Smudging & Cultural Appropriation

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every Indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every Indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

Did you know that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives intellectual property rights to Indigenous people for smudging/ceremony?

We should have a conversation about cultural appropriation when it comes to this.

If you buy a smudge kit at a health food store or on an Etsy site that includes a feather and a fan for blowing around the smoke, you’re participating in cultural appropriation. Recently, Sephora advertised a bohemian “witch kit” with white sage included. Native women on Twitter battled with the company, explaining why using sage in a prepackaged kit is both a violation of the medicine itself and the rights of Indigenous peoples to that medicine.

Over time, it’s become a popular way to cleanse your home, an aspect of “new age” gatherings. But we must be careful about how we approach something that is important to another people group. Appropriation happens all the time, and we need to be more aware of it.

In my tribe’s story, Creator gave the people four gifts for prayer and ceremony: tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar. These gifts, grown from the earth, are used for different life seasons, in different ceremonies, to honor the land, always for the act of prayer and cleansing.

Not just any tobacco or sage, though. What we use is for ceremony, so it must be blessed and cleansed for a certain purpose. It must be handled with care and not packaged with a fake feather and a few incense sticks. There is substance, and it becomes something holy.

In Potawatomi culture, these gifts come alive. They teach us, heal us, cleanse us. They bring the beautiful, natural power of the land to us, a direct gift from Mamogosnan, the Creator.

And so, on a difficult day, before a meeting, I sometimes stop and pray. I stop and light my sage, my sweetgrass, my tobacco, and I rest.

I say, Migwetch Mamogosnan. Thank you, Creator.

And my breathing slows, my mind clears.

In the way of smudging, we do it to honor our ancestors who also prayed in their great joy and in their deep grief. This cannot be appropriated.

So, may we always pray because we are led to it by generations before us, by the gifts given to us.

If you want to smudge, I encourage you to order directly from a tribal store or gift shop, and smudge honoring the people that the ceremony of smudging belongs to. And I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers to this. The more I learn about other cultures, the more I appreciate about them, I have to also hold steady my respect for their culture. I have to, in my own way, fight against appropriation and white supremacy. Indigenous peoples deserve that respect, too, and even though it’s almost impossible to spot it sometimes, it’s an everyday occurrence, from Halloween costumes to shamanic sweat lodge ceremonies that dishonor our cultures.

For more thoughts on cultural appropriation, I encourage you to visit Dr. Adrienne Keene’s website, Native Appropriations.








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