An innovative Indigenous solution for smokeless smudging

Misty Ireland invented a way to smudge indoors — even in hospitals — but now she has to face another taboo: a tradition that frowns upon selling medicines

This is part four of Land Crafted: a five-part video series exploring entrepreneurship in northern Canada.

Smoke swirls up from the abalone shell in Amanda Baton’s hand. It hangs in the sunlit living room as she walks through the space, purifying it with the burning sage. The ritual aspect of smudging, as much as any properties of the smoke, has helped her stay sober following years of struggling with addiction — but today, an addictions counsellor herself, she can’t practice smudging in her Yellowknife, N.W.T., office.

“We’re not allowed to have anything that can smoke, that has that scent,” she says. “Some people think it’s too overwhelming; they have a sensitivity to it.”

On the other side of Great Slave Lake, in Hay River, Misty Ireland has been working on a solution to that problem for years. Jumping from hotel to hotel, hospital to hospital as her brother and father fell ill, Ireland was frustrated at her inability to smudge in those spaces. “No smoking” signs are everywhere today, and the rule extends to sage and other plants burned for ceremonies.

She started applying her knowledge of essential oils to producing sprays that could mimic some of the scents she couldn’t produce the traditional way.

“Based on stories that elders have shared with me, I started to develop some sprays that we could use when we can’t burn a smudge,” she says.

Misty Ireland’s business, Dene Roots, is taking off — bringing Dene tradition with it. Photo: Jimmy Thomson

The hobby soon became a business, Dene Roots, with the blessing of elders in her community. That support was essential to Ireland, who is sensitive to the tradition of not selling medicines.

That practice has become common, especially through platforms such as Etsy, where stores with names like “ModernVoodooShop” with no Indigenous ownership sell products associated with Indigenous traditional medicine like bundles of sage, cedar and sweetgrass. Ireland is a rare instance of an Indigenous person participating in that economy, in part because of the stigma around commerce.

Her mother, Margaret Ireland, dismisses outright the notion that Indigenous people have not traditionally participated in trade, pointing to the extensive trade routes throughout North America, and to the custom of offering gifts to healers.

“I know in the past these things have to be given, but it’s not just totally given,” she says. “You do need to pay that person something. And it’s usually tobacco or whatever you have on hand at the time.”

Ireland’s products have evolved beyond smudging spray into other essential-oil based scents intended to re-create the effect of being outside or to elicit particular moods.

Business is brisk. Driving across the frozen Hay River to the K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve, Ireland is brimming with excitement. In the backseat of her car are 100 bottles of “all spruced up” spray, a scent she designed to replicate time spent outdoors or at a cabin, chopping wood. It’s her biggest order yet.

“We live in a really fast-paced society, and a lot of people live in busy bustling communities, towns, cities full of cement and they don’t get to live amongst the wild trees,” she says.

She believes helping people reconnect to their surroundings and to each other could start with something as simple as a scent.

“And it’s just the beginning.”

New title

You’ve read all the way to the bottom of this article. That makes you some serious Narwhal material.

And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 3,500 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

The lessons for British Columbia in Alaska’s epic Bristol Bay sockeye run

Every summer, biologist Daniel Schindler walks hundreds of kilometers up and down the Wood River in Alaska, counting red and green sockeye salmon homing to...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help power our ad-free, non‑profit journalism
The Narwhal has arrived in Ontario!

Guess what? We just launched an Ontario bureau. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.