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Tribal Policies Help Set Smoke-Free Standard

Posted on by DCPC

About 15 years ago, Nate Sandman became a health educator for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Northeast Minnesota. Seeing that many members of the Band used commercial tobacco products, he began doing research to create culturally relevant quit-smoking programs. Nate helped start the Minnesota Native American Council on Tobacco, which helps Native Americans stop using commercial tobacco products.

In the late 2000s, a former tribal leader had tried to put policies into place that would limit the use of commercial tobacco products in public buildings in Fond du Lac. In 2014, Nate decided that the time had come to try again to enact smoke-free policies. He hired Roberta Marie, a respected Band member and former smoking cessation outreach specialist. Roberta became a familiar, friendly face at most tribal events, supporting those who wanted a healthier community through smoke-free policies. She educated tribal leaders about the health costs of secondhand smoke, incorporating tribal tradition into all of her messages.

Roberta worked with Nate, Fond du Lac’s Executive Director for Programs, and the Fond du Lac attorney to draft policies for tribal council to consider. In February, 2015, tribal leaders passed a policy that banned cigarette smoking in most tribal buildings. Soon afterward, commercial tobacco use was banned at two major outdoor powwows. In 2016, restaurants in the Black Bear Casino Resort as well as tribal foster care homes became smoke-free.

The strategies for enacting these policies included—

  • Making Fond du Lac ready for a smoke-free policy. It would have been an uphill battle if not for the groundwork, which included a consistent community presence sharing education on secondhand smoke, with cultural tradition as a foundation.
  • Using stepping stones. Changes at the county and state levels helped pave the way for smoke-free policies in Fond du Lac.
  • Being a part of the community and finding partners. Roberta either exhibited at or attended as many community events as she could, and she and Nate strategically chose community events to sponsor that would help develop stronger partnerships for future support.
  • Sustaining funding for staff and programming. Having a paid staff person who can focus on health policy is critical.
  • Hiring creative, trustworthy, knowledgeable staff. Roberta brought skills for policy work to this position and had a record of service to her community, as well as strong relationships within the Band.
  • Doing background research and legwork. Roberta and Nate made it a priority to talk to tribal and cultural leaders to learn their stance on tobacco issues and understand their concerns.

Reducing exposure to tobacco saves human suffering and economic hardship, since it is especially dangerous to children, elders, and diabetics. In addition, smoke-free spaces help people quit abusing tobacco—a particularly important outcome in Fond du Lac, where more than half of tribal members smoke cigarettes. This project helped create a community norm that celebrates healthy environments.

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Posted on by DCPC

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