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Native high school students create anti-smoking PSAs

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EUREKA, Calif. – The Northern California Indian Development Council’s Sacred Smoke Project has released a series of student-created public service announcements on the impact of commercial tobacco in the American Indian community.

The PSAs were created by NCIDC’s Tobacco Use Prevention Education program, the goal of which is to introduce students to the dangers associated with the abuse of commercial tobacco in order to prevent future generations from becoming nicotine addicts. The short messages were the product of the Hoopa Valley High School.

According to the NCIDC’s Tobacco Use Prevention Education Web site, in Humboldt County nearly 22 percent of students smoke commercial tobacco and 7 percent chew on a regular basis. These rates far exceed the rates for adults. In recent years, tobacco education has been reduced or eliminated in local schools due to budget cuts. These PSAs were created by Native youths to train and educate about the dangers of tobacco use.

“We worked with Hoopa Valley High School students and the Digital Pathways [for Tribal Communities] program,” said Lou Moerner, a member of the Ani-Yv-Wiya Tribe, Cherokee, and NCIDC’s Tobacco Prevention Program specialist. “There were 17 students. There was no adult intervention. They had one hour of anti-smoking training; we showed the students a few PSA examples, and the kids went out and created four different anti-smoking PSAs.”

The effort of these students promotes both an important health message while reinforcing American Indian culture. Students created four Sacred Smoke Project PSAs: “Karuk Sacred Smoke,” “American Indian Teens on Smoking,” “American Indian Girl on Smoking” and “American Indian Boy on Smoking.” There are 30- and 60-second versions.

The messages the students communicate is that tobacco is a sacred gift for many tribes and that commercial tobacco is a major health risk for American Indian people. The PSAs incorporate Native language, culture and songs; they even highlight the importance of sports and health for young people.

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Merris Obie, Yurok/Karuk, supervised the project on-site and was instrumental in guiding the students through the process. “The Digital Pathways program is a course offered through Hoopa Valley High School,” said Obie. “The students are trained with various camera and editing equipment throughout the year. These PSAs were 100 percent Native youth produced. All the concepts were their ideas. I helped keep them organized, on a timeline, and I transported them to the set.”

The PSAs were aired locally on both radio and television stations. In addition, the NCIDC has posted the four PSAs on YouTube.

The student director of the PSAs was 17-year-old Naomi Ames, Yurok/Hoopa. “It was cool to create the PSAs using our traditions and to teach others about our culture,” she said. “It was awesome when we saw the PSAs on TV.”

“These PSAs have really given a voice to a group of kids who are very isolated,” Moerner said. “And with the YouTube posting, the PSAs and the students are having a big impact.”

“Many of these kids are really talented,” Obie said. “They are learning skills that they can use in the future and perhaps pursue filmmaking professionally. This is groundbreaking in Indian country; these students are telling their own stories and reaching an audience.”

Check out the student-created PSAs at and search for “NCIDC.”