Indian Island First Nation elder teaches traditional tobacco teachings to children

Mi’kmaq children from the small Indian Island First Nation community in New Brunswick received valuable lessons in the traditional uses of tobacco, one of the four sacred medicines, at a workshop Monday.

They discovered its historical connection to the Mi’kmaq, and why and when it is used.

Christopher Sanipass, 60, a respected community elder, was brought in to teach the children about tobacco. He said it is used to offer prayers and thanks.

“There’s a connection to Creator when you offer tobacco,” Sanipass said.

He explained that as a male traditional dancer, he uses tobacco when dancing for people and offers tobacco to drummers to give them strength.

Does not want traditional knowledge to be lost

Sanipass said he wanted to share his knowledge so it wouldn’t get lost. When he was growing up, many elders were reluctant to teach because they feared the repercussions of sharing traditional knowledge, he said. But now times have changed and he is happy to see the children learning.

“I see the knowledge. They are like little sponges – they absorb everything,” Sanipass said.

Christopher Sanipass delivers teachings on traditional Mi’kmaq tobacco use to Indian Island First Nation children. (Oscar Baker III/CBC News)

He also shared teachings on his traditional regalia, explaining when he dances he honors animals and Mother Earth for their gifts. Sanipass also spent time explaining that traditional medicines are valuable for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.

The event also attracted Richard Pellissier-Lush of Abegweit First Nation, PEI, who taught the children hoop dancing, drumming and ji’kmaqn, a Mi’kmaq instrument.

Keeping young people involved in culture

Ashley Sanipass, Chris’ daughter, helped organize the event. She is the Mi’gmaq Cultural Coordinator for Mi’gmaq Child and Family, and said she wants to keep young people involved in culture.

“When they start doing these cultural activities, you are so proud of them. [It’s] a huge sense of joy when you see your youth doing this,” said Sanipass, 36.

She said she was well aware of the harmful and carcinogenic effects of smoking, but said their programming focused on healthy lifestyles. Cultural practices are part of this.

Ashley Sanipass is the Mi’gmaq Cultural Coordinator for Mi’gmaq Child and Family and has helped organize teachings on tobacco. She says she is proud when children in her community learn about their culture. (Oscar Baker III/CBC News)

Ashley Sanipass says they will continue to prioritize cultural education and hopes young people will remember what they have learned.

“An important part of our community is our culture.”