LSC Professor Patty Loew works extensively with Native communities in Wisconsin. She is co-leading the Native Nations Initiative between UW-Madison, UW-Extension and UW Colleges, and she co-founded the Tribal Youth Media Initiative with fellow LSC faculty member Don Stanley, among other projects.
While spending time in tribal communities Loew often gifts asema, or ceremonial tobacco, to elders and tribal officials. “In many native communities, including those in the Upper Great Lakes Region, asema is used in pipe ceremonies which formalize special occasions. Tobacco is offered as a way to demonstrate good intentions or thankfulness. It’s given to elders to show respect,” says Loew.
One day a conversation between Loew and interim Assistant Dean in the School of Education, Aaron Bird Bear, spurred an idea- why couldn’t UW grow it? With the encouragement of LSC Chair Dominique Brossard, Loew reached out to Horticulture Chair Irwin Goldman. Dr. Goldman was enthusiastic about the idea of growing ceremonial tobacco, as was Oneida Nation’s Farm Director Jeff Metoxen.
Oneida Nation generously provided the seeds and Dr. Goldman, along with his undergraduate research assistant Isabelle (Iszie) Tigges-Green, planted them in the horticulture greenhouse this past spring. This summer the plants were transplanted to an organic plot at the West Madison Ag Research Station.
The ceremonial tobacco, which is thriving at its new location, will be used by UW researchers and outreach specialists during their collaborations with Indian nations in Wisconsin.
As for the significance of this project, Loew notes, “That UW is growing ceremonial tobacco shows its willingness to honor the cultural protocols of First Nation communities. So I’m very proud of UW and thankful to Professor Goldman and Iszie.”