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Inmates challenge prison tobacco ban in federal lawsuit

Published:Monday | April 2, 2012 | 12:00 AM

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota (AP):

A Lakota traditional healer is arguing that tobacco is an integral part of Native American religious ceremonies and denying its use is akin to taking away the Bible from a Christian.

Richard Moves Camp testified during a federal trial challenging a South Dakota prison policy banning ceremonial tobacco use. Camp said tobacco has been a central part of prayer for thousands of years. It's traditionally mixed with other botanicals in pipes and smoked to bring peace and harmony and connected to cloth in prayer ties that are burned in fires as a symbol of offering, he said.

Inmates Blaine Brings Plenty and Clayton Creek, members of prison-based Native American Council of Tribes, filed the suit in December 2009 against prison warden Doug Weber, corrections secretary Dennis Kaemingk and attorney general Marty Jackley.

James Moore, attorney for the corrections' officials, said ceremonial tobacco inside the state penitentiary was increasingly abused and inmates had been caught separating it from their pipe mixtures and prayer ties. Moore said the state policy allows other botanicals such as red willow bark to be burned. The state prison system went tobacco free in 2000 but made an exception for tobacco used in Native American ceremonies.