Health topic: Health Promotion Tobacco and Vaping

Keep tobacco sacred

What's it about?

Tobacco is a sacred medicine in many Indigenous communities. It has been part of ceremonies, prayers, and other cultural practices for thousands of years.

When we keep tobacco sacred, we honour its spiritual and cultural significance. We support all members of the school community to understand and appreciate the traditional uses of tobacco, and separate them from non-traditional uses (like smoking cigarettes).

In the spirit of reconciliation, this strategy creates space for traditional tobacco in school experiences.


What's involved?

Keep tobacco sacred by respecting its traditional uses and incorporating them into life at school. Here’s what you can do:

Separate traditional tobacco from commercial tobacco

Any time that you address tobacco in your classroom, school, or school authority, make it clear that using traditional tobacco is not the same as using commercial tobacco. This is an important way to ensure that Indigenous students feel supported as they use sacred teachings and cultural practices.

This table outlines some key distinctions between traditional tobacco and commercial tobacco products. For detail, go to Traditional tobacco and commercial tobacco.

Traditional tobacco

Commercial tobacco

Is planted and harvested with respect

Is mass-produced and sold by the tobacco industry, for use in products like cigarettes, hookahs, cigars, and chews

Involves tobacco in its natural form (Nicotiana rustica)

Contains chemicals and additives

Use only small amounts, for a specific purpose

Aims to create frequent, habitual use

Honours and respects Indigenous customs and spirituality

Has no connection to traditional origins or spiritual uses

Used for ceremony and protocol

Is highly addictive and harmful to health


Teach the cultural value of tobacco

Help students and their families learn the cultural significance of traditional tobacco. Start by sharing Traditional Tobacco Use, a brief AHS video that explores the role of tobacco in ceremony, healing, and giving thanks. Tobacco used for these purposes has deep cultural significance.

Continue the learning journey with support and guidance from Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers in your community. Consider these ideas:

  • Invite storytelling about traditional uses of tobacco in naming ceremonies, pipe ceremonies, sweat lodges, and other rituals and customs.
  • Display signs in school gardens and outdoor learning spaces to explain the cultural significance of sacred medicinal plants like tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass.
  • Have conversations about how different cultures express gratitude and thanks. In some Indigenous communities, tobacco leaves are sprinkled on the ground as an offering to Mother Earth, or wrapped in a pouch and offered to Elders in exchange for their wisdom and guidance.


Develop protocols 

Protocols are processes that guide how to respectfully approach Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers. They’re the guidelines, manners, and etiquettes that help ensure traditional practices are followed. Many Alberta school authorities have worked in partnership with Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, and Indigenous community members to create protocols related to traditional tobacco. For example, some school authorities have protocols in place for:

  • Offering tobacco when asking questions of an Elder or Knowledge Keeper, or seeking their advice, guidance, or participation
  • Gifting tobacco to Elders or Knowledge Keepers who offer prayers or participate in ceremonies or events, or to traditional drummers, dancers, or other ceremonialists involved in school activities

Some school authorities also offer guidance around how and where staff can buy tobacco for traditional purposes and store it safely. Others have protocols for burning tobacco in cultural or spiritual ceremonies on school property.

Follow the protocols in place in your school authority. If you have questions, consult with your school authority’s Indigenous education team or cultural advisors.


How it connects

By keeping tobacco sacred, we build understanding and respect for the histories, cultures, and perspectives of Indigenous people in Alberta. In the spirit of reconciliation, we honour and value relationships we have with Indigenous people and communities.

This strategy holds promise in smoking prevention. Research suggests that by supporting cultural practices, we can reduce the number of kids and teens who use commercial tobacco.

Get inspired with Sacred teachings, the story of how one Alberta school community is growing the four sacred medicines—sage, tobacco, cedar, and sweet grass—and so much more.

You might also like these related topics:



Elder protocol (Walking together: Education for reconciliation)
Alberta Teachers' Association
Keep Tobacco Sacred Collaborative

Tradtional tobacco and commercial tobacco

Tradtional use of tobacco (video)
Alberta Health Services

CMS Shortcuts
 Edit Page
 Edit in CMS