Over seven out of ten youth between 15 and 24 years old in Eeyou Istchee smoke cigarettes. Among pregnant women, eight out of ten smoke. The Public Health Department (PHD) observes children as young as eight years old are smoking. In total, half of all Eeyouch 15 years and older are smokers. This is twice as much as in Quebec where the number of smokers has decreased to 24 per cent.

The PHD is convinced that smoking is a major health problem in Eeyou Istchee but a preventable one. Over the past few years, the PHD has organized many health promotion activities and campaigns discouraging smoking and the abuse of tobacco. This year, the PHD has developed a training workshop for smoking counsellors as a part of its strategy to prevent smoking and its harmful effects on the health of the Cree.

Nineteen Cree participated in the first-ever Healing From Smoking workshop offered by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay’s Public Health Department, which was held in Val d’Or on April 14-17.

Manon Dugas, PHD Director of Youth Health and supervisor of the workshop, says that the main goal of the workshop is to teach the participants how to help smokers become and stay smoke-free. It emphasizes deep healing from smoking and helps smokers not to transfer their nicotine addiction to another addiction such as alcohol, drugs or food.

Manon explained, “Each smoker has their own reasons for smoking. Many smoke to cover up emotions and problems they are struggling with in their daily lives. We believe smokers have to deal with their issues and heal from smoking instead of just quitting. Otherwise they will just transfer their addiction to another one. This is what this workshop is all about.”

Merryl Hammond, a nurse and smoking counsellor at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, developed a specific program: Healing From Smoking workshop. This workshop was originally designed for the Nunavik Regional Health Board and was later adapted to meet the needs of Cree society and CBHSSJB.

Rose Iserhoff, a Community Health Representative (CHR) and participant from Chisasibi, thought the workshop was culturally appropriate for the Cree people in Eeyou Istchee.

“The workshop started off by looking at how our grandparents and ancestors used tobacco,” Iserhoff said. “They believed tobacco was a gift from the Creator and used it for traditional rituals and ceremonies. Tobacco has a traditional purpose but we should be concerned about its health effects when it is abused. We learned that healing from a nicotine addiction is possible, using our Medicine Wheel teachings. We can assist smokers to prepare physically, spirituality, mentally, emotionally and socially to start a new smoke-free life.”

Iserhoff added, “As parents and grandparents, we are role models for our children and grandchildren. If we do not want them to abuse tobacco, food, alcohol or drugs, then we must heal ourselves from our addiction patterns and set good examples for future generations.”

Seven out of nine Cree communities participated in this workshop. However, Dugas says other Smoking Counsellor training is planned for this year.

Smokers who want to start to heal from smoking have a resource person to support them. For more information about the CBHSSJB’s Smoking Cessation Program, please call 819-855-9017 or fax your request to 819-855-9031