First Nations

First Nations are the original inhabitants and owners of this land. Today, there are 133 distinct First Nations in Ontario with their own languages, cultures and customs. These Nations include the Anishinabek (Algonquin, Mississauga, Ojibway, Cree, Odawa, Pottawatomi, and Delaware), Algonquian (Ojibway, Cree and Oji-Cree) and the Haudenosaunee (Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Seneca).

Over 270,000 Ontarians identify as First Nations, with nearly 203,000 registered under the Indian Act. 46 per cent of registered First Nations live on-reserve. Out of all the provinces and territories in Canada, Ontario has the largest concentration of First Nations peoples.

Visit Getting Help to Quit for more information about how you can quit smoking.

Tobacco Use

More First Nation adults and teens in Ontario smoke cigarettes than non-Aboriginal adults and teens, although the proportion of off-reserve First Nations who smoke has gone down over time.

  • 50% of on-reserve and 44% of off-reserve First Nation males smoke cigarettes, compared to 26% of non-Aboriginal males.
  • 49% of on-reserve First Nation females and 41% of off-reserve First Nation females smoke cigarettes compared to 18% of non-Aboriginal females.
  • Nearly a third of on-reserve First Nation teens and 14% of teens living off-reserve are smokers, compared to 4% of non-Aboriginal teens.
  • The percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes is declining in the off-reserve First Nation population, from 51% in 2007 to 39% in 2013.

Traditional or Sacred Tobacco

First Nations people have been using traditional or sacred tobacco for thousands of years. Traditional or sacred tobacco differs from commercial tobacco in that it is used in ceremonial or sacred rituals for healing and purifying.

It is grown and dried and so has no additives. First Nations elders teach that tobacco was one of the four sacred medicines (Tobacco, Cedar, Sage and Sweetgrass) which was given by the Creator to the first peoples of this land.

Traditional Indigenous Knowledge

“As an Elder and spiritual counselor, I grow our own traditional oienkwehonwe or traditional tobacco. I have used this tobacco many times in ceremony when people have gone for surgery, or asked for healing. In the Mohawk way, we do a tobacco burning over the coals of a fire. I have seen many things that others would call miracles happen when I have used oienkwehonwe to beseech help from the Creator. People heal faster. Surgeries have been less complicated. All because when we use the oienkwehonwe to help us and we don’t abuse it, it is a local call to the Creator -no long distance there. LOL.



For people who wish to quit smoking there is a traditional way that I have learned as a Mohawk. The person who wishes to quit has to take part in a ceremony where there is a way put forward for that person to apologize to the spirit that is in our medicine of oienkwehonwe, or traditional tobacco, for misusing the tobacco and it’s use in the wrong manner. In that way and through that ceremony people can then walk away from the tobacco smoking addiction that formerly held them in its grasp. Our traditions are good and strong when followed and lived in an appropriate manner.”

– Mohawk Elder

Traditional or Sacred Tobacco Purposes

  • Prayer, reflection and giving thanks to the Creator or Mother Earth.
  • Communicating with the Spirit world, which includes a powerful spiritual link between the “person giving and the spiritual world receiving.”
  • Purifying and healing the body and mind.
  • Providing spiritual strength, guidance, development and protection.
  • Learning discipline and becoming a better person.
  • Learning respect for the Creator and for all creation.
  • Use as a medicine for a person’s health and well-being.
  • Use in combination with other natural plants and herbs to treat illness.
  • Offerings when picking plant medicines.
  • A symbol of respect in First Nation gatherings or meetings.
  • Relationship building and knowledge exchange between individuals.

Usage of Traditional or Sacred Tobacco

  • Holding tobacco in the left hand and offering it to the Creator, self, family, community, earth, sky, fire and water; four legged, winged, crawlers, swimmers and all the animals.
  • Sacred pipe ceremonies in which traditional tobacco is not inhaled, though not all sacred pipe ceremonies use tobacco.
  • Not all First Nations use traditional or sacred tobacco. Some use a unique blend of local herbs and medicines for their own ceremonial practices instead.
Backs of two men with feathers in their hair