Lakota elders' views on traditional versus commercial/addictive tobacco use; Oral history depicting a fundamental distinction

R. Margalit, S. Watanabe-Galloway, F. Kennedy, N. Lacy, K. Red Shirt, L. Vinson, J. Kills Small

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This qualitative study is intended to elucidate Lakota elders' views on traditional tobacco and commercial/addictive tobacco use, capturing the oral history that depict the cultural protocol regarding traditional tobacco, called Cansasa. Commercial tobacco use has significantly impacted the Northern Plains Indians. National surveillance systems report that tobacco use is more prevalent among American Indian/Alaska Natives than any other population, and is notably higher than the national average. Lung cancer among Native Americans is highest in the Northern Plains and Alaska, where smoking prevalence is also the highest, and smoking is responsible for nearly 90 % of all lung cancer cases. Yet, the use of traditional tobacco is largely ignored by surveillance and seems to have a distinct, positive role. Using a community-based participatory research approach, semi-structured interviews, and qualitative analysis tools, the research team, including 2 Lakota tribe elders, Lakota speaking tribal college students, and university faculty, sought to discern tribal elders' distinctions between traditional and the addictive commercial tobacco. The team interviewed thirty Lakota elders, transcribed the interviews and field notes, and analyzed them using immersion/crystallization organizing framework. The research design engaged the Lakota tribal community in all stages, from planning to publication. Analysis revealed a clear distinction between traditional and commercial tobacco: tribal elders conveyed strong positive messages connected to traditional tobacco use (i.e., spirituality, respect, health and wellness, humility, and thoughtfulness) versus strong negative messages linked to addictive tobacco (i.e., crime, loss of control and self-esteem, lack of respect to self and others, sickness and death). These messages, along with stories in the Lakota language that were told and recorded during the interviews, can guide new ways to address addictive tobacco prevention in this community, to enhance cultural pride, and to serve as a cross-generation bridge regarding tobacco use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)538-545
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Community Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • American Indian
  • Commercial/addictive tobacco
  • Culture
  • Interviews
  • Traditional tobacco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Lakota elders' views on traditional versus commercial/addictive tobacco use; Oral history depicting a fundamental distinction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this