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Protecting our Earth From Commercial Tobacco Litter and Waste: 3 Partners Join Efforts

This year the Red Medicine Project in collaboration with our partners was happy to support 3 separate tobacco waste clean-up events in 3 counties: Kern, Kings, and Tulare.

On April 18th, in Kings County, the Red Medicine team collaborated with the Santa Rosa Rancheria to conduct an Earth Day program including a tobacco waste clean-up. 58 youth and 20 staff participated in the program where they received presentations developed by the Environmental Department/ Language and Culture teams and presented by Shana Powers, the Environmental Department Director. After the educational presentations the youth and staff went outside to do a seed bombing and clean-up activity! Unlike other Red Medicine Project clean-ups this one was on the Tachi Tribe’s homelands and included cleaning up areas near their waterways, and adjacent to waterways, and their baseball field. To our surprise most tobacco waste was collected at the baseball field. This was a notable observation for our future work with the Santa Rosa Ranchera. A total of 178 tobacco waste items were collected! We wrapped up the event by getting out of the heat and engaging the youth in a “Keep Tobacco Sacred” coloring contest. The youth were so talented and creative!

On April 22nd, in Tulare County, the Red Medicine team hosted the 3rd Annual Earth Day event including a tobacco waste clean-up at Lake Success in Porterville, CA. Together with our partners from Tule River Tribal leaders, their Environmental Department, Education Department, Future Generation’s Boys & Girls Club, OVCDC Porterville, OVCDC Visalia, a Wukchumni culture bearer, Tulare Youth Rising, a local Elders Group, and the US Army Corps of Engineers Rangers who are stationed at Lake Success - the event was successful and a powerful example of community partnering! With 52 total attendees, many of whom were youth, the day beganwith opening prayers from our Tule River leaders and elders. We then gathered in a good way with introductions and an opening from Red Medicine leaders, Willie and Kellie Carrillo before opening the educational sessions. For the day, the program included many activities for families and youth including visiting with and learning from local elders on how we take care of the earth, to our educational leader Kerri Vera, Tule River Environmental Protection Director who also presented on caring for the earth from both scientific and cultural approaches. Many cultural and tobacco education activities were provided for all ages. These include a walnut dice game, making Tule duck figures, rock painting, and making medicine bags. The Red Medicine team also provided information not just to educate about the harms of commercial tobacco, but how we can use traditional tobacco in a sacred way.

Two presenters shared insights on commercial tobacco’s impact on the environment, including how long it takes for products to biodegrade presented by Park Ranger Sylvia Guerrero. The second presenter, Kerri Vera, Tule River Tribe’s Environmental Protection Director taught the youth about the harms commercial tobacco products have on the environment, and then led youth in offering traditional tobacco in prayer afterwards, demonstrating how we respect our traditional relationship with tobacco.

Kerri Vera, Environmental Protection Director at Tule River Tribe

A big highlight of the event was our tobacco waste clean-up where youth and adult community members participated. The results were surprising with over 270 waste items collected!

On June 14th, in Kern County the Red Medicine team was hosted by the Bakersfield American Indian Health Project (BAIHP) for a tobacco waste clean-up and youth focus group. Twenty-four attendees participated including 13 local youth, Red Medicine Project interns and adult supporters from organizations such as Blue Zones and Tobacco-Free Kern! We started the day in a good way with prayer and smudging and giving thanks to the land. The activities planned for the day included the tobacco waste clean-up and a focus group to share perspectives and experiences with commercial tobacco. The tobacco waste clean-up was done on BAIHP clinic grounds giving everyone an opportunity to see the direct impact of waste on their community organization. The clean-up netted a surprising amount of waste: 100 cloth and fabric items, nearly 250 plastic items, and over 300 cigarette buttes! Many of the cigarettes were found in or around parking lot planters, one group even found some cigarillo containers. In total we found nearly 700 waste items!

After the clean-up, 12 participants stayed for a focus group to share their perspective on commercial tobacco and the Red Medicine Project. The youth shared that vaping was something that they see commonly in their schools, and that some of the reasons for it being common were the flavors, peer pressure and mental health challenges. While engaging in the focus group the participants decorated their own medicine bags so that they could be reminded of the Native traditional tobacco relationship.

Between the Santa Rosa Rancheria Earth Day, Red Medicine Project Earth Day, and BAIHP tobacco waste clean-up, we collected approximately 1320 pieces of litter and over SEVEN-HUNDRED commercial tobacco products!


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