Traditional people say that tobacco is always first. It is used as an offering for everything and in every ceremony. “Always through smoking,” the saying goes.
Traditional tobacco was given to us so that we can communicate with the spirit world. It opens up the door to allow that communication to take place. When we make an offering of tobacco, we communicate our thoughts and feelings through the tobacco as we pray for ourselves, our family, relatives, and others.
Tobacco has a unique relationship with other plants: it is said to be the primary activator of all the plant spirits. It is the key to the ignition of a car. When you use it, all things begin to happen. Tobacco Is always offered before picking medicines. When you provide tobacco to a plant and explain why you are there, that plant will let all the plants in the area know why you are coming to pick them.
When you seek the help and advice of an Elder, Healer or Medicine Person, and give your offering of tobacco, they know that a request may be made as tobacco is so sacred.
We express our gratitude for the help the spirits provide us with through our offering of smoking. It is put down as an offering of thanks to the First Family, the natural world, after a fast. Traditional people make an offering of tobacco each day when the sun comes up.
Traditional tobacco is still grown in some communities. For example, the Mohawk people use a traditional tobacco that they grow themselves, and that is very sacred to them.
Reference: Ojibwe medicine. Ojibwe Medicine. (n.d.). https://www.kbichealth.org/ojibwe-medicine
Tabaw in Michif
Asemaa in Ojibwe
No translation in Oneida
The smoke is believed to be the pathway to the spirit world, and as such, carries all thoughts, feelings and prayers to the Creator. It is sometimes thrown straight on to a fire but is most commonly burned in a hand-made cigar or cigarette, bundle or in a pipe. The smoke is not inhaled but allowed to drift up to the Creator. It is sometimes offered by hunters, with their left hand as that is closest to the heart, before and after a kill as thanks to the Creator and to the animal. It is spread on the ground as an offering to the Earth or on the water as acknowledgment to its critical role in life and to ask for safe passage. It is frequently given as a gift in advance of a request for guidance.
Ceremonial usage is not to be confused with recreational smoking. There is a clear distinction between the traditional, and non-traditional, use – when used traditionally, it is a powerful medicine, but like all medicines, if used improperly, it has the power to harm. Tobacco-related illnesses and diseases are urgent issues in First Nations and Inuit communities, where smoking rates are more than triple the rate for the rest of Canada. First Nations Elders teach that this recreational abuse of a sacred plant is disrespectful of the spiritual, medicinal, and traditional use of this plant.