LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: The colonization of Asemaa


The colonization of Asemaa

The summer months are ending and the fall harvest begins. This is a time when we gather the things we need to make it through the winter. We start with our asemaa (tobacco) and make an offering for the season and for the blessings to come –the animals, water, moon and the sun that always rises up and a time to be thankful for these gifts.

The creator has given us these gifts and the first gift was asemaa. It was given as a way to communicate with the creator and send our prayers, thoughts, blessings and the four directions. Today tobacco has become many things and made in different forms and flavors and used in a non-ceremonial way. This has caused great harm to our people.

Since 1884 it was illegal for us to practice our religion. It was then that we begin to use commercial tobacco; it was the only way for us to pray without getting arrested. Asemaa has been colonized and taken from us, and altered to fit into the western world by adding chemicals and additives to enhance the flavor for the purpose of profit and gain.

Since then tobacco companies have targeted and exploited different populations and vulnerable adults, by offering free products and marketing campaigns.

During World War II (1939-1945), cigarette sales were at an all time high. Cigarettes were included in a soldier’s C-Rations (like food). Tobacco companies sent millions of cigarettes to the soldiers for free, and when these soldiers came home, the companies had a steady stream of loyal customers. In 1956 R.J. Reynolds introduced the Salem Brand, which was the first filter-tipped menthol cigarette, altering the flavor to mask the flavor of tobacco. Since then more brands have been introduced such as Kool and Camel menthol.

Tobacco use is much higher in some communities and populations such as American Indians and Alaska Natives, and in subsets of certain populations, including Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Certain types of tobacco products also are used at higher rates in certain populations.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the Surgeon Generals report on “Smoking and Health” came out.

“Today there are 5 million people around the world dying each year from tobacco use. It’s going to grow to 10 million a year by 2020 and 7 million of those deaths will be in developing countries,” said Kathy Mulvey, international policy director for Corporate Accountability International. The group works with the World Health Organization to curb smoking abroad.

This year, farmers are expected to sell more than 700 million pounds of tobacco leafs.

Let’s reclaim (Asemaa) and keep it sacred.

Suzanne Nash
Indigenous Peoples Task Force