The Right to Heal : Herbal Rights & Indigenous Sovereignty

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“To think of an herb as separate from its cultural heritage denies the power of the herb.”

As an herbalist, I would like to see the herbal medicine field incorporate more values and ethics around social justice. In my own herbal circles, there have been issues regarding race, facilitation, sexual abuse and cultural appropriation. As an indigenous woman, I have been struggling with these contradictions in a community founded on supposed healing.

I take serious issue with herbal schools and businesses promoting native medicines without acknowledging the native tribes that the plants originally belonged to. Especially in regards to white sage, which is a sacred plant to my tribe, the Chumash. It seems that these issues are only heard by larger communities or businesses when white herbalists reflect these concerns. This is further isolating. I am not one to consider race on a regular basis, but when I find myself being one of the only brown people in a room full of white people talking directly about native plants, it becomes a deeper, personal issue when nobody is willing to talk about cultural appropriation.

 Mati Waiya, Chumash ceremonial elder and Dolphin Dancer uses sage smoke during a ceremony at the Native American Heritage event at China Lake.

Mati Waiya, Chumash ceremonial elder and Dolphin Dancer uses sage smoke during a ceremony at the Native American Heritage event at China Lake.

To think of an herb as separate from its cultural heritage denies the power of the herb. Many people argue that all herbs belong to all people. Is this really true? When natives are still denied access to clean water, the right to vote, or rights to their own land on this continent, is it really fair to say that all people can have access to their traditional medicines that other people are profiting from? Why should this be the case when native peoples cannot be sovereign or live prosperously? Why are they being denied the right to basic rights, while others profit off of their medicines?

There is also blatant misuse of power in the cases of some herbal teachers in my community. Sexual abuse has been uncovered and is now being called out, over social media and elsewhere. Those who have been targeted are not receiving the support that they need. These teachers, or “herbal elders,” are being protected due to their long history of education and influence in the herbal world. However, if your power is hurting others, you aren't making the world a better place, no matter your influence or previous offerings.

I would like for Herbal Medicine to truly be a healing field that faces issues around social justice and abuse. Healing the world isn't just about drinking a cup of chamomile when you're upset. The plants have more to teach us besides what they are good for superficially. We need to stop looking at the earth in terms of profit. We need to stop looking at plants in terms of just how they benefit us. By ignoring the indigenous people who had connections with specific plants, we are doing a disservice to the plants as well. And by ignoring abuse survivors in order to protect abusive educators, we are failing our students as well as the plants, who are our greatest teachers of all.


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Rodi Bragg, founder of Rose Alchemista, is a Holistic Esthetician, Herbalist and Priestess who lives in Portland, Oregon. 
Originally from the Central Coast of California, Rodi is passionate about herbal medicine and social justice. Rodi has lived throughout the West Coast, but loves calling Portland home. Rodi founded her own herbal skincare line on Winter Solstice 2012. She practices astrology, meditation, archery and basic badassery when she’s not busy making skincare products. She is currently studying European Bee Shamanism, which is centered on the old folk traditions of witchcraft before the Roman inquisition. Rodi is interested in reviving earth based traditions. Her craft is infused with the magic and inspiration from her journeys throughout Europe, while also honoring her indigenous roots here in the states.