For thousands of years, American Indians have used the tobacco plant for ceremonial purposes, but rolled, packaged, and smoked, it has led to nothing but disease and death for the native community.
That was the message Delgadina Gonzalez of Nevada Urban Indians Inc. was trying to get across Saturday at the Social Pow-Wow & Health and Wellness fair.
"There's no safe tobacco," she says, handing out "Honor Kits" featuring samples of other traditional herbs like sweet grass, sage and cedar.
"It was meant to be used in ceremony and prayer," she says. "Not to be abused."
Gonzalez's was one of 25 different booths in the Stewart Gymnasium promoting healthy lifestyles. From help for domestic violence, HIV prevention to general nutrition advice, the theme was part cultural-preservation, part self-preservation.
Organizer Debbie Painter says she hopes to make the affair an annual event and welcomes all to the free fair.
"It coincides with our traditional celebration of spring awakening, so it's a good time to think of things like health and new beginnings."
While a pow-wow is a big traditional type of gathering among American Indians, Painter says she sees it as a way "to help bridge the gap between the different communities in the area."
Shoshone, Washoe, Navajo, Sioux, Oneida, Miwok and Lakota were some of the tribes represented, but out in the middle of the gymnasium were a mix of Hispanics, American Indians and even a few Caucasians dancing in a large, slow circle to the brightly accentuated pounding emanating from one of the drum circles.
Rosie Laird, a tutor at Douglas High School, offered her services to help kids achieve the riches of learning, while representatives from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians were trying to give money away.
Leafing through a book of names and numbers of American Indians, fiduciary trust officer Karen Whitenton was searching for those who had money coming to them.
"We're here to locate people who have accounts they don't know about, judgments - those type of things," she said. "We've actually found some people today who have money coming their way."
"Needless to say, they were pretty happy," she added.
Ted Rupert, owner of Rupert's Auto Body, got some helpful information on diabetes.
"My grandmother has it," he said. "We have to take her blood pressure a lot. I got a hands-on demonstration on how to do it."
"It beats reading directions," he laughed.
Rupert was also the sponsor for the "potato dance," a not-so-traditional exercise of dancing while keeping a potato pressed between two partners' foreheads.
"I'm not a judge, I just get to fork over the money to the winners," he laughed.
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.