White Sage Overharvesting
& Cultural Appropriation
A Note from Juliet Blankespoor on White Sage Overharvesting and Cultural Appropriation:
Artemisia Dawnsong is a character I’ve adopted for the point of humor. I’m poking fun at myself, “New-Agey” cultural appropriation, and discordant social interactions due to wildly divergent world beliefs. I realize that some folks will find this character offensive, especially given the serious harm that cultural appropriation can inflict, individually and collectively.
I believe there is a place in comedy where we can explore hurtful and harmful beliefs and practices. It provides an opportunity to turn things on their head: our guard is down, and we can see things with fresh eyes. Nonetheless, there’s always a line, a switch that instantly turns funny into foul play or real harm. Everyone’s line is drawn differently, depending on the subject and the person delivering what is meant to be humorous.
“Cultural appropriation or misappropriation can be defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, and ideas of one people or society by members of another (typically more dominant) people or society. The problem of misappropriation occurs when knowledge and practices are taken without permission and/or without giving due credit to the original source. Compounding the issue, many people then choose to use these ways—oftentimes for economic or societal gain—in a manner that is seen as disrespectful to the people from whom the knowledge originated in the first place.”
—Marc Williams, Chestnut School instructor. Excerpted from his Chestnut School lesson, “An Introduction to the History of Herbalism in North America: European, Native American, & African Influences.”
White Sage (Salvia apiana) is native to the coastal foothills of southern California and is threatened by habitat loss and overharvesting—primarily for the commercial making of aromatic smoke sticks (sold as “smudge sticks”). If you will be using white sage, purchase cultivated white sage bundles or grow your own (here is my article on growing white sage) and leave wild white sage for the Indigenous peoples of the area who gather the herb, and use white sage in ceremony and for medicinal purposes. Do not buy wild harvested white sage smoke sticks! (The bundle in this video is from homegrown white sage.) Many Indigenous groups believe that aromatic plant bundles should not be sold but instead should be traded, gifted, or homemade.
People all around the globe have burned aromatic plants for pleasure, medicine, ceremony, and to keep insects away. When burned ceremonially, many indigenous cultures have traditional rituals and specific practices around smoke healing or cleansing. If these rituals are not part of your culture, or you haven’t been trained and granted permission by that culture to share, consider looking to your ancestral heritage for guidance around aromatic smoke traditions. I am of European descent and am not trained in any one culture’s traditional practices or ceremonies, therefore I am careful to not portray my bundling or burning as traditional Native American in style or practice. Additionally, I gather or grow plants that were traditionally used for aromatic smoke in Europe, and incorporate these into my bundles. As such, I refer to these aromatic bundles as “smoke sticks,” as this is more universally applied. I’m specifically avoiding the terms “smudge sticks” or “smudging,” as these refer to specific practices, which belong to certain indigenous cultures in the Americas.
~ This excerpt is from my article Homegrown and Wild-Harvested Aromatic Smoke Sticks, which highlights aromatic plants from around the globe that may be part of your heritage.