Indigenous Populations (First Nations, Inuit/Inuk & Métis)

Research consistently shows that smoking rates among Indigenous communities in Canada are 2-3 times higher than the general population with some research showing the rates to be as high as 50-60%.1-3

Indigenous Populations

Indigenous populations are communities that live within, or are attached to, geographically distinct traditional habitats or ancestral territories, and who identify themselves as being part of a distinct cultural group.4 They are among the world’s most marginalized population groups. The Indigenous population in Ontario is approximately 300,000 people and includes First Nations, Inuit/Inuk and Métis people. They consist of many culturally distinct groups and represent an important component of Canada’s cultural identity.5

Colonization devastated Indigenous populations and their traditional practices. Even today, the effects of colonization are seen through intergenerational and historical trauma. Years of suppression of cultural identity, abuse in the residential school systems, and systemic racism have negatively impacted the health of Indigenous populations where they continue to experience considerably poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous Canadians. These disparities are often reinforced by discriminatory policies and poor living conditions.6,7

Unique Stressors

Indigenous populations face unique stressors due to a variety of Social Determinants of Health.8 Tobacco may be used as a coping mechanism to deal with trauma, living in poverty and lack of access to various necessities like employment opportunities, safe drinking water, health care, and nutritious food. There are also cultural ties (or lack thereof) to Traditional (Sacred, Ceremonial) tobacco which impact Indigenous young adults’ experiences of cigarette use.

Traditional and Commercial Tobacco

Traditional tobacco is a gift given to Indigenous people by the creator and it has a spiritual place within the community. When tobacco is burned, the smoke rises which provides a link to all the spirits beyond the sky. Tobacco in its original form has both honour and purpose. Traditional tobacco does not contain all the chemicals that are now put into it. What is sold today, has been tampered with for business and profit, taking away from its original purpose. Traditional tobacco is considered a healer and linked to wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, and humility. Commercial tobacco is recognized as the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death.


Leave The Pack Behind is working with several key organizations in Ontario who support the Indigenous populations including Cancer Care Ontario’s Aboriginal Tobacco Program, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centers, and Indigenous Student Services on post-secondary campuses. These partnerships are to ensure that Leave The Pack Behind programs and campaign materials are appealing and effective for Indigenous young adults.




  1. First Nations Information Governance Centre. (2016). First Nations regional longitudinal health survey (2008/10) – 12-Month Smoking Prevalence by Socio-demographics. Available from:
  2. Kelly-Scott, K. & Smith, K. (2015). Aboriginal peoples: Fact sheet for Canada. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 89-656-X2015001. ISBN 978-0-660-02908-5.
  3. Orisatoki, R. (2013). The public health implications of the use and misuse of tobacco among the Aboriginals in Canada. Global Journal of Health Science, 5 (1), 28-34.
  4. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Indigenous populations. Retrieved from
  5. Statistics Canada. (2015, Nov 27). NHS Aboriginal Population Profile, Ontario, 2011. Available from
  6. National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. (2013). An Overview of Aboriginal Health in Canada. Retrieved from
  7. Cancer Care Ontario. (n.d.). Aboriginal Relationship and Cultural Competency Courses. Retrieved from
  8. Mikkonen, J., & Raphael, D. (2010). Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Retrieved from