NATIVE AMERICAN TEENS LEARN TRADITIONAL WAYS TO BECOME POLICY CHANGE ADVOCATES
Youth-produced videos highlighting the commercial tobacco effects are on YouTube
(Minneapolis) -- When the Native American youth of Mashkiki Ogichidaag (Medicine Warriors) get together each week, there’s a lot of work to be done. The 10 program participants are focused on developing a media campaign to persuade Twin Cities Native American worksites to adopt commercial tobacco-free policies. From writing scripts to editing video to making presentations, the youth have discovered much – about themselves, their cultural values and traditional strengths – in their quest to educate the local Indian community about the effects and dangers of commercial tobacco use.
Participants like 13-year old Brian Arthur, an Ojibwe from White Earth reservation, are learning first-hand about the difference between traditional tobacco use and commercial tobacco misuse. Early in the program, he participated with the Medicine Warriors and Ain Dah Yung Center’s Teen Tobacco Prevention youth in intergenerational tobacco discussions as part of the Inter-Tribal Elder Services’ Circle of Tobacco Wisdom.
In March, Native elders accompanied Brian and 20 more Native American youth, to Big Lake, Minn., where they harvested Red Willow tree bark, an essential element in traditional tobacco use. This harvesting day trip helped connect the youth to the land and their traditions to ensure the continuance of the Native way of life. “They don’t teach you this in school and the Medicine Warrior program educates me,” Brian said.
From there, the Medicine Warriors learned how to make “kinnikinnick” from the Red Willow bark. Kinnikinnick (Algonquin for “that which is mixed”) is generally used for pipe ceremonies and strictly for spiritual, cultural and ritual purposes.
“In our group, we made a simple blend of kinnikinnick using the four sacred medicines: Cedar, Sage, Sweetgrass and the Red Willow bark, which is considered tobacco,” explained Medicine Warrior Youth Worker Julia Littlewolf. “We’ll use this kinnikinnick as an offering in our presentations, as gifts and to share as we continue educating the community about traditional tobacco.”
The Medicine Warriors have produced four videos, which they use in their community presentations. Also available on YouTube, the first public service video applies humor to focus on the effects of second-hand smoke; a second video captures the Medicine Warrior youth group conducting a cigarette butt clean-up; the third, “What Would You Rather Be Doing?,” highlights the activities that discourage youth from smoking; and the fourth, “What Our Community Has to Say…,” features a collection of interviews about commercial tobacco abuse.
So far, five Minneapolis worksites – including the Division of Indian Work, which sponsors the Medicine Warriors – have adopted new policies banning the use of commercial tobacco use on their property. All Nations Indian Church, Native American Community Clinic, Migizi Communications and Indigenous People’s Task Force have also revised their policies.
Now, the Medicine Warriors are in the second phase of the project, producing a new round of anti-commercial tobacco smoking videos. The teens understand that progress is incremental. But with the program goal of building capacity in Native American youth as traditional tobacco use and policy change advocates and protectors of Native medicines for future generations, they are making great strides.
As Arden Two Bears, a 13-year old Ojibwe from Leech Lake reservation, said, “By doing these kinds of things, it makes me want to go out and talk to people about how smoking and second hand smoke can hurt you in the future.”
Mashkiki Ogichidaag videos can be seen on YouTube or ordered on DVD from the Division of Indian Work, 612-279-6355 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mashkiki Ogichidaag is a program of the Division of Indian Work, and funded by the American Indian Community Tobacco Initiative from the Minnesota Department of Health, Office of Tobacco Prevention and Control.