Health | National

Lakota Country Times: Youth of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe drive smoking policies

Rae O’Leary of the Canli Coalition holds a No Smoking sign during a presentation at the Good & Healthy South Dakota in July 2016. Photo by Vi Waln

Lakota Youth Driving Force Behind Smoke Free Air Law
By Vi Waln
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

EAGLE BUTTE – Young people were the driving force behind the Canli Coalition, a group who worked on the Smoke Free Air Act enacted by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in 2015.

“The Canli Coalition did a great job of educating council on this issue,” stated Rae O’Leary, RN who works with Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc. The Canli Coalition was formed in 2009 to educate the community on the dangers of using commercial tobacco

In 2015, at the request of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council, several young people testified at a meeting. The young people spoke in favor of banning cigarette smoking in public areas.

Ordinance 77 establishing the Smoke Free Air law was subsequently approved by a tribal council vote of 13-1-0. People who smoke cigarettes must do so at least 50 feet away from the doors and windows of all public buildings.

The movement toward a smoke-free reservation at Cheyenne River was first sparked by Marcella Lebeau. She served as a tribal council woman and built a legacy for Canli Coalition. Mrs. Lebeau led the initial push to ban smoking in tribal offices in 1992.

A billboard on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota informs visitors of the ban on smoking in indoor public places. Photo by Canli Coalition / Facebook

Today, Teens Against Tobacco Use is a peer-to-peer group providing tobacco awareness to the middle and high school population. This group also initiated a youth contest encouraging tobacco awareness ads, which are incorporated to many existing signs on Cheyenne River. “This is what the kids wanted, it’s just the beginning,” O’Leary said.

There are 50 members in the Canli Coalition. “We broke a barrier when tobacco users joined us,” O’Leary stated. “We are all here to protect the kids. If we didn’t have the help from these young people, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Smoke Free Air laws have been in effect for a year without any fines issued for smoking violations. Consequently, 76% of the adult population on Cheyenne River supports smoke free businesses. “We’ve had amazing cooperation from businesses in putting up the No Smoking signs,” stated O’Leary.

In June, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) approved Resolution #SPO-16-046, with the intent of “Supporting Policies to Reduce Commercial Tobacco Use, Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Tobacco-Related Disease among American Indians.” American Indian adult rates of smoking are as high as 50% compared to 16.8% tobacco use rate of non-Native adults. American Indian high school students have the highest smoking prevalence of all racial/ethnic groups.

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Lakota people are also being encourage to rethink the concept of using commercial tobacco in ceremony. The Canli Coalition urges the revival of using traditional herbs in ceremony. Cansasa, the inner bark of red willow trees, was traditionally used as a base when creating an herbal mixture to smoke in the Cannunpa or sacred pipe. The practice of mixing commercial, chemically laden tobacco with traditional herbs is now discouraged by many.

“It's important for each tribe to fight the smoking battle on their own reservations,” O’Leary said. The Canli Coalition continues to provide awareness about the dangers of commercial tobacco. Monthly meetings, public updates and education are on-going activities sponsored by the Coalition.

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