Skip to content

Tobacco-Free Alaska > Community Spotlight > December 2016

December 2016 Community Spotlight: Kake, Alaska - Historic Action for Health

Clinic in Kake, Alaska

Kake, Alaska - a Tlingit village of 620 residents with a fishing, logging, and subsistence lifestyle, has become part of the most progressive and protective health revolution in the state. In April 2016, the Organized Village of Kake (OVK) adopted a tobacco-free tribal resolution, which includes electronic cigarettes.

Addressing tobacco use among Alaska Native people is a priority of OVK. “Elected tribal officials vote to pass tobacco control resolutions and therefore these critical policies carry the weight of the law within tribal sovereign nations,” said Lincoln Bean, a tribal leader in Kake. “When tribal leadership creates workplace policies that protect tribal members from secondhand smoke, they also support people to quit tobacco.”

Traditions and Values:

Kake is on the northwest coast of Kupreanof Island in the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska. The name Kake comes from the Tlingit word Ḵéix̱ (Northern Tlingit) or Ḵéex̱ (Southern Tlingit), which is derived from ḵée “dawn, daylight” and x̱ʼé “mouth”, i.e. “mouth of dawn” or “opening of daylight.”

Traditional customs are valued by the Kakes. That value is reflected in the world's largest totem pole, which was commissioned by the village and carved by Chilkats in 1967 for Alaska's centennial celebration. The 132-foot totem pole now stands on a bluff overlooking town.

Taking on the Number One Cause of Preventable Death

Two Southeast traditional values - “Respect for Self, Elders and Others” and “Be Strong in Mind, Body and Spirit”- play a key role in the new tobacco-free tribal resolution. Tobacco use and the addiction to nicotine contradict these values and are especially devastating to Alaska Natives. In the Southeast region, adult smoking prevalence is 21%; however, among Alaska Natives, the smoking prevalence is 37% - significantly higher!

Tobacco-Free Tribal Resolutions: Continuing the Momentum

Partnership of a Tobacco-Free Southeast Alaska  

One of the proven strategies to combat the tobacco epidemic is smokefree or tobaccofree policies, and tribal resolutions are among them. Momentum for supporting tobacco-free workplaces and public places has grown in the Southeast Region, thanks in part to the efforts of the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Southeast (PTFSE).

PTFSE is a group of advocates across the Southeast Region whose members are joining forces, with impressive success, to improve community health by eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and aerosols, and reducing nicotine addiction. Through the education and support they have provided, tobacco-free tribal policies have been adopted by 13 of the 19 Southeast Alaska Tribal Councils!

Amanda Roberts, Tobacco Policy Coordinator from the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium and PTFSE member, worked closely with OVK to educate tribal members. Roberts mentioned that a selling point in advancing this work was addressing all types of tobacco in the resolution. “The OVK Board was especially interested in including e-cigarettes, which are rising in their use, especially among youth”, Roberts said. “Studies have shown that some of the same toxic chemicals are emitted into the air when vaping as when smoking tobacco products and these chemicals are hazardous to one’s health. Another growing issue is the dual use of the vape devices for smoking/vaping products other than tobacco.”

The PTFSE goal in the next year is to work with the 7 remaining tribes in Southeast to advance tobacco- free tribal resolutions.

Congratulations to the Organized Village of Kake and to the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Southeast for advancing effective policy in this area and assisting Alaska Native tribes in living their traditional values.