Native Communities vs. Big Tobacco:… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Native Communities vs. Big Tobacco: How an Industry Commercializes, Exploits and Misrepresents Traditional Practices for Profits

Aired November 2, 2022 | 4 PM ET

Traditional tobacco has been used by American Indians and Alaska Natives for centuries for cultural and spiritual purposes. In yet another display of the tobacco industry’s predatory practices, the concept of traditional tobacco – a sacred symbol of peace and healing – was appropriated and commercialized for the industry’s financial gain. Big Tobacco has even funded cultural events and promoted cigarette brands like Natural American Spirit that use images of traditional American-Indian warriors. Now, American Indian and Alaska Native communities have the highest prevalence of commercial tobacco use compared to any other population group in the United States.

In this installment of our Campaign for the Culture conversation series, a panel of community leaders, health experts and tobacco control advocates explored the difference between traditional and commercial tobacco and celebrated the leadership of Indigenous communities working to take down Big Tobacco.

Featured Speakers

CoCo Villaluz, Moderator
American Indian Cancer Foundation
Health Equity Manager

CoCo Villaluz (Hidatsa/Assiniboine/Chamorro) is the Health Equity Manager for the American Indian Cancer Foundation. CoCo has been working in community mobilization, education and policy work for the past twenty years. CoCo’s focus includes the restoration of traditional tobacco and cultural lifeways as a way to create change. One of her recent accomplishments was being awarded the 2020 Minnesota Public Health Association’s Paul and Sheila Wellstone Public Health Achievement Award. CoCo is inspired by her ancestors to carry on their teachings for her children. In her free time, she loves to hike, visit and dance with her family.

Hershel Walker Clark
(Navajo Nation)
Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project
Program Manager

Hershel Walker Clark, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, received his Bachelor of Science degree in American Indian Studies from Arizona State University and earned his Master of Public Health degree from University of Arizona. For the past eight years, Mr. Clark has worked in tobacco control and prevention as a public health researcher, advocate, and advisor. Mr. Clark’s professional experience has allowed him to understand the needs, challenges, and triumphs that American Indians face, specifically when it comes to tobacco control concerns. Mr. Clark helped lead the historic passing of the “Navajo Niłch' Éí Bee Ííná — Air is Life Act of 2021”, a comprehensive commercial tobacco smoke-free policy for the Navajo Nation. Mr. Clark believes the use of tobacco is sacred for many Indigenous peoples and must be reclaimed through both western science and Indigenous worldviews. Mr. Clark currently is the Program Manager for the Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project, a non-profit organization that addresses tobacco control and prevention efforts in the Navajo Nation.

Lou Moerner
Northern California Indian Development Council
Community Consultant & Advocate

Lou Moerner is a community consultant and advocate focused on health equity issues in American Indian communities. Ms. Moerner developed the Community Wellness Division for California’s oldest and largest American Indian non-profit, the Northern California Indian Development Council. As the Community Wellness Division Director, Lou created and administered culturally relevant wellness programs, as well as working nationally as a trainer. Lou specializes in using her research and community knowledge to adapt evidence-based health and wellness models for use in American Indian/Alaska Native communities. Lou has worked effectively with tribes in California and nationwide to assist in the creation of both culturally appropriate programs and policies for their Tribal communities. Ms. Moerner is the author of the state of California’s first electronic cigarette ban, adopted by the City of Eureka. She adapted Second Wind Commercial Tobacco Cessation for American Indian adults and co-authored Project SUN, a youth cessation curriculum specifically for American Indian audiences.

Suzanne Nash
Indigenous Peoples Task Force
First Medicines Program Manager

Suzanne Nash (Ojibwe) has worked at Indigenous Peoples Task Force for 18 years in many capacities. She is the Housing Director and Program Manager for the Youth Tobacco program and the Indigi-Baby program. Suzanne has facilitated and coordinated tobacco prevention, cessation, education, and policy work with 11 tribes in Minnesota and other urban areas. For the past 18 years, she has organized statewide conferences around tobacco, cultural teachings, traditional foods, environmental issues, and policy work. She is a Policy Champion on Tobacco Control and a LAAMPP Alumnae.

Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson
(Navajo Nation)
Black Hills Center for American Indian Health
Vice President

Patricia Nez Henderson, MD, MPH is the Vice President of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health and is a Navajo Nation Tribal citizen. As a Diné scientist, Dr. Nez Henderson is one of the leading authorities in tobacco control and prevention in American Indian communities. Her work has led to the Navajo Nation passing commercial tobacco-free policies for government workplaces and ceremonial settings and increasing excise taxes on tobacco products. In addition, Dr. Nez Henderson collaborated with Tribes and Tribal communities in developing, implementing, and evaluating culturally relevant research projects, including social network-based tobacco intervention in the Navajo Nation and the examination of tribally manufactured tobacco products and their marketing and sales on and off reservations. Dr. Nez Henderson also serves as the Board President of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco.

Nalia Segura
Youth Advocate

Nalia Segura is an Ojibwe-Latinx singer, dancer, and actor. She has performed on many stages as an ensemble member of Ikidowin Youth Theater, including The Guthrie Theater (Stories of the Drum), Illusion Theater (Everything is a Circle), and The Pangea World Theater (The Missouri River Water Walk). She is a dancer with Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, a Mexican dance group located in East Saint Paul. Additionally, she has sung and acted in a film directed by Jane Ramseyer and was a part of the choir with Tanya Tagaq at The Ordwway Concert Hall.

Clinton Isham
(Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians)
Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Foundation
Tribal Relations Consultant

Clinton Isham is a Tribal citizen from the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Anishinaabe. He currently serves as the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation-Tribal Relations Consultant, where his efforts have helped steer the national conversation on smokefree Tribal gaming since 2019. Clinton specializes in building Tribal partnerships, providing technical assistance, and developing culturally-responsive media and other resources. He has over ten years of experience working with Tribal governments and leading policy initiatives that narrow tobacco-related health disparities. Clinton is a graduate from the College of Menominee Nation and the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay, and is committed to repatriating traditional tobacco to Indian Country.