Monday, September 5, 2022

We should not burn sage and smudge sticks

  • I am part of an Indigenous solidarity group with SURJ Boston. This last week, a member in our group shared this from Mahtowin of UAINE
If you are not an Indigenous person and sage is not part of your cultural practices, stop buying it or using it!” 

  • This was something I appreciated learning about as I had been asked to teach a pottery class at a local store, with the theme of bowls that hold smudge sticks. It was coming up in the next 2 weeks. 
  • At the time that the store owner and I discussed the possibility for the class, I shared my concern that we could be culturally appropriating by using smudge sticks. I told the store owner at that time, that she'd need to include in the description that the history of smudging was from Indigenous practices, for me to agree to the topic. 
So she wrote this: 

"Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples have burned sage for centuries as part of a spiritual ritual to cleanse a person or space, and to promote healing and wisdom. It's been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans to treat digestive issues, memory problems, and sore throats. White Sage, sometimes called Sacred Sage, is well-known for its usage for these purposes. Other common plants to smudge with include lavender, mugwort, tobacco, cedar, sweet grass, juniper, and copal. Today, we use Sage most often in a Clearing Ceremony or to Cleanse a space, such as when a new home is purchased or when you want to refresh the energy in your home or office."

  • This is the picture I had taken to promote the class (my sample bowls holding smudge sticks from her store):

  • Immediately after I saw the post: “If you are not an Indigenous person and sage is not part of your cultural practices, stop buying it or using it!,” I wrote to the store owner:
Have you advertised for the class yet? I don't see anything about it on your website. 

I am connected to an Indigenous group in the area ( and below is what they posted this week. I'm concerned about doing the class (with a focus on sage smudge sticks) and being part of something harmful to Indigenous folks. Do you know the source of the sage in your smudge sticks?  

I shared the link and “If you are not an Indigenous person and sage is not part of your cultural practices, stop buying it or using it!

  • The store owner wrote this back to me: 
The class is on Facebook. Let me look into sourcing. I will get back to you.

  • She had told me 2 weeks before that she'd be posting then about the class. Instead, she posted only an hour before I found it on Facebook, 9 hours after I wrote to her about my concern. I replied:
I see you didn't post until today, when I expressed my concern with the content. Since you don't have folks signed up yet, could we put a pause on this smudge-bowl-centric class, please? I want to discuss this with the Indigenous folks I know and see what they think. I can't decide for you what you will do in your store, but I don't want to be personally complicit since my community is asking for us to stop doing this practice.

  • The store owner wrote this back to me: 
It was on Facebook before I saw your concern. I always post 2-3 weeks ahead. Anyway, I will take it down. Let me know what you decide.

  • I replied: 
Would you be interested in doing a bowl class to hold stones and crystals? I could take a new picture without smudge sticks in them and we could use the same date and time. If you don't, I understand.

I won't be able to get back to you quickly about smudge sticks. I imagine and guess I wouldn't feel comfortable with doing that anyway. I should have gone with my instinct from the beginning. Someone in my Indigenous solidarity group wrote this:

"my understanding is smudging is an Indigenous practice that's been very widely appropriated by white ppl especially "New Age" types... certainly might be an incomplete understanding of smudging but my sense was it's something we shouldn't be doing period, regardless of the source of the sage/other bundle"

  • The store owner wrote this back to me: 
Sure, we can do one for crystals. Send the photo when you have it and I will write up a new description.

  • After thinking about it overnight, I realized I can't work with her if she is still going to sell smudge sticks in her store, and promote the use of them. I feel I would still be complicit by doing a class there...something she would profit off of. So I wrote back to her: 
I need to think about if I still want to do a class there after all. I'll get back to you when I know more.

  • How do I make a more lasting difference than just stepping away myself? 
  • I considered buying all of her smudge sticks and donating them to Indigenous groups in my area (if they wanted them) with the agreement that she not sell them anymore. 
  • At least, I hope my communication with her will have her consider not using smudge sticks anymore and not selling them in her store. 
  • I am sharing this here, in this detail, to share the message from UAINE, show how we as white folks can listen to Indigenous voices, learn, and change our behaviors. 
  • And we can stop using sage and smudge sticks if we are not an Indigenous person and sage is not part of our cultural practices.