Nawak’osis, The Sacred Weed and Modern Day Legalization

December 15, 2015 OPINION/NEWS


Lindri Riveras

The Blackfoot legend about sacred weed (Marijuana): “There once were four brothers, all spiritual men who had power. In a vision the oldest of them heard a voice saying “Out there is a sacred weed; pick it and burn it.”

The man looked around, saw the strange weed, and put it in the fire. It gave off a very pleasing aroma. Then the second brother had a dream in which a voice said: “Take this herb, chop it fine, and then put it into a hide bag.” The man did what he was told, and the dry herb in his hide bag was wonderfully fragrant.

The third brother had a vision in which he saw a man hollowing out a bone and putting the strange weed into it. A voice said, “Make four pipes like this,” and the third brother carved four pipes out of an animal’s leg bones.

Then the youngest of the four brothers had a vision. A voice told him: “You four men, light your pipes and smoke. Inhale the smoke, exhale it and let the smoke ascend to the clouds.” The voice also taught him the songs and prayers that went with smoking.”

But after naming the weed, the four brothers didn’t want to share it. Then “Bull-by-Himself” and his wife, arrive and they call out the brothers for not sharing the sacred weed. Pretty soon, the wife hears beautiful singing and four beavers come forth in human form and teach the couple the rituals, singing, dancing, collecting pelts; all they need to know about “Nawak’osis”, the sacred weed. After, the beavers taught the couple how to save seeds in medicine bags, a detail the four brothers overlooked and good intentions, right thinking, triumphed over the greedy brothers.

The legend goes on to say “Nawak’osis, the sacred weed, was meant to calm anger, to make men worship, to make peace, to ease the mind. But without the sacred herb, unity and peace were lacking.”




Native Americans have always had a sacred relationship with plant medicine; healing, ritual, worship, spiritual journeying, and good vs evil, it is the heart of their culture.

Fast forward to present day life on the reservation. Most people are not aware that the reason Native Americans are so vulnerable to alcohol addiction is that they were not genetically evolved enough to metabolize the alcohol introduced by the colonizers. The genetic factor is the original sin introduced by outsiders and one that has caused incredible suffering and today, alcohol continues to decimate entire communities. How then, do we view sacred plant medicine in a present day context?

Several factors can tell us that this won’t likely end well when marijuana is legally sold on the reservations, especially for vulnerable youth. has laid it out for us, highlighting the specific factors that contribute to abuse and addiction:

“Family history – Most Native Americans have experienced traumatic events in their or their family’s past, including forced relocation or separation of family members, discrimination, violence and extreme poverty. Native Americans dealing with these events and living conditions may be more likely to abuse marijuana in order to cope.

Lack of available care – The majority of the Native American population now  live in parts of California and along the Mexican border. It is reported that in heavily populated Native American land, there aren’t many treatment programs readily available, making it more likely for Native Americans to continue to abuse marijuana rather than get help.


Cultural norms – Since the Native American culture is based on using the land as a resource, many Native Americans do not feel that marijuana abuse is dangerous. This mindset can easily lead to drug abuse and the side effects that accompany this abuse and addiction.”

Marijuana is called the “gateway” drug and that was my personal experience. I wanted whatever would take me away from the reality of white-middle class parental hell but it’s especially risky for young people who are marginalized: Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, the impoverished, and kids like me, mistreated at home. These segments of the population fall easily for the lure of escape and, legal or not, it isn’t scarce.

I am a chemical dependency counselor and I have been clean and sober for 20 years. Philosophically, I have no problem with adults who can use marijuana with impunity, I don’t have that luxury. But it is troubling when I see young people, not yet fully developed, begin to abuse marijuana and it concerns me. Marijuana use doesn’t come without consequences. There is psychological dependency with primary, secondary and tertiary withdrawal symptoms when the user stops. We see an increase in irritability, A-motivation, respiratory effects, etc. I worry that an entire culture of young people will be fair game with unrestricted access (18 and over not withstanding) to marijuana. Of course they have little trouble accessing it now; I know I didn’t when I was young.




At this point, the pyscho-socio-cultural wounds of generations of Native Americans are not likely to be reversed by introducing ritual, dance and song into the process of consuming marijuana but some tribal leaders are optimistic, believing it presents young people with an opportunity to make healthy choices.  Others see it as an opportunity to educate kids through consequences, a kind of cause and effect lessons, however, ten years of treating addicts and alcoholics, including adolescents, makes me skeptical. I believe evil personified as marijuana will steal the children further away in this modern day tale of Nawak’osis, the sacred weed, and unity and peace will be lacking.






Lindri Riveras 

Lindri Riveras lives on a beautiful lake in Washington State with her husband and two rescue dogs. Lindri had traveled extensively throughout Latin America and is bi-lingugual in English and Spanish. She has taught ESL to immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Vietnam, Eritrea and Somalia at home and abroad. Lindri is the founder and owner of Gallipot All Natural, Handcrafted Skincare, a small, local company founded on the idea of sustainability and simplicity.


  1. Adam Cunningham January 17, at 10:46

    BULL the only way that you can supposedly get "addicted" to anything. Is if you are of weak mindedness lacking self control. Addiction is not real. Only when YOU manifest it in YOUR MIND does it become a reality. But ONLY for YOU. I have traveled to 106 different countries on 6 different continents. And I have probably tried just about every illegal drug known to man. But I am of strong mind and self control. My people have been using Nawak Osis for hundreds of years and you will not find NOT 1 addict of it anywhere on the Blackfoot Nation. This is becoming the main problem in this country. YOUR ALL WEAK MINDED SISSYS. Get a grip and own it. It's okay it's not your fault right? Your parents spared the rod and spoiled all of you I get it. WRONG YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE WEAKLINGS. Grow a set really DAMN.

  2. Afua December 30, at 22:41

    I agree with your comments on the youth utilizing marijuana before they are aware of their own minds and like alcohol, should be reserved for adults [ in moderation of course] But Respectfully, I think the nawak'osis blackfoot story was about Tobacco. I don't believe it was about Marijuana specifically. If you have any sources that say otherwise I would love to know! Thank you for your article.


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