Indigenous

Indian Island First Nation elder passes down traditional tobacco teachings to children

Mi'kmaw children in the small community of Indian Island First Nation, N.B., were taught valuable lessons about the traditional uses of tobacco, one of the four sacred medicines, in a workshop on Monday.

Tobacco is a traditional medicine that connects prayers to Creator, says Christopher Sanipass

Olivia Chiasson, age 6, was one of the youth at the traditional tobacco teachings held Monday in Indian Island First Nation, N.B. (Oscar Baker III/CBC News)

Mi'kmaw children in the small community of Indian Island First Nation, N.B., were taught valuable lessons about the traditional uses of tobacco, one of the four sacred medicines, in a workshop on Monday.

They learned about its historical connection to the Mi'kmaq, and why and when it's used.

Christopher Sanipass, 60, a respected elder from the community, was brought in to teach the children about tobacco. He said it's used to offer prayers and thanks. 

"There's a connection to Creator when you offer tobacco," said Sanipass. 

He explained that as a men's traditional dancer, he uses tobacco when he dances for people, and offers tobacco to the drummers to give them strength.

Doesn't want traditional knowledge to get lost

Sanipass said he wanted to share his knowledge so it doesn't get lost. When he was growing up, many elders were hesitant to teach because they feared repercussions for sharing traditional knowledge, he said. But now times have changed, and he is happy watching the kids learn. 

"I see the knowledge. They're just like little sponges — they're just taking it all in," said Sanipass.

Christopher Sanipass offers teachings on traditional Mi'kmaq use of tobacco to children in Indian Island First Nation. (Oscar Baker III/CBC News)

He also shared teachings about his traditional regalia, explaining when he dances he honours the animals and Mother Earth for their gifts to him. Sanipass also spent time explaining that traditional medicines are valuable for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. 

The event also brought in Richard Pellissier-Lush from Abegweit First Nation, P.E.I., who taught the kids about hoop dancing, drumming and about the ji'kmaqn, a Mi'kmaq instrument. 

Keeping youth involved in culture

Ashley Sanipass, Chris's daughter, helped organize the event. She's the Mi'gmaq Cultural Co-ordinator for Mi'gmaq Child and Family, and said she wants to keep the youth involved in culture. 

"When they start to do these cultural activities, you get so proud of them. [It's] an overwhelming feeling of joy when you see your youth doing that," said Sanipass, 36. 

She said she's well aware of the harmful and cancer-causing effects of tobacco use, but said their programming is geared toward healthy lifestyles. Cultural practices are a part of that. 

Ashley Sanipass is a Mi'gmaq Cultural Co-ordinator for Mi'gmaq Child and Family and helped organize the tobacco teachings. She said she's proud when children in her community learn their culture. (Oscar Baker III/CBC News )

Ashley Sanipass says they'll continue to prioritize cultural education and hopes the youth remember what they learned. 

"A strong part of our community is our culture."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe

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