Tobacco at the heart of native culture

Dear Editor:

I would like to reply to Julian Ross Hudson’s Letter to the Editor in the March 9 edition of the Ponoka News.

Mr. Hudson’s opinion that the Alberta Government should withdraw all of its funding from reserves because, the “native bands believe that the Province of Alberta’s Gaming and Liquor Commission has no jurisdiction on the reserve” is uneducated and not very well thought out. His assumption about native bands is not true at all.

First sir, I would suggest that you open your ears and listen. Do you have any idea of what the value of tobacco, such as cigarettes, means to a “native” individual. Tobacco is very sacred to First Nations in that it was one of the gifts “natives” gave to European settlers when they first invaded North America. Cigarettes are used for many “native” ceremonial purposes such weddings, celebrations and funerals. When a “native” gives another person a cigarette (a form of tobacco) this is a very meaningful gift. Tobacco has always been a major part of the First Nations culture. Because of this, I believe “natives” hold the exclusive rights to any tobacco products that they come into possession of.

Today, cigarette sales of any form provide a significant economic role for most, if not all, reserves. Chief Carolyn Buffalo’s economic development plan isn’t about profiting from “minor” smoking customers. Her plan is about realizing the huge economic benefit that cigarette sales play in developing economic stability for the people of Montana First Nation. If you were the leader of a nation, where approximately 80 per cent of the population struggled with poverty, alcohol/substance abuse, crime and unemployment, how could you or anyone ignore the fact that tobacco sales on reserves can help save an entire people.

Of course there will be minors that get a hold of “cheap native smokes.” This is obviously to be expected. Minors also get a hold of cigarettes off-reserve as well. The fact is nothing can ever be completely 100 per cent monitored or prevented. It is absolutely not fair for the people of the First Nations community to have their benefits taken away due to the few minors who get a hold of “cheap native smokes.”

I would like you Mr. Hudson, to research a little before you drop your opinions in on “natives.” It is easy to suggest the Alberta Government withdraw funds such as welfare from reserves. But, for example, when you are the single mother of four young children, with no income, and no other way to help yourself or your children, you thank God that your chief and your Alberta Government are looking after you with welfare, and benefits from cigarette sales.

Growing up I always learned to be giving and helpful, and from what I understand, the Alberta and federal governments are there to help those who cannot help themselves. This issue isn’t about the effects cigarettes have on the human body or whether or not minors smoke “cheap native cigarettes,” instead it is about the significant role that cigarettes play as a profitable income to ensure the sustainment of First Nation Reserves.

As a taxpayer I am more than willing to assist/support anyone in need.

Valena Lengwenus