BWhite sage and Palo Santo undles packaged as “smear kits” are available for sale at yoga studio gift shops, popular retailers like Madewell and Urban Outfitters, and even behemoths like Walmart. The very existence of these products seems to indicate that, for less than $ 10, you can get everything you need to perform an ancient ritual that will rid your home of negative energy.
Except that’s not the case. If you are not a member of an indigenous community, buying white sage, Palo Santo, or other sacred herbs and quickly Google “how to sweep” will not make you qualified to do so. It is cultural appropriation and it is damaging for indigenous communities.
Until two weeks ago, if you were one of the thousands of people every month searching online for a smudge tutorial, you might have landed on a Well + Good article titled “How To Burn Sage In Your Home. house to get rid of bad vibes. ”However, after hearing from aboriginals about the damage the article inflicted, we removed it from our website – this story you are reading now was written to take its place.
Thank you to those who generously reached out to call us, and we are deeply sorry for continuing this offensive line of thinking. We know that removing this particular item is just one step in the work that needs to be done to eradicate culturally appropriate content from our library, and we are committed to continuing our education on this topic and taking necessary action. to ensure that Well + Good is a safe space for all, including members of indigenous communities.
What is cultural appropriation and why is it harmful?
A definition of cultural appropriation, written by Fordham School of Law professor Susan Scafidi in her book Who owns the culture? and used by the National Conference for Community and Justice in its documents, states:
“Take someone else’s intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or cultural artifacts without permission. This may include the unauthorized use of dance, clothing, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, for example sacred objects.
Native people have been violently oppressed in North America since the first European colonizers set foot on the continent in the 16th century, and in 1892 the “Rules of Indian Courts”, drafted by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, have it. made illegal (and punishable). of a prison sentence) for the natives of the United States to practice their religious ceremonies. It was not until 1978, less than 50 years ago, that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) was passed, guaranteeing Native Americans the freedom and protection to “believe, express and exercise [their] traditional religions.
It is in large part because of this history – and the restrictions still placed on Indigenous traditions today – that the traditional co-optation of Indigenous spiritual practices is so detrimental to many. “It hurts to see our traditions, which our ancestors died for and fought for, now become a trend that others demand to be a part of,” wrote Chelsey Luger, co-founder of Well for Culture. , in an article for Well + Good. “These practices are sacred and special to us because they have helped our people prosper for thousands of years and subsequently survive several brutal generations of genocide and colonialism. These practices keep us strong as we continue to deal with historical trauma. “
“This smudging stick represents the deep pain, sacrifice, resistance and rejection of Indigenous peoples. It represents a continuing legacy of marginalization and punishment of Indigenous spirituality. —Adrienne J. Keene, EdD
In a post on her Native Appropriations blog, Adrienne J. Keene, EdD, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and assistant professor of American and Ethnic Studies at Brown University, also talks about this point. “This smudge stick is not benign. It is not about “ownership”. This smudge stick represents the deep pain, sacrifice, resistance and rejection of Indigenous peoples. It represents a continuing legacy of marginalization and punishment of Indigenous spirituality. So when our religious practices are mocked through these products, or when people haggle and earn money through our ceremonies, it is not about who has the “right” to buy or sell. . It is a question of power.
Dr Keene continues, “Selling Indigenous spirituality is easily a million dollar industry, not even including all the culture vultures and white shamans who sell fake ceremonies. Who benefits from the sale of these products? Not the indigenous peoples.
I invite you to read the entire message from Dr. Keene.
Does this mean that burning sage is totally forbidden to non-natives?
Many cultures around the world have traditionally burned herbs, incense, or other materials as a spiritual ritual. So, if you are looking for a cleansing ceremony, you might want to start by learning more about your own heritage. But “the idea of ’smudging’ is distinctly indigenous to the Americas,” writes Dr. Keene. In North and South America, it is important to note that different communities use different medicines and rituals to cleanse themselves.
As with the ceremonies themselves, when it comes to non-natives following native practices, there is no single point of view; there are certainly some who believe that it is possible for non-Natives to respectfully burn white sage and other sacred materials. But the massive commodification of this spiritual practice largely ignores the traumatic history of the ritual and puts money in the pockets of those who have oppressed indigenous communities for centuries.
As Dr. Keene sums it up: “What matters to me is the removal of the context of conversations about cultural appropriation, the erasing of the painful and violent history surrounding the removal of Indigenous spirituality, the ongoing struggles. that students and Indigenous people have to practice their beliefs, and non-Indigenous businesses and non-Indigenous people who make money from these stories and traditions without understanding the harm they cause.
Where do we go from here?
Of course, cultural appropriation does not only happen to indigenous practices. See: Katy Perry’s infamous geisha costume at the 2013 American Music Awards; Kim Kardashian wearing what she called “Bo Derek braids”; and the branding of “hip hop yoga studio” Y7, for which the founder apologized for appropriating and enjoying hip hop culture last June. And these are just three high-profile examples of something that happens every day. (For more information on the cultural appropriation of black hairstyles in particular, I highly recommend that you watch this video by author Emma Dabiri and then purchase her book Twisted: The Tangled History of Dark Hair Culture.)
To avoid cultural appropriation, it is important to research the history of “trends” before blindly jumping on the bandwagon. To that end, in addition to the articles and books mentioned above, Rachel Ricketts’ Spiritual Activism Courses provide a great introduction to cultural ownership – and more books and courses are within Google reach. (Do the research yourself; don’t burden others – especially blacks, natives, and people of color, if you’re white – with your self-education.)
“When Aboriginal people tell you that they are hurt by the exploitation of their spiritual practices, please believe them. “—Chelsey Luger
And, most importantly, it is essential to listen when a member of a marginalized group tells you that your actions are harmful. To quote again Luger, writing for Well + Good, “When Aboriginal people tell you that they are hurt by the exploitation of their spiritual practices, please believe them. Our communities have seen so much pain. We have been mocked, brutalized, infantilized, dehumanized and ignored. The last thing we need is to be hassled for the knowledge of the most sacred things that are dear to us.
At Well + Good, we are committed to listening to feedback and criticism (within our community and outside), admitting our mistakes and doing our homework regarding the origins of wellness practices; We have implemented a diversity, equity and inclusion program so that our editorial team can learn directly from anti-racist educators. We also know that this article on “how to burn sage” is not the only bad story in our catalog. We currently have a library of 19,000 articles and we will systematically comb through our old content to reveal and revise or remove harmful content. You can find more information about our process for doing it here.
The work to dismantle white supremacy is constant and ongoing, and so will Well + Good on this front.