“Let us dig to remind ourselves our roots are ancestral
and there is nothing deeper
than these sacred, dirt-covered hands.”
-excerpt from “Missing More Than a Word” by Tanaya Winder
My perspective on the wellness industry is, at times, complex.
I had the pleasure of attending Millana Snow’s Integrative Energy Healing training in June. The training was an indescribable experience that revolutionized how I understand energy, my indigenous origins, and my spiritual journey. In this journal entry, I briefly contemplate the wellness industry through my lens of an interracial Native woman and holistic healing enthusiast in modern America.
I grew up nestled in the plains of South Dakota on the Lake Traverse Reservation.1 My childhood was filled with family, connecting with the land, and Dakota culture. Every day, I heard traditional songs and learned the language at the tribal elementary school I attended. I used to dance in the annual summer powwow, a vibrant multi-day event with music, contests, food and socializing. It remains one of my absolute favorite parts about home – that, and the serenity of the rolling grasses and lakes. I was too young at the time to comprehend many heavy realities of reservation life and the profound resilience of indigenous presence in this country.
When my immediate family moved away from the reservation, I was faced with the common misperception from my peers that we remain stuck in the distant past.
For example: a classmate at one of the top private schools in Missouri asked if I lived in a tipi; I had to explain why the host team’s “Indian” mascot was upsetting at a track meet; and later, in college, I had to interject when another student referred to native culture as “savage” during art history class. Unfortunately, the examples go on and on. I felt like my people and I had been forgotten.
It would be several more years before I decided to grab the reins of my holistic wellbeing, out of both necessity and curiosity.
I started out studying New Age spiritual classics such as The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. I devoutly listened to wellness podcasts, and started incorporating yoga and meditation into my life. I tried, and loved, energy healing and breathwork. I connected with amazing communities and industry leaders bringing holistic wellness to the mainstream conversation. I experienced my own testimonials of healing and expansion. I began to see: it’s all connected.
As I became more familiar with the wellness and personal development world, I soon came across points of contention between indigenous culture and the collective industry.
One small example: seeing $16 white sage “smudge sticks” at a chain natural foods store. I was actually shocked.2
I noticed more manifestations of indigenous sacred medicines and rituals being literally repackaged and sold to the masses, often without any acknowledgement of, or contribution to, the culture from which they came. This is not only exclusionary, but also a missed opportunity to learn about the lineages of these practices and more respectfully appreciate the powerful gems that they hold.
It is my belief that we are all tapped into the same Source, The Creator. We are all spiritual beings having a physical experience on Mother Earth at a specific time.
And most importantly: we are each our own best healer. I am grateful to those wellness companies that I believe in, such as Wellness Official, who truly care about diversity and accessibility.
While native lineages and the evolution of modern wellness converge in sometimes problematic or imperfect ways, I also see hope and room for growth.
Both experiences have changed the course of my life. My culture gives substance and depth to my life, and wellness helps support my mental health and personal flow.
My perspective is not the only one, and there is so much more discussion that needs to be had. I look optimistically towards the emergence of increasingly conscious relationships and novel conversations between ancient and contemporary wellness.
In the meantime, I encourage each of us to explore being as curious about the soil-covered roots as what’s above the surface – in all areas of life.
1 A reservation in simple terms is an area of land set aside by the government for members of federally-recognized tribes to live on. Each has their own tribal entities. There are hundreds of reservations nestled across the country. I would highly recommend researching more about the history and ongoing reality of reservation life.
2 The term “smudge” should not be used by non-Natives. Burning sage is an ancient sacred practice, and white sage is endangered from over-harvesting. I personally do not believe in the commercial nor common use of white sage.
Serena Jackson is a Sissetonwan-Wahpetonwan Dakota Native Educator, Activist and Artist. For any inquiries, please reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.