Military taking sacred tobacco from American Indian soldiers

The Ho Chunk Nation says a sacred plant is being wrongly confiscated from its members serving in the military.

For many Native Americans, ceremonial tobacco is for prayer, meditation, and in the case of soldiers – protection. Conroy Greendeer Sr. from Ho Chunk says deployed Ho Chunk soldiers take tobacco with them, but often commanding officers take it away. He says that’s what happened to his son in Afghanistan.

Ho Chunk leaders say non-Indians often mistake ceremonial tobacco for marijuana. Robert Mann, the tribe’s veteran service officer, says Ho Chunk plans to work with the National Congress of American Indians to get legislation introduced through the House of Representatives, that would better enforce the American Indian Religious Freedom Act for native soldiers’ well-being.

Conroy Greendeer hopes that more officers learn the value of sacred tobacco, and allow more soldiers to use it. He says the tradition goes back generations, and recalls how his father did ceremonies during World War II.

A public affairs officer with the U.S. Army would not comment specifically on ceremonial tobacco, but said he’s not surprised that officers might seize something they mistook for an illegal substance.

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