In a mission to persuade Native American worksites in Minnesota’s Twin Cities to ban commercial cigarette smoking, the youth participants in a local program called Mashkiki Ogichidaag, meaning “Medicine Warriors,” have developed media campaigns to educate the local Indian community about the adverse health effects and dangers of commercial tobacco use.
It has been a hands-on experience for the 10 program participants who wrote the scripts, edited the videos and made presentations to the community. Through the process, the youth discovered new passions in health advocacy and film production, and learned more about their cultural values and traditional strengths, states a program press release.
They also successfully convinced five Minneapolis worksites to adopt new anti-commercial tobacco policies. They include All Nations Indian Church, Native American Community Clinic, Migizi Communications, Indigenous People’s Task Force, and the Division of Indian Work, which sponsors the Medicine Warriors.
The Mashkiki Ogichidaag program teaches youth, like 13-year old Brian Arthur, an Ojibwe from the White Earth reservation, about the difference between traditional tobacco use—for prayers, gift-giving, blessings and medicinal purposes—and commercial tobacco misuse.
“They don’t teach you this in school, and the Medicine Warrior program educates me,” Brian said.
Through Mashkiki Ogichidaag, Brian participated in the intergenerational tobacco discussions as part of the Inter-Tribal Elder Services’ Circle of Tobacco Wisdom. Along with 20 other Native youth, Brian followed Native elders in March to Big Lake, Minnesota, where they harvested Red Willow tree bark, an essential component of traditional tobacco use. Then the youth learned how to make “kinnikinnick” from the Red Willow bark. Kinnikinnick—the Algonquin for “that which is mixed”—is widely used in 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 program advises Native youth on how to become advocates for policy change as well as protectors of Native medicines for future generations.
The Medicine Warriors produced four videos, which they use in their community presentations. All videos are posted on YouTube and can be viewed below.
The first, a public service video called Secondhand Smoke at Work, highlights the negative effects of second-hand smoke.
The second video, Cigarette Butts Clean Up, follows a Medicine Warrior youth group removing cigarette butts outside of an American Indian agency worksite, while focusing on the negative environmental and health impacts of littered cigarette butts.
A third video, What Would You Rather Be Doing? highlights the activities that prevent Mashkiki Ogichidaag youth participants from smoking.
The fourth video, What Our Community Has to Say…, features a collection of interviews about reasons why community members do not use commercial tobacco.
The Medicine Warriors recently entered the second phase of the project, which involves producing a new round of anti-commercial tobacco smoking videos.
“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,” said Arden Two Bears, a 13-year old Ojibwe from the Leech Lake reservation.
Mashkiki Ogichidaag videos can be seen on YouTube or ordered on DVD from the Division of Indian Work at 612-279-6355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.