We recognize that we work on the traditional land of the Lenape Peoples past, present, and future. We wish to honor both the land itself and the people who care for it.
The term “indigenizing” refers to recognizing the importance of Indigenous perspectives, and incorporating Indigenous ways into our education, thoughts, and actions. This Native American Heritage Month, we encourage you to indigenize sustainability and wellness; that is, acknowledging the interconnectedness of food, tradition, movement, community, and land when it comes to the health of both people and the planet.
Firstly, as a brand dedicated to protecting the planet, we believe listening to Native people’s vast amount of environmental knowledge and experience is absolutely vital in our mission to live sustainably. One estimate says that while Native peoples only comprise about four to five percent of the world’s population, they manage about 11 percent of its forests and help to maintain around 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity by collectively working to protect natural resources that are considered to be valuable and shared. For example, prior to Western colonization, certain Aboriginal Australian groups had managed the landscape with fire, skillfully using it to control wildfire fuel, maintain diversity, balance species, and ensure abundance. With deadly bushfires ravaging the country in recent years, many land managers have recognized the need to partner with Indigenous Australians as co-managers to implement their ideas and practices in an attempt to create a safer and more abundant environment. Skills like this have helped many other communities around the world mitigate the effects of climate change, and learning from these is an important step in coping with climate change and protecting our world.
While the importance of learning from and supporting Native peoples’ environmental practices is clear, there are other practices that we recommend you deeply consider before participating in, particularly in the wellness space. Appropriation--the inappropriate and non consensual adoption of elements of one culture by another--is not the same as indigenizing.
One example of this is smudging, the Native American and Indigenous Peoples’ practice of burning dried plants and sacred herbs, such as white sage, in spiritual ceremonies. Smudging can be performed to purify or bless people, personal articles, and places by driving negative energy away and restoring balance (though it’s important to remember that the purpose, intricacies, and herbs used for these ceremonies can vary widely throughout the United States and the world). However, certain non-Indigenous beauty and wellness brands have appropriated and profited from this practice while negatively impacting Native American and Indigenous communities. For example, many Californian tribes use white sage harvested on their lands for smudging. However, this plant has become extremely popular for smudging among people outside the Indigenous community. In fact, this commodification of smudging with white sage has led to over-harvesting that threatens the survival of this plant.
Another practice to consider is drumming which is enjoyed by Native people all over the world, from West Africans to Native Americans. For many Indigenous communities in North America, drumming is an important part of a pow wow (a sacred social gathering where people sing, dance, socialize, and celebrate their cultures) and/or other sacred ceremonies. However, many Indigenous people have been hurt by the mass production of appropriated drums by non-Indigenous brands, sound healing groups that appropriate elements of Indigenous drum circles, and the complete misuse of the word “pow wow”.
In the case of these two examples, there are some specific questions you can ask yourself to help ensure you’re not appropriating culture and causing harm. Before purchasing white sage for smudging, consider whether this act will affect the ability for future generations of Native people to have access to a healing plant that has been part of their traditions for years. Before choosing to participate in a drum circle, ask who is leading the ritual, where it will be held, what types of drums will be used, and who made them.
More generally, here are some questions you can ask yourself to examine your wellness practices. These questions are sourced from Illuminative, a nonprofit initiative designed to increase the visibility of Natives in American society.
Does what I’m doing:
- Misrepresent or degrade the culture?
- Reinforce stereotypes?
- Take credit or compensation away from the original creators?
- Generalize the customs and traditions of Native people?
If the answer to any of these questions is a yes, or even close to one, Illuminative recommends you do some additional research and rethink your decisions.
"When a Native person says something is offensive it is important to listen. The best thing you can do is admit you didn't know, educate yourself, and apologize. Sometimes it will be appropriate to make amends." - Illuminative
We hope this information has served as a valuable starting point. As Native peoples’ cultures and traditions are many and varied, we encourage you to seek out additional resources to further your learning and action. Here are some we recommend:
- Native Land Digital: Visit this site to learn which Indigenous territory you live on, as well as the history and people of that land.
- @theindigenousfoundation : Follow this collective of Indigenous/POC women, 2s, and non-binary folk who use easy-to-understand infographics to bring awareness to Indigenous communities and rights.
- Decolonizing Thanksgiving: Swipe through this post to debunk myths and historical inaccuracies surrounding the holiday.