Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Thanks to Rose, who commented with links on the previous post, I learned about the American Hidatsa Indians and Buffalo Bird Woman who gives us a real insight into tribal culture and its speciality in agriculture before being forced onto reservations.

Born in 1839, she was given the name Mahidiweash or Maxidiwiac but her name changed twice. The first was when she married a man named Magpie in 1866 who died about a year later from "lung sickness". She married again to Son of Star and might have taken part of her name from their son Goodbird.

The old woman died in 1932 but stayed true to her culture and language to the end of her days. She had very strong views on smoking.

In her book The Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden there is a whole chapter on how the Hidatsa grew their own tobacco and how as a child she helped pick the flower bud crop and fill baskets made from buffalo scrotum.

Young men did not smoke, she said, for fear that it would weaken their lungs and make them unable to run from the enemy. If they were too slow they would die.

What she says sounds authentic and relates to my life experiences but as a child smoker, I think my lungs must have been stronger than other non-smoking kids of my age during the industrial 20th century. There was factory just up the road from my school.

I was in the hockey team, the athletics team, the cross country team, the netball team and the swimming team - often coming first, always in the top three, in running events and leading the way to success in team games. I still bear the physical scar on my shin from a particularly nasty hockey tackle during one of those games.

My son's teacher once told him that I'd probably have been a world renowned athlete if I'd never smoked and I think that could be true - although I never wanted to be and neither did any of the non-smoking other kids I beat at sport regularly.

The Hidatsas reserved smoking as a leisure activity for the old who had nothing to lose. Age had slowed them down and they couldn't run or be warriors anymore. They enjoyed keeping their tobacco gardens and would invent myths such as smoking makes your hair fall out to stop others stealing their crop.

Perhaps these old invented myths are reinvented today to scare people away from commercially produced third world farmed natural tobacco and towards Big Pharma Frankenstein produced tobacco now genetically modified to produce medicinal nicotine.

I had no idea either that in addition to being targeted by Big Pharma, that wanted a slice of the new industry, Tobacco companies were also targeted by the oil industry which sought to hide the damage it did to health behind a tobacco smoke screen.

Smokers have always felt that more should have been done to examine the effects of traffic on health as cancer and respiratory illnesses throughout the 20th Century rose while smoking rates declined. We ask the same now we are a minority in a smoke free 21st Century and those industrial illnesses continue to rise with the expansion of our road systems, air traffic, railways and the rest.

Claims are made that suggest traffic pollution is responsible for 50,000 deaths per year in Britain yet we hear very little about it as the hysteria on smoking and health hypes up a zillion notches and people are happy to target smokers as the cause.

The picture gets even dirtier when you consider that in the early days of tobacco's realigment from medicinal herb to cancer causing population killer, General Motors executives and oil billionaires sat on the panel of the American Cancer Society looking at both cigarette smoking and air pollution as possible causes of lung cancer.

Rose provides lots of information on this and links in the comments that inspired this post It certainly seems that tobacco only ever became a problem when someone realised how much money could be made from it, both directly or indirectly, and other dirty industries were happy to blame cancer on the product that was given to the white man by what they considered uncivilised savages.