Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tradition Beset By Aimless Addictions

"Smoking provides huge challenges to our health system, and it has huge societal impacts. It's something that people think about every day, whether they are smokers or non-smokers."
"It helps them through the day."
"Our lives have been hard and a lot of people don't see it as their primary concern. That isn't necessarily an excuse, it is just a reality."
Natan Obed, president, Inuit Taparlit Kanatami [national Inuit organization]

"Cancers such as lung and breast can be viewed as an indicator of the rapid social, economic and environmental changes that indigenous peoples are experiencing."
Study, International Journal of Circumpolar Health

"We hear from young women ... that they don't want their children to smoke, and they wish their mom had told them not to smoke when they were growing up."
"People recognize that they don't run so far in soccer, play so hard in hockey if they smoke. They understand it does affect their health."
"People do go outside and smoke, even in -50 and -60 C weather, and that's an enormous success."
Frankie Best, Nunavut health department
People make their way through the -46 C with wind chill temperatures in Iqaluit, Nunavut in 2014.
Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press    People make their way through the -46 C with wind chill temperatures in Iqaluit, Nunavut in 2014
As though Inuit peoples don't have enough challenges, struggling with poverty, isolation, familial dysfunction, food scarcity and mental health problems -- now their diminished lifestyle, so far removed from their heritage and traditions, while still living in the same environment which required resolute resourcefulness to ensure they would survive the hostile nature of that environment -- no longer practise the customary lifestyle that kept them healthy and alive.

Tobacco was used by First Nations as a ceremonial aid, much like people in Asia used incense:
"For many First Nations people, tobacco has been used traditionally in ceremonies, rituals, and prayer for thousands of years. It is used for a variety of medicinal purposes and its ceremonial use has powerful spiritual meaning establishing a direct communication link between the person giving and the spiritual world receiving. In the traditional sense, the most powerful way of communicating with the spirits is to smoke tobacco in a sacred pipe." Health Canada
Some southern First Nations people are said to have introduced the use of tobacco to Europeans, to begin with as the indigenous people interacted with them during European settlement in North America. And not until the 1700s was tobacco part of Inuit social life when whalers, fur traders and northern explorers arrived in the forbidding geography, coming in contact with Inuit communities. 

And then, it appears, just as occurred with the introduction to alcohol, the use of tobacco became an integral part of the social life of Inuit people, to the extent that the majority smoked.

It's estimated that about 90 percent of pregnant Inuit women smoke throughout their pregnancy. Statistics Canada's figure stands at 63 percent of adult Inuit devoted to tobacco use, while local research claims that figure to be a gross underestimation. Surveys conducted around Nunavut indicate that eight in ten of the Inuit population is given to smoking, representing a rate of tobacco use five times that of the general Canadian population.

This is not a feature only of Canadian Inuit, but is reflected as well among other ethnic populations across the Arctic in Greenland and in (Siberia) Russia, for example. A people among whom the incident of cancer was once uncommon now struggles with the steepest rate of lung cancer anywhere else in the world, as Inuit and other First Nations living in their remote communities absorb the most injurious habits of a southern lifestyle.

Territorial governments, only too aware of the scale of the problem, have committed to spending millions on anti-smoking programs. Stressing at the same time that smoking tobacco does not represent a tradition in Inuit culture. The tagline "Tobacco has no place here", represents a strenuous public relations effort on the part of authorities to wean Inuit away from their self-harming habit, among others that have proven to assail them with health conditions previously unknown. 

The rising rate of lung cancer among Canada's 165,000 Inuit is reflected in the Inuit of Alaska and Greenland, according to the study, co-authored by Kue Young, dean of the University of Alberta's public health department.

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