Public TV Producer Leya Hale Explains Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco

Long before Philip Morris became the largest cigarette producer in the United States, the tobacco plant was considered sacred by some Native American tribes and used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. When the federal government outlawed their traditional religious practices, which included the use of traditional tobacco, many Native American tribes began incorporating commercial tobacco into their practices in order to keep their traditions alive.

Commercial tobacco is harvested and prepared differently from traditional varieties and includes chemical additives, many of which are addictive and carcinogenic. In 2013, nearly half of the United States’ adult Native population was using commercial tobacco regularly, at a higher rate than any other ethnic or racial group, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

New public television documentary “Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco” explores Minnesota’s American Indian communities’ efforts to reclaim traditional practices surrounding tobacco and discourage commercial tobacco use to promote healthier living.

Twin Cities PBS associate producer Leya Hale won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for her work producing “Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco.” She spoke with Rewire about her connection to the topic and what it was like to produce a documentary all on her own for the first time.

Watch the full documentary here.

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