Smoke Signals


A compelling look at tobacco’s uses and abuses from its Native origins to today’s controversies.

When Europeans discovered tobacco among Amerindians in the New World, it became a long-sought panacea of panaceas, the critical ingredient in enemas, ointments, syrups, and powders employed to treat everything from syphilis to cancer. Almost five centuries passed before medical researchers concluded that tobacco is unhealthy and can cause cancer.

Smoke Signals follows tobacco from its origins in South America’s Andes through its checkered history as a "miracle cure," powerful addictive and poison, friend of government revenue departments, and enemy of law enforcement directed at contraband and tax diversion. Author Jim Poling, Sr., traces tobacco’s sacredness among Natives, notably how the modern substance has changed Native lives, sometimes for the good, often for the bad, explores how the coffers of governments, now so dependent on tobacco revenue, will be affected if the plant’s commercial use is eliminated, and examines how Native traditions, including tobacco as a holy herb, might survive in modern society and strengthen Natives.


Smoke Signals is the first, most comprehensive, well researched and very well written book on tobacco marketing among Natives in North America. It should be required reading by all government officials and police agencies who monitor this activity. For journalists, social scientists and teachers searching for information about the current status of the Iroquois, and particularly the Mohawks, Smoke Signals needs to be read. Mr. Poling has, in this book, done a great service in reporting on one of the most significant factors in contemporary aboriginal society

Indian Time

In Smoke Signals Poling documents tobacco’s role in the Canadian experience, and its long circuitous journey back to the First Nations peoples who first cultivated it. The result is a fascinating social history.

Blacklock’s Reporter

Informed, informative, superbly researched and deftly written, Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America's Tobacco Industry is highly instructive reading and an especially recommended addition to both community and academic library collections.

Midwest Book Review

Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America’s Tobacco Industry is one of those rare labours of love, rich in materials, insights, and wisdom and yet most likely to be ignored by “scholars.” It is the irony of contemporary academia that some works that are the products of practical experience and sweeping insights suffer benign neglect on the basis that they lack the form and framework of “academic rigour.” This paradox may explain why Jim Poling Sr. himself preemptively avows that “Smoke Signals is not in any way an academic study.” Despite this disclaimer, Smoke Signals is a serious piece of work, and, in some material respects, a tour de force.

About the Author

Jim Poling, Sr.

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
Jim Poling, Sr. photo

Jim Poling, Sr.

Jim Poling, Sr., is a former Native affairs writer for Canadian Press and is the author of Waking Nanabijou and Tecumseh: Shooting Star, Crouching Panther. He lives in Alliston, Ontario.