A discussion about sage

by Molly Roe with contributions from Lewis St. Cyr, program director, HoChunk Renaissance Program 

We get a lot of questions about sage at SweetGrass Trading Company, and we want to take a minute to have a discussion.  

Sage is a medicine and traditionally, medicines are to be gifted. Many Native people do not condone the selling of sage, while others do not have an opinion on the matter. According to WeRNative.org, “Traditionally, healers were gifted or harvested these medicines so they did not have to buy them. In this society now, this is not practiced as much and for some people it’s not an option, especially if you live in a city.” 

It is important to remember that burning sage is not a trend. It is a sacred ritual practiced by many Native people. The commoditization of sage has real consequences such as the overharvesting of white sage and the continuation of using what belongs to Native people without compensating them. Additionally, sage that is sold by non-Natives is often improperly harvested, which can harm the plant and keep it from growing back. 

 Until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, Native people didn’t have access to sacred lands, nor did they have freedom to hold traditional ceremonies. Now, many non-indigenous companies are profiting off these traditions. 

“Cedar or sage is used for the body, to protect ourselves,” Boye Ladd, Ho-Chunk elder and veteran said. “We put it in our pockets, sometimes we put it in our moccasins. It’s a form of protection for our body.” 

Non-natives can smudge with sage, but should learn to do so responsibly. They should be intentional with their use of plant medicines and learn about the land they are currently living on. What Tribes used to live on the land? What Tribes live there now? What are their stories? Non-natives should actively seek out this information to be respectful and honor Native culture. 

One of the goals of SweetGrass is making these products accessible for all Native people. SweetGrass is owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, a Native owned business that is sensitive to the nature of handling these products. The sage SweetGrass offers is carefully harvested using sustainable and ethical methods. No chemicals or pesticides are used in the process. Each bundle is sun-dried, handmade and tied.  

When you purchase sage from SweetGrass, you are supporting a Tribal-owned company owned solely by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Your purchase contributes to the Native Scholarship Program and also supports the various Tribal entities we work with to increase economic development and sovereignty. 

Additional sources: 

https://www.mic.com/p/why-you-might-need-to-rethink-your-sage-burning-practice-51347104
https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2018/11/29/indigenous-people-sage-and-smudge-kits_a_23602571/
Boye Ladd – HoChunk Nation – Cultural Presenation 

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