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Native American tobacco use | Tobacco History
Among the Indians found in

Native American tobacco use


The four sacred plants are gift of the Four Manido (Spirits of the Four Directions). To those who live in the traditional way, there are four plants which are especially revered and used in daily living. The creator taught us to use the natural herbs of sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, and cedar smoke as a physical reminder to them of this omnipotent presence. It is the sacred way.

Tobacco (Semah)

Semah, or tobacco, is one of the four sacred plants. It represents the Eastern Direction and the mind. The Anishinaabe use a form of tobacco known as kinikinik, or a red willow mix. Because it opens the door to the creator, When tobacco is used to make smoke, it is one of the most sacred of plants for Native people. Some elders say that tobacco is used to connect the worlds since the plants roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the sky. This plant is highly respected and highly honoured. Giving tobacco is a beautiful way of our people. Ceremonies using tobacco invoke a relationship with the energies of the universe, and ultimately the Creator, and the bond made between earthly and spiritual realms is not to be broken.

There are four traditional Tobacco uses. None of them will harm you.


When we put sacred tobacco into our Sacred Pipes, we are also using that tobacco as a communicator to the sky world where all of our ancestors have gone on before us. We do not inhale the sacred smoke that comes from the pipe. When the smoke rises, it is taking our prayers with it up to the Creator and all of our relatives who have gone on before us. Our elders show us that when we finish with prayers, we sprinkle a small amount of tobacco on the drum. This is a way of giving back to and thanking the Creator for all he has given to us. Tobacco can be used on a daily basis as each new day is greeted with prayers of thankfulness. Many elders say to hold it in your prayers of thankfulness. They also add that you are to hold it in your left hand as this is the hand closer to your heart.


Traditionals burn tobacco before storms. It is used to pray that powerful storms wont hurt our families. To pray with tobacco in your Native language is very powerful. It can make a difference in the physical world.


Tobacco is used in the offering of prayer to the Creator, acting as a medium for communication. It is either offered to the fire, so the smoke can lift the prayers to the Creator, or it is set on the ground in a nice, clean place. It means we come humbly to our creator. We proclaim our innocence. When you want to speak to the creator, we are told to make an offering of the tobacco plant. An Elder will take tobacco ties and offer them to the fire or offer it back to Mother Earth on behalf of the Sacred Circle. Anishinabe people live life in a very sacred manner. When taking something from the Earth, they always explain to the spirit of the plant why it is being done and offer some tobacco in return for the generosity and help of the plant which shared itself so freely.

Purification and working with a clear mind and heart are essential in asking the land to provide for people. This is keeping with the Native belief that if you do things in a good way, good things will follow. If careful attention is not established, the result will not be as good. Sometimes elders place tobacco on the water. This shows our thanks to the Creator, for the lifeblood of our Mother the earth that is provided to us. At this time we also acknowledge the moon who in her 28-day cycle cleanses the water by filtering it through the sands.


Respecting our tobacco should be taken seriously. Sacred tobacco is used for prayers of gratitude to thank the Creator of Mother Earth for our many blessings, such as good health, great fishing, and good crops. When any plant is picked or any animal is taken, Tobacco and Prayer must be given to show respect. By honouring all our relations we demonstrate that we have not forgotten our place within the web of life. To offer someone tobacco is to ask that you and the person receiving the tobacco be of one heart, one mind and one spirit. Tobacco is offered when you ask someone to do a ceremony for you, such as a name-giving, drumming or singing for someone, to do a smudging ceremony, a sweatlodge or sacred pipe ceremony; any ceremony. This signifies that you and the one doing the ceremony are of one heart, one mind and one spirit, that you have the same purpose.

Another way that is used to bring people together in unity is that it is used to heal rifts between people. If you have a disagreement that causes ill feelings or someone has treated you badly, or if you have treated someone badly, you can bring tobacco and ask to speak to the person. Then of course, you would do your best to heal the rift, not to make things worse, so tobacco assists us in making amends, getting over resentments, healing emotional wounds and in forgiving people. Even a little tobacco can be given if you do not have money for a pouch. It is the sacredness that counts, not the amount. The person can decide to accept your tobacco or reject.

Some of our Elders still offer tobacco to everyone who visits them. Tobacco is given to elders when one is seeking advice. It is always good to offer tobacco when seeking knowledge or advice from an Elder or when a Pipe is present. It shows gratitude and respect for the elder whose advice you are seeking. Tobacco is given when you appreciate a teaching from an elder or even a younger person if you value what that person has told you. It is a way of showing respect and gratitude.

Proper Uses

Sacred herbs are powerful, but when misused or dis-respected, their power consume us. Tobacco can be a healer or a destroyer. It depends on how and how often it is used. When used in a sacred way, it can promote good health and assist with spiritual guidance and growth. When tobacco is used in a protocol way it becomes sacred. In the old days, tobacco was the most holy of plants and the most sacred of ceremonial objects. The Creator's spirit is in tobacco. When used in this sacred manner with the sacred pipe, the spirit as smoke enters the man, refreshes him, and then travels to the sky laden with thanksgiving. For hundreds of years, the people were taught this holy and powerful way to communicate with their creator. If used correctly, tobacco can improve your spiritual, mental and physical well being.

Abusive Uses

When it is not used in a sacred way, it can be very harmful. Commercial tobacco is a poison containing over 4000 chemicals. The dominant culture exploits tobacco by commercializing and glamorizing cigarette abuse. When tobacco is used as a drug: smoking daily or chewing, it is not being used in a sacred manner. Its also a problem when young people use it to be cool and fit in even if they dont have the right. Commercial tobacco was introduced from the outside. When smoking is considered an everyday affair, it looses its power. The addictive nature of it destroys our communities. 40% of all Native Americans smoke. Around the world, 7 people die every minute because they abuse tobacco. Native Americans abuse tobacco at a higher rate than any ethnic group in America.

f we abuse a sacred plant, we risk spiritual disconnection. Many Elders feel that any use of tobacco that occurs outside of ceremony is an affront to the Creator. Think about it! Nothing commercially marketed, chemically laced and mass marketed can sacred.

Abusive Uses

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