To Avoid Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Practices, You Must First Be a Conscious Consumer


Many widespread wellness practices are rooted in sacred Indigenous practices. Nothing about using crystals or burning sage is new. Without understanding and appreciating the history of these practices, you can veer into cultural appropriation. During Well+Good’s latest virtual panel, Native Women in Wellness, Indigenous health scholar Jessica Barudin explained these practices are for all. But to respectfully participate, you must be a conscious consumer.

“In [the pan-Indigenous] worldview, we see all things as being a part of creation. We don’t own nature. We don’t own anything in this world really other than our skin and what we are to do here on this earth is to be of service,” says Barudin. “What I’ve been taught in our ceremonies is that these medicines are for everyone. So the medicines don’t discriminate if you’re native, if you’re Lakota, or if you’re Kwakwaka’wakw, or if you’re non-native and you come from an Italian background. These medicines are there and they have not forgotten their original instructions. They know how to work with the people, but the ways that we know how to care for them is so important and [that is] what’s lost in this matter of commodification and exploitation.”

Although these practices have gained widespread popularity, it wasn’t so long ago that they were outlawed.

“In both Canada and the U.S., our nations were forbidden and outlawed to practice our ceremonies and our spirituality and we were forbidden to use our medicines and to gather in our healing ways,” says Barudin. “This was to ensure that we were more easily converted to Christianity. It was along with many other harmful practices. All of this happened to really strip us from our teachings and from these sacred instructions.” The laws of potlatch bans were lifted in 1951 in Canada and in 1978 in the U.S. 1951.

“Many of the teachings and real original ways have been lost and as far as,” says Barudin. “These are still really pretty recent things that we’re reclaiming and it’s sacred to us and it’s important to our connection to the earth and everything. So it’s not something that we take lightly, picking up and selling [something] if it doesn’t belong to… don’t take what’s not yours because when we do that, that’s stealing.”

Stealing extends beyond wellness into commercial ventures like the bottled water industry.

“For us as indigenous people, water is also medicine and how that is changed when it’s packaged and the harmful effects that we see through that industry, through how it’s impacting our communities,” she says. “You can bring it to the pharmaceutical industry, all extractive industries, everything—the forestry, I could go on, the aquaculture. It’s the mentality of that we are as human beings supreme and that we can take from the Earth and profit from it and that treating the earth is as a resource to be claimed and extracted. In plain language, it’s just again, it’s just disconnection.”

To learn more about the history of some of these Indigenous healing methods, Barudin says to watch Robin Kimmerer’s TED Talk “Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest.” “I strongly recommend listening to that and understanding a little bit more context around the teachings of harvesting and understanding these medicines to give you some more context,” she says. And to avoid Indigenous cultural appropriation and mindfully follow these practices, Barudin says to be a conscious consumer and always ask questions like “Where does this come from?”

“You can ask that not just for your plant medicines, but I’ve seen a lot of like crystals and stones and gems being popularized in mainstream wellness and you have to ask yourself: How were these sourced? Who benefits from these profits?” she says. “And really bringing that social justice lens and also ecological justice lens because there’s a lot of things happening and huge efforts across around the world for people, especially Indigenous people, fighting for the protection of the land and the waters and our air. That’s our foundation for our life.”

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