Sḵwálwen Botanicals: in conversation with ethnobotanist & founder Leigh Joseph

Sḵwálwen Botanicals is an incredible Indigenous founded and led business, setting forth a business model rooted in relationship, reciprocity and well-being to the land and to community. 

For RAVEN’s In Conversation series via Instagram, we spoke with Leigh Joseph (ancestral name Styawat), an ethnobotanist and entrepreneur from the Squamish First Nation. She contributes to cultural knowledge renewal in connection to traditional plant foods and medicines. Leigh has worked as an ethnobotanist for Indigenous communities throughout BC and the Yukon. Through teaching workshops, university courses and land-based learning opportunities, she aims to expand the renewal of ethnobotanical knowledge and the healing that comes from connection to place. 

As founder of Sḵwálwen Botanicals, Leigh brings together Indigenous science and self-care rituals, creating skin care experiences grounded in the natural world. Leigh is the co-director and subject of new documentary Walking with Plants ( @walking_with_plants_film ), which tells the story of the role of plant relatives in her life and healing journey.

You can watch the full conversation here.

RAVEN: What inspired you to start your business?

Just over 10 years ago I started doing work with my home community in Squamish which looked like land based and community based research while reconnecting with plant knowledge. I found myself on a path with broader reconnection to culture and identity. Central to all of that was reconnection with the land and that has been guided by culturally important plants. When I was going through my community guided experience with learning, I felt this drive and desire to learn and rebuild my own relationships with plants in a hands on way.

Sḵwálwen is a creative outlet for the ancestral connections I draw from the land and for community. 

I have big visions to support ongoing work for Indigeous communities to rekindle their connection to the land and build up that knowledge in terms of wellness and identity to be in connection with the land. 

How do you feel the relationship to the land translates to issues of justice? Your business has supported RAVEN campaigns, is there a parallel to your work?

Healing the land is equivalent to healing our bodies. Through my research I always felt uncomfortable by the separation of self in the scientific method. You cannot separate impacts on the land from our relationship with the land. Your identity, wellness, and spiritual health is tied to the land, so if the land is impacted you are going to be impacted and that is a central part of why I wanted to be involved in this work with knowledge renewal and land access.

What advice would you give to other businesses to be more involved in justice and having positive community impact?

I think if you are wanting to show support and contribute to action, you can amplify Indigneous businesses, looking at collaborating with businesses. On a deeper level, there is a real opportunity to look at ourselves and educate ourselves on these issues.

In my mind, my greater vision is not what this landscape is going to look like but will it sustain my future family members? What can I do to contribute not only ecologically but also culturally to the landscape. That’s how I think about the places I do work in, having intact cultural ecosystems would be an incredible goal for healing the land. 

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