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The Use Of Sage In The Wellness Industry; Is This Cultural Appropriation?

What started out as a curious question, evolved into an amazing conversation.

2020, the year of questioning E V E R Y T H I N G.

The Black Lives Matter movement hit me hard. I sat, I cried, I dug deep and I questioned everything; have I done enough to consider myself an alley? Can I do more? The more I started learning about cultural appropriation in the Black Community, I started thinking about how I have been partaking negativity in this and how else was I unknowingly appropriating other cultures. Then it hit me one day. I sat down to meditate, I lit a bundle of sage and I paused - oh my goodness, am I appropriating the Indigenous Community by using sage?

I started searching online for articles, Facebook posts and websites that shared views on exactly this. I was looking for deeper education, knowledge and understanding around the use of sage during spiritual practices, healing practices, cleansing, and more. Except, all I found were articles written by White people. I wanted to learn from an Indigenous person themselves. So, I started deep diving through a social media rabbit hole, and I found A Tribe Call Beauty.

On July 24, 2020 the founder of A Tribe Called Beauty, Bee Millar, and I did a joint Instagram Live to discuss the use of sage, specifically by the White Community.

You can view our discussion HERE

Disclaimer: The views and opinions discussed during this article and on the IG Live do NOT represent the views and opinions of every Indigenous person. Bee shared her own opinions on the topic of cultural appropriation when it comes to the use of sage and traditional medicines.

What Is Cultural Appropriation?

Oxford Dictionary states: the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

Wikipedia states: Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation, is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

The Difference Between Appreciation and Appropriation

Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally. 

Appropriation on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest. 

A Brief History Lesson

The use of sage and smudging are sacred practices that have been used for centuries, and are quite commonly performed today. But, throughout much of history, the sacred act of smudging put Indigenous lives in danger. In Canada, circa 1876, Indigenous people were banned from using traditional medicine. The Indian Act outlawed all religious and cultural activities, which included smudging. They were jailed or killed if found using sacred medicines. It wasn't until 1951 that this law was abolished and Indigenous people were finally allowed to use their sacred medicines. For information on the Indian Act, click HERE.

The Importance of Where You Buy Sage

If you are going to use sage, do NOT buy it from a place that isn’t owned and run by Natives. Indigenous people believe that you're not supposed to buy sage, rather it should be traded or gifted to you. When purchasing from a Native owned store, you can trust that it was harvest properly and that all the proper protocols were done with that sage before you bought it. There are several sacred practices put in place in regards to growing, harvesting, picking, gifting, handling, storing and burning/smudging sacred medicines.

When these sacred practices, teachings and protocols are not followed these, bad energy is being created and you are then inviting bad spirits into your space. With that being said, you are also disrespecting the Indigenous Community, their culture and traditions by using sacred medicines and not following the protocols and practices they have in place.

Did you know that white sage, due to the current trend and popularity, is being illegally harvested, and stolen? The high demand means it's being grown improper and picked incorrectly. It is harmful when big mainstream non-Native owned businesses sell sage kits;

  • These companies do not follow the proper teachings and protocols when harvesting or packaging the sage.

  • Sage is being over harvested, and stolen from Indigenous people.

  • When non-Natives harvest the sage, and are not following protocol, you don't know if they have bad energy and bad spirits. You don't know if they were picking that medicine with good intentions.

  • When that sage is being packaged, or while its sitting on the shelf in the store, random people have then touched your medicine. All those people put their energy into that medicine before you bought it.

The Sacred Act of Using Sage

  • Indigenous people believe that sage is a women's medicine. They believe that when women are on their moon time, (their period), they are 9 times stronger. Therefore they do not use any other medicine other than sage during this time. Because of this, there is a separate bundle of sage to use when a woman is on her period, separate from the bundle of sage used in the home.

  • When lighting sage, use a match. This is because the butane from a lighter kills the spirit of the medicine. 

  • When you light the sage, do not blow on it to get the flame out. Use your hand or a feather. This is because the medicine takes a bit of your spirit with it when you blow on it.

  • When the sage is done, put the ashes in a bowl. Do not throw the ashes in the garbage or dispose of them in a disrespectful way. You can choose to place the ashes under a bush or tree, giving it back to Mother Earth.

  • When you light the sage, you should thank that medicine for giving itself for you to use, for growing and for the protection and healing it provides.

  • You should never be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when touching medicines and/or using medicines. Indigenous people believe that when you drink alcohol, for example, your spirit leaves you for 4 days.


Alternatives To Sage

There are other ways to cleanse your home, or the space you are in. Try giving one of these a try!

  • Rue

  • Rosemary

  • Salt

  • Bay Leaves

  • Aloe Vera

  • Tobacco Leaves

  • Frankincense

  • Mug Worm

  • Cinnamon Stick

  • Lavender

  • Cedar

  • Juniper 

Indigenous Owned Businesses To Shop From

Ojibway Natural; offers liquid smudge spray, sweet grass spray, cedar spray

Tribal Spirit Music; traditional medicines

I'd like to thank Bee Millar for taking the time to chat with me. Despite our Instagram Live having major technical difficulties, I learned so much and I look forward to learning more. Sharing this information is so important. Be sure to watch our Instagram Live discussion HERE.

I encourage you to read the article Bee was interviewed for with Fashionista, "IT'S TIME TO RETHINK THE 'TREND' OF BURNING SAGE ON INSTAGRAM."

Regardless of what I wrote here today, or what other articles you read, you will decide to use sage in your practice or not. However, I encourage you to think WHY you are using sage. Is it because everyone is using it? Is it because it's all you know about? Or, is it because you respect sage for what it is, medicine. Take the time to process this. Think about the history of our Indigenous neighbours, the fact that sage, and other sacred medicines were illegal for years.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this and for learning something new. The only way we, as a collective, are going to get better, and do better, is by learning and changing. Just because we've been doing something for years, doesn't make it right.



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