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Lincoln Park kicks butts

Farley Hammond wears a cigarette butt costume outside the Lincoln Park Commons during Kick Butts Day on March 14. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 4
Joe Woehrle of Fond Du Lac Community Health Services checks the carbon monoxide level in the breath of Michael, 8. Normally, a person should have 0-3 parts per million of CO in their lungs. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can increase CO levels in the lungs, preventing proper airflow and oxygen reception. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 4
Dr. Arne Vainio and Jeff Savage demonstrate how to make kinnikinnick by stripping the inner bark of a red willow tree. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 4
Rebekah Dunlap smells Jenni Godbold’s freshly peeled kinnikinnick shavings during a demonstration as a part of Kick Butts Day. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 4

Families in Lincoln Park learned to kick butt last week, but not in the way you might think.

A "Kick Butts" (as in cigarette butts) Day celebration, hosted by the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative and Fond du Lac Community Health Services, focused on educating the public on the dangers of commercial tobacco.

Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism that empowers youth to stand up against the tobacco industry, speak up and seize control of their lives. The U.S. has made great strides in the fight against tobacco, but according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, every day more than 2,800 youth under the age of 18 try smoking for the first time and 700 youth become new regular, daily smokers. Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people every year.

Part of the event's purpose was to draw a distinction between sacred tobacco and commercial tobacco.

"Traditionally, tobacco was viewed as a sacred medicine to Native Americans. But the commercial tobacco industry has corrupted sacred tobacco practices," said Jodi Broadwell, executive director of LPCFC.

The smoking rate among the American Indian population in Minnesota is 59 percent compared to 14.4 percent among the general population. Commercial tobacco-related diseases are the top killers within American Indian communities, including the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The "Kick Butts" event offered an alternative to commercial tobacco: kinnikinnick, a Native American herbal smoking mixture used for ceremonies. Kinnikinnick is the inner bark of a red willow tree.

Dr. Arne Vainio of Fond du Lac Community Health Services and artist Jeff Savage led kinnikinnick workshops.

"You've got the outer bark that's red, but it's the green and white stuff in here that we want. It can be other things like berry leaves and other bark. But this is what we use," Savage said.

After shedding the green and white inner bark, Vainio lets the scrapings sit out in open air for a day or two to dry and turn brown. When dried, kinnikinnick burns like tobacco.

"To the Native Americans, in their perspective, when you go outside and say your prayers, whatever you do, you can put this out as an offering," Vainio said. "More and more, elders are going to this commercial-free tobacco. It's better for everyone. And when you make it yourself, you appreciate it more because of the work it takes to get it."

The other goal for the event was to educate children about the effects of tobacco use and encourage them to "kick butts" and pledge to not use tobacco.

"I learned that smoking is bad because it can damage your lungs," said 8-year-old Ezra Petonquot.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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