History of Offering Tobacco (Asemaa)
Treaty 2 Territory- The first and most important protocol when making requests of a First Nations elder or knowledge keeper is making an offering of asemaa (tobacco). Asemaa, was the first gift of medicine that was given to us by the Creator. It is used when asking things of others, making offerings of thanksgiving and for use in prayer and traditional ceremonies. Tobacco is also put down on Mother Earth, when a tree is cut down, when an animal/bird is killed, when rocks are taken for the Sweat Lodge or when picking medicines. It is done as a way of showing our appreciation for that which was taken.
Historically, First Nations people have always believed that everything in creation has a spirit, they hunted for food, shelter, clothing, never for the sport of it. Tobacco offerings taught the people from early childhood to always be respectful and to always show your gratitude to the Creator, to the spirit of the animal, to the spirit of the tree, to the spirit of the rock, or to the spirit of the medicines. Through our people’s shared belief that everything in creation has a spirit and is not to be taken for granted or exploited in any way, we are taught to show our gratitude for all these things. Tobacco offerings are a sign of respect and genuine appreciation for everything in Creation.
Tobacco offerings may also be made for a special intention, for someone who is ill or someone who has passed on into the spirit world, or for our elders, our ancestors, or the youth. Tobacco offerings are always made at ceremonies or as an offering to the water, tied to a tree, thrown into a fire to deliver a message, or smoked in a pipe by a pipe carrier.
When you attend a Powwow or wherever there is a sacred fire, you may make a tobacco offering to the sacred fire to send a message or to say ‘miigwech’ to Mother Earth and the Creator. The smoke from tobacco is believed to be the most direct pathway to the spirit world. It carries all thoughts, feelings, and prayers from the holder to the Creator.
Making Tobacco Ties
When you are seeking advice or information from someone you may give that person a tobacco tie. You may also give a tobacco tie to someone to show your appreciation for something they have done for you or for the people. Always store your tobacco ties in a place of reverence and respect. Never just toss a tobacco tie in a junk drawer, it is sacred.
The custom of presenting a tobacco tie is an act of respect for invited Indigenous guests. It is important to honour their presence with the gift of tobacco. Ideally, you are using Traditional tobacco, which is not for commercial smoking. Locally, you can find this sold at various Indigenous stores like ‘Teekca’s at the Forks and First Nations gas stations under name of ‘Mother Earth’ tobacco. If this is not available, then commercial loose tobacco, sold in pouches, can be used.
There are many ways of presenting tobacco. Preparation begins with ensuring that you are drug/alcohol free and in a good state of mind. Only prepare ties if you are not on your Moon Time. Ground yourself with the intention of gifting this tobacco in a good way.
Use a 4-5-inch square of red cotton cloth and place about a tablespoon of tobacco (enough to fill a pipe) in the center of the square. Then bring all corners together and tie the bundle closed with a narrow ribbon, yarn, or a cloth strip. Think about why you are preparing this tie and who it is for. Each guest should receive a tie. Explain to the tobacco why it’s going to be presented and what is expected of the recipient. Hold it in your left hand as that’s the hand that is closest to your heart.
When presenting, always remember that tobacco comes first. Introduce the guest and then present that tobacco tie from your left hand while explaining why it is being offered. This can be simple, such as, “I am offering you this tobacco tie for…. the opening and closing prayers… the opening prayer… the smudging ceremony… your guidance with… sharing your knowledge with us today….
When tobacco is given for a personal or private request it is best done in person to allow for discussion. The Elder will either accept the tobacco or provide a reason why they cannot accept and fulfill the request.
If this is new to you this information will help build your confidence in the preparing and presenting of tobacco to your next guest, as a way to respectfully welcome and honour them with this traditional practice.
Added note: Elder Dave Courchene from Turtle Lodge emphasizes how the wisdom of our Elders, (which they received from their Elders and from nature), “takes us to the heart of ourselves and shows us how to have a more sacred relationship with nature and each other.”
He describes the role of giving tobacco in this context:
“We offer tobacco to our participants to feed the sacred fire outside, as a way of showing appreciation to each of you. The gift of tobacco is a reflection of giving. When we stop giving, we lose sight of how to share. One of the biggest secrets of life is to be able to give and share. You are invited to feed the sacred fire and participate in this relationship of giving.” Elder Courchene’s reflections speak to the ways that human life and the natural world are interrelated, but also to the ways in which all beings can work together in cooperation, respect, and reciprocity. (Elder Dave Courchene, 2019)
Submitted by Renée McGurry, Earth Lodge Development Helper