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Minnesota Public Health Association

Since 1907, MPHA has been dedicated to creating a healthier Minnesota through effective public health practice and engaged citizens. 

Traditional Tobacco

August 28, 2023 4:00 PM | Anonymous

The Minnesota Public Health Association supports sacred/cultural use of traditional tobacco and related cultural practices by American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN).

MPHA Members approved by electronic vote on August 18, 2023.


Whereas, tobacco is a sacred gift that is used for spiritual, cultural, and ceremonial practices by Tribal Nations in Minnesota, following strict codes and protocols1; and 

Whereas, traditional tobacco has been used by American Indian and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) for centuries as a medicine with cultural and spiritual importance, with many Tribes maintaining teachings and stories on the origin of tobacco2; and 

Whereas, there are many names for this sacred tobacco, in Minnesota it is generally referred to as cansasa, asemaa3, and kinnikinnick; and 

Whereas, cultivation of tobacco for spiritual and ceremonial use is an infinite and inherent right for American Indian and Alaskan Native spiritual, religious and ceremonial traditions and practices; and 

Whereas, tribal tobacco methods and ingredients differ, by tribal nations, it could be used as an offering to the Creator, or to another person, for prayer, healing, and ceremony3,4,5,6; and 

Whereas, traditional tobacco may be smoked or burned, but it is not inhaled and is not used recreationally3,4,5,6; and 

Whereas, the U.S. Religious Crimes Code of 1883 banned American Indian dances and ceremonies that included traditional tobacco and resulted in American Indians using

commercial tobacco for traditional purposes. It was a way to hide the use in plain sight and avoid punishment7,8; and 

Whereas, an investment is required to expand access to traditional tobacco by cultivating and harvesting it for ceremonial use.4; and 

Whereas, commercial tobacco such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, and chew are prepared, and sold in mass quantities and include thousands of chemicals that are proven to be highly addictive and contain cancer-causing chemicals including menthol and ammonia that are not present in traditional tobacco4,5; and 

Whereas, The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) (42 U.S.C. § 1996.) protects the rights of Native Americans to exercise their traditional religions by ensuring access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites9; and 

Whereas, almost 45 years have passed since the passage of AIRFA, public resistance to the law continues in the present, signaling a need for continuing public education on American Indian rights, culture and history.10 


Therefore, be it resolved that the Minnesota Public Health Association supports: 

1. Uplifting the cultural, spiritual and ceremonial use of tobacco as a positive contributor to the American Indian individual and community well-being. 

2. Allowing traditional tobacco and related cultural practices at public and private events. 

3. Exempting traditional tobacco and related cultural practices from any commercial tobacco related bans/ordinances/laws. 

4. Increasing access to traditional tobacco with the cultivation and harvesting of traditional tobacco for cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial use. 

5. Protecting the right of AI/AN state or federal prisoners to access and use traditional tobacco for spiritual and ceremonial uses.11 


1. Scott S, D'Silva J, Hernandez C, Villaluz NT, Martinez J, Matter C. The Tribal Tobacco Education and Policy Initiative: Findings From a Collaborative, Participatory Evaluation.

Health Promotion Practice. 2017 Jul;18(4):545-553. doi: 10.1177/1524839916672632. Epub 2016 Oct 14. PMID: 27744374. 

2. National Native Network. 

3. IN A GOOD WAY: Indigenous Commercial Tobacco Control Practices, 2017. 

4. Minnesota Department of Health. Traditional Tobacco and American Indian Communities in Minnesota. 

5. Counter Tobacco. of-sale/ 

6. South Dakota Department of Health: Tribal Tobacco Policy Toolkit. 

7. Nies, J. (1996). Native American History: A Chronology of a Culture’s Vast Achievements and Their Links to World Events. New York City, NY: Penguin Random House, Inc. 

8. Commercial Tobacco Free Policy Guide.,way%20to%20hide%20the%20use%20in%20plain%20sight

9. Protection and preservation of traditional religions of Native Americans. TITLE 42—THE PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELFARE, Page 4378. 

10. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration United States Department of Commerce. 

11. Native American Rights Fund, Protections for Native Spiritual Practices in Prisons, 2014.

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