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free tobacco fight distracts from priorities The FSIN went ballistic. Isn't this a strange dichotomy? On the one hand, FSIN places emphasis on wellness, and on the other, it gets irate at the reduction in tax-free cigarettes available to aboriginal people. The reason for the outrage is that FSIN considers the province's move as a violation of treaty rights. However, treaty rights have to be defined and placed in context. For its part, the government made a promise in the "medicine chest clause" to provide the tools to improve Indian health. However, jurisdiction over Indian property is a matter of First Nations' concern. It's not a treaty right, but rather one of a right to self- government, something we never gave up when we signed treaty. It's no secret that Indian people are heavy smokers. Statistics Canada reports that in 2007-08, the rate of smoking among First Nations people was 45.3 per cent, compared to 23.3 per cent for non-aboriginal people. This fact came from Premier Brad Wall, when he floated the trial balloon a week before the budget was released. The FSIN executive expressed its outrage at the time, and their response was old news by the time the budget was released. I'm not a smoker, and I could not understand why we were allowed three cartons of tax-free cigarettes a week. That's 24 packs of cigarettes. To smoke that much, one would have to go through three and a half packs a day. If we were injected with that much poison a week, our leaders could scream genocide and rightly so. But very few people smoke that much. The allotment was a backdoor supply for non-Indians who wanted cheap cigarettes. Our tax-free status spawned an underground economy of cigarette bootlegging. It wasn't big time crime, but just people buying cigarettes for their friends. It was an abuse, nevertheless. The other issue the FSIN has raised is the sacred role that tobacco plays in our culture. If you want someone to speak at an event or do something of a cultural or religious nature, then you give them tobacco. This is practised in the south with the Plains people. In the North, tobacco doesn't hold the same reverence. Christianity uses wine in its Communion service, but wine isn't sacred until it's blessed. Wine may also be the cause of addiction, family breakup and violence. Thus wine is an item that has a dual use, similar to tobacco in First Nations culture. It can be both sacred and dangerous. This is the conflict we must address. Tobacco cannot be seen only as a sacred object. It is very dangerous and can lead to lung diseases, including cancer and emphysema. Pregnant women who smoke are endangering their babies and people who smoke in the home are feeding their children secondhand smoke. 'Gravity' tops Academy Awards with 7 Oscars, 'Slave' wins big prize'LOS ANGELES, Calif. - "12 Years a Slave" took the top prize at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night. Video: Highlights from the 2014 OscarsVideo: Oscar-winners share their joyGallery: What they wore at the OscarsGallery: Best looks from the Oscars red carpetWas it a Lupita Nyong'o-Jennifer Lawrence smackdown? Five looks that ruled the OscarsItaly cheers "The Great Beauty" Oscar after 15-year hiatus as it frets over cuts to cultureFormer Oscar winners reflect on Hollywood's big night, their own wins at Oscar viewing partyBritain claims credit for Oscars successes from '12 Years a Slave' to 'Gravity'.

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