National Indigenous Peoples Day: The History and Celebrating Indigenous Beauty Brands
In celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day and Indigenous History Month, we wanted to take the opportunity to shed light on the history of Indigenous communities in Canada and recognize indigenous owned and operated beauty and wellness brands that you should check out!
I’ve always been intrigued and inspired by Indigenous culture. When I experienced my first Powwow, back in 2009 I was totally captivated by the colours, the energy, the music, the art, everything. Admittedly though, I didn’t fully grasp the hardships Indigenous communities faced both historically and to that (and this) day, every single day.
Indigenous communities throughout Canada are full of history, culture, and beauty. The First Nations of Canada were fascinating, well-structured villages of First peoples who lived off the land and led with spirituality. There is a rich history of surviving and thriving before Europeans migrated to the country. As the French and British colonized North America and became the continent’s two main powers, they allied with different First Nations groups for informal trade of goods. Relationships between the groups varied from peace to violence, treaties to wars, over the following centuries as the competition for land, power, and goods grew.
The British attempt to assimilate the First Nations to their will was devastating. The British Crown believed their society and culture to be superior, and wanted the First Nations to fall in line, convert to Christianity, and, according to the Gradual Civilian Act of 1857, become “civilized.” As the shameful history goes, First peoples of Canada were forced to give up their land, their homes, and their rights. Indigenous children were sent to “Indian Residential Schools” where they faced abuse, hard labor, isolation from their communities, forced assimilation, and received little education. Devastatingly, a mass gravesite of unidentified Indigenous children was recently discovered beneath a former residential school near Manitoba. Similar burial sites have been found elsewhere, and, with the investigation ongoing, many more are expected.
In 1996, a new Canadian holiday was established: National Aboriginal Day. Held on June 21st of each year, it’s a celebration of cultures and contributions. Though significant, the holiday, the 2008 formal apology for residential schools issued by then-Prime Minister Steven Harper, and the subsequent retributions issued by the government are not enough. Indigenous people still face racism, discrimination, inadequate health care, insufficient clean water, and inequality in the criminal justice system. Individuals and families no longer have access to lands their ancestors once nourished and shared deep spiritual connections with.
With over 600 recognized tribes today, the First Nations history is vast and storied. We honor, respect, and appreciate their individual, communal, and collective stories. We offer support through learning about Indigenous history, culture, and traditions. We back Indigenous causes and vote for elected officials that do as well. We amplify Indigenous voices and businesses when we can.
Indigenous Beauty Brands
As our focus is on skin, beauty and wellness here at The Spa Curator, we want to take this opportunity to highlight some wonderful Indigenous beauty brands. We encourage you to support Indigenous brands, not only for the holiday but each day - as we also plan to do.
I am pretty sure that I am in love with this brand and their philosophy. Skwalwen is a lovely skincare brand with deep roots in Indigenous culture. Founder Leigh Joseph hails from the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation. She grew up immersed in the culture, learning about plants, food, and traditions. Her paternal grandparents were sent to Residential Schools as children, and she has felt the intergenerational trauma throughout her life. Leigh (with the ancestral name Styawat) honors her connection to the land while foraging for plants for her products. Treating land with the utmost respect, Skwalwen ingredients are harvested in ethical and sustainable ways that honor Indigenous culture. Check out her full story here and her guiding philosophy here.
Product Purchased and Photographed By Me (Susan)
With soothing ingredients and earthy scents, these products are wonderful for daily use as well as self-care moments. The currently sold-out Calming Bundle featuring Kalkáy Wild Rose Yarrow Bath Salts, Shkweń Rainforest Bath & Body Oil, and Kalkáy Healing Salve makes a wonderful gift for yourself or someone you love.
Founder Jenn Harper who is also from Niagara where I grew up, is on a mission to educate Canadians about Residential Schools and the irreversible harm and trauma they caused. Growing up estranged from her Indigenous family, she reconnected to her roots as an adult, inspiring her to create Cheekbone Beauty. In addition to her role as an entrepreneur, she’s an activist and speaker. The brand donates 10% of proceeds to Shannen’s Dream, an organization that strives to ensure equitable education for First Nations children while honoring languages and cultures. Cruelty-free, eco-friendly, and vegan, Cheekbone is a cosmetics company you can feel good about supporting.
The recently launched lip collection, Sustain, is all about sustainability without sacrificing quality. Cheekbone’s products provide gorgeous color payoff with a luxurious feel while supporting Indigenous communities’ wonderful causes and traditions. Check out the Wild Berry & Haki lip set for the perfect summertime pink.
Although I have yet to venture as far North as the Yukon, my heart is calling me to visit this vast, beautiful territory one day. What intrigues me most about this company is that it is so much more than just a soap company. The founder Joella was looking at her business as a way to connect people to culture and to the land. Yukon soaps are literally “infused and imprinted with the spirit of the Yukon”. You can and should check out the full story here. The Yukon Soap company is best known for their handcrafted essential soap bars and essential oil blends.
To highlight friends south of the Canadian border, featuring luxurious bath products, Sequoia is an affordable natural brand. According to founder Michaelee Lazore, her inspiration for the brand name came from two sources: the great Sequoia trees that can live over 2,000 years, and Cherokee chief Sequoia who created their alphabet. The company is 100% owned and manufactured by Indigenous women with locally sourced ingredients.
Explore their number one line, Sweetgrass. Items featuring the relaxing and rare scent include bath bombs, candles, soaps, lotions, and oils.
Though there are countless beauty brands to choose from, Indigenous companies continue to be underrepresented, and not for lack of quality. These featured brands have inspiring backstories and beautiful products. We believe in buying from brands that not only have exciting products, but that align with our values. By supporting Indigenous owned brands, we are supporting Indigenous communities. We hope you’ll join us now, and going forward!
Here are a few other Indigenous owned beauty brands to check out: