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  • Writer's pictureMoss & Fern Counselling

Nature-Based Therapy and Cultural Appropriation

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

I am a white body settler who is residing on the stolen lands of the Qayqayt first nation and Coast Salish Peoples. I want to share something that has not been newly created me and is known by many: white bodies can connect to nature without appropriating another culture’s spiritual activities and traditions. We can! So, try* not to do it! Also, some good reads on cultural appropriation can be found here and here.


What do I mean by this? I have witnessed and heard so many reoccurring tales of white bodies feeling that the way they can create a bond to nature is by incorporating sweat lodge, medicine wheels, Indigenous lore, vision quests, and/or approaching bodies of culture asking them to share their knowledge and connection to their land without any relationship to the person. Beyond my witnessing, there is also a deep rooted cultural appropriation noted within nature therapy literature (Have a look at this article and this one to start) and other psychotherapeutic activities like the white-washing of mindfulness (read here) , yoga ( You can read here, here or even here to start), group drumming (can be found here), and body mapping (start here). Please try to refrain and re-evaluate. Many of these actions are done with good intentions but without bigger picture knowledge of the ripple effect of these actions. Let’s take a deep breath now and pause.


This is a significant topic we are thinking about – did I just say never use mindfulness again – well not entirely. I am saying don’t use the whitewashed practice of mindfulness that takes what it pleases from Buddhist teachings and leaves what it likes with no respect for the original teachings, religion, and culture they are rooted in. Think about what you hope to gain from mindfulness.

  • Are you trying to be more present?

  • Are you trying to work on reducing anxiety through breath work?

  • Are you just doing it because others are?

  • What is your aim?

  • Is there a way that you can achieve what you are working towards while acknowledging and respecting someone else's culture and practices?

  • Is mindfulness what you need or cultivating the ability to be present in other ways?

There is another example that I want to touch on. I once read in a nature therapy activities book that it was encouraged therapists to build “teepees” to aid children with overcoming obstacles and facilitate connection to nature and safety. Such great intentions but without the recognition that this is cultural appropriation and the ripple effect this has with it’s connection to trauma, prohibition of cultural practices, and genocide (https://www.naspa.org/blog/quit-playing-indian-unearthing-indigenous-historical-trauma-around-halloween). The historical (and current) oppression and genocide of Indigenous people across the globe is a fact. As a white bodied therapist and person, I(we) have other means and tools to provide a child with opportunity to overcome obstacles, provide safety and connect and ground with nature without appropriating.


Some Options To Explore

You can cultivate the ability to be present without appropriation and while being respectful of the various roots which these ideas came from. When in doubt do some research and seek alternatives when necessary. If you are unable to seek alternatives, or find a method that is closer rooted to your own ancestry/culture than be informed and respectful of how you are navigating appropriated practices. I know this is messy work and we can keep muddling through it while doing our best together.


So, if you find yourself wanting to introduce a new therapeutic practice in your routine or wanting to incorporate a new personal routine – please take a pause and think…

  • Where did that routine or “therapeutic tool” come from?

  • What are you perpetuating by using it? Dominant Values?

  • Who are you silencing or ignoring by engaging in the new routine? and

  • Has it been adjusted to prop up Western colonial values and has its original meaning and foundation been eroded in doing so?

  • Who and what are you drawing attention to?

  • What alternatives do you have to work with?

  • There are some more ideas in this article here.


One Other Consideration Before You Leave...

Just like you might not know what all your ancestral wisdom, lore and practices are, don’t expect others too either; and don’t expect them to want you to join in their personal and communal journeys. Remember that it is no one’s duty to educate you on their beliefs but rather an honour when/if they do choose to. So please don’t ask others, especially people you don’t know, such personal information that might hold significant trauma and emotions for them to bring it all up on the spot for your “learning” benefit. This practice is harmful.


An option you do have is not to be afraid to connect with your roots and traditions. (Don’t feel like others need to partake in them and don’t turn them into another tool that you are going to use with clients.) Maybe, by learning about the wisdom and traditions of your ancestors you find a different connection you are looking for without taking someone else’s. There sometimes can be inner healing by connecting with our own ancestors, their various practices, and in acknowledging who we are.


If you are looking for more ways to connect with nature without appropriating, start by thinking about this read (and the many others referenced here and beyond) and go out in nature and be in it with respect and reverence for those who fell on the land that you stand as well as your ancestors’ journeys for you to get where you stand.


Please don’t take this article as an end all and be all. My work (both personal and profession) is ever evolving. Thankfully I am constantly learning to be a better human and hope to keep learning alongside with you. It is through these sometimes-difficult shared dialogues that we, myself included, continue to grow and build a better future for us all. I know that I am constantly still growing and invite feedback and shared dialogue in this topic to continue to grow and learn. As always, you can reach me at autumn@mossandferncounselling.com.


Take care,


Autumn


 

*I admit that I first wrote “don’t do it” but after further reflection the fact that we are so immersed in imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, land theft, genocide, pigmentocracy and white body supremacy, that even if we are actively making constant genuine attempts to not appropriate, we will still mess up. So, I changed the wording so that you don’t think that perfection is a goal when it is unattainable due to insidious dominant cultural norms we are entrenched in, but rather, so that it can be an inspiration to be relentless and get back up during this hard work after you inevitably mess up. Keep trying to break these faulty cultural norms for yourself and future generations!


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