland, a Rapid City physician and member of the South Dakota Tobacco-Free Kids Network, accepted an award on behalf of the organization.

“We’re making our message heard: Don’t smoke around our children,” he said, alluding to the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Jackie Arpan accepted an award for Indian Health Services/Sioux San, a smoke-free facility.

“It was not easy to change, but we did. We used to allow smoking in our waiting room,” she said. As he was presented with his award, Campbell spoke of the special efforts to discourage smoking that the

governor’s office is making in Indian Country.

Short Bull joked about some of the stories his family told him as a child to convince him not to smoke.

“They told me it would stunt my growth,” he said, laughing. “Looking at me now — imagine how much worse it would have been for me had I smoked. ‘m the poster child of the smoke-free campaign.”

He discussed the importance of taking the lead in educating people about the dangers of smoking. “Leaders need to lead, and we must lead people not to smoke,” he said.

For more information about the Black Hills Center For American Indian Health, call 348-6100 or go to www.bhcaih.org.

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