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How Your Smudging Ritual May Be Culturally Appropriating

Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

We came across an article that brought attention to the commercialization and appropriation of smudging, a spiritual ritual practices by Native American & Indigenous communities.

With 2020 behind us, we may be seeking ways to cleanse, possible considering the practice of smudging. But, before you buy your smudging set or bundle of white sage consider the history of colonization and how the appropriation of this ritual continues to harm Native American & Indigenous communities.

Cultural Appropriation Is Threatening The Practice

Today, smudging has become a culturally appropriated practice with large numbers of non-Native American & Indigenous communities and folks using this ritual as a way to cleanse.

First, we have to ask: what is cultural appropriation? We think of it as taking a practice from a culture that has been oppressed, persecuted, or discriminated against for this practice. Practically speaking, we might be a little confused. We reference The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation from The Atlantic.

Today, companies like Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Amazon and several others continue to sell smudge kits. The commodification and commercialization of smudge kits for non-Native American & Indigenous people has put a major strain on the environment, white sage, and Native American & Indigenous communities who practice smudging as part of their culture.

Numerous articles (like this from Beauty Insider) point out that the commodification of smudging has caused over-harvesting and threatened wild White Sage, which is what Native American & Indigenous communities often use for their rituals. An article from Forever Conscious talks about The Ethics of Using Sage for Energy Cleansing to get a better understanding of how White Sage is being over-harvested and threatened.

Many Native American & Indigenous folks have called out these companies and advocated against smudge kits.

Colonization Nearly Wiped It Out

Native American & Indigenous communities were not allowed to practice their religious rituals and ceremonies until 1978. In the 1800s, the United States began promoting Christian education in Native American communities.

In 1883, the United States established the Code of Indian offenses that created the Courts of Indian Offenses, which prosecuted Native Americans for participating in traditional rituals and ceremonies. Although the code was amended after 50 years, Native American communities were still not guaranteed protection under the United States’ First Amendment freedom of religion.

In 1978, Jimmy Carter officially passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Nearly two decades later, in 1993 and 1994, additional amendments were made to the Act to protect sacred sites and legalize the use of peyote in religious practices.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act is only 43 years old. It wasn’t that long ago that Native American & Indigenous communities were not protected against discrimination, oppression, and acts of violence for practicing their rituals and culture.

Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

What can we do?

Taté Walker and Bianca Millar share with us some of the suggestions they have at the end of this Fashionista article. Walker is Mniconjou Lakota and a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Millar is half Huron-Wendat and half Scottish and of the Wendake reserve in Québec.

Remember that are always learning! We educate ourselves on the history and practice of smudging. Education is a way to honor practices and use them in a way that is respectful, culturally sensitive and with awareness.

One of the most influential things that we can do is use our consumer power, meaning don’t buy from commercial retailers. We’ve uncovered how retailers over-harvest White Sage, threatening not only the plant, but the ability for Native American & Indigenous communities to do their rituals. Commercial retailers are not giving back to the communities or bringing Native American & Indigenous voices to the table.

Instead, we can explore other cleansing rituals that are less harmful or culturally sensitive. Spite & Sparrow gives us Five Ways To Cleans Your Space (Without Cultural Appropriation). Another suggestion we heard was tap into your ethnicity’s practices. Find out what medicinal plants were used by your ancestors

And if you’re up for the green thumb challenge: Grow your own Sage so you don’t have to buy it!

Connecting Back to Mindfulness

Our practice of mindfulness and yoga has a long history of colonization and appropriation as well. As we explore the commodification and colonization of smudging, can we recognize similarities to the practice of yoga and wellness?

Questions for Reflection

  • Are there practices in my life that I need to explore?
  • Do I know the history of the practice? Is there any oppression, persecution and/or discrimination associated with this practice?
  • Have I honored and thanked the culture whose practice I used? How do I do this?
  • Do I share with others the practice and make sure that they understand its meaning and value to the culture?
  • Am I supporting the communities within the culture?
  • How is the practice of yoga similar to what we have uncovered today?
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