Parents with Purpose: Indigenous Harvester Leigh Joseph

Leigh Joseph cedar harvesting in Squamish with daughter, Ava, and son, Jake.

Through her company, The Wild Botanicals, Leigh Joseph marries traditional indigenous knowledge and education in ethnobotony with marketing savvy, resulting in a line of gorgeous beauty products. Ingredients are harvested by hand and the line is made in small batches, then each product is given a Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) name to connect it to the cultural knowledge that inspired it. In her work, Joseph also gives workshops to teach others to harvest from the land. Currently based in Dawson City with her husband and kids (age two and four), Joseph is working on her PhD while growing her business. To say she has a lot going on would be an understatement. We wanted to find out what her work means to her, and why being connected to the land is important.

Leigh and Ava finding chocolate lilies.

How does making these products tie you to the land and your culture?

Because the business is based on wild harvested ingredients, the necessity is to get out on the land and harvest, which I love getting to do with my children. I’m able to harvest these plants to make things, and teach sustainable ways to do so as I do — whether out with my kids or teaching groups. I find that the business is a really good way to offer a more contemporary way to translate the traditional knowledge I have been taught.

How do people respond to your products when they learn their backstory?

I’ve had a lot of support regarding where the business is coming from, and have found it generates interesting conversation and questions. We’ve had a good reaction to the marrying of traditional knowledge and contemporary high quality products. I think the fact there is a story behind each product, and each one has a traditional Squamish word — or name — associated with it offers more context and experience when using them.

What do you hope that people will come away with when they come to one of your workshops?

Inspiration to get outside and harvest, and to be creative in building a relationship with the land through plants. That can take the form of creating something to eat or maybe creating a medicine or a material they’ll then learning how to weave with, or make a plant based dye. If people learn and are inspired to take the next step or experience it themselves, it starts to build a relationship with our natural environment. We need to feel that connection.

Leigh’s kids saying thank you to the cedar tree.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your work?

Geography. Getting anything shipped here is quite expensive, and then I’ve had the issue of things freezing when they go out on the mail trucks. For a while I couldn’t understand how people’s products were arriving smashed when I was packaging them so well — I felt horrible about it — but when I spoke to the company I was buying the bottles from they asked if there was any chance that they were getting frozen. I assumed that all the mail trucks were insulated but then found out they weren’t — and we had a spell of -30 degree weather. The people at the post office have now sorted it so I can tuck my packages in an area of the truck that doesn’t freeze, which is great.

Also, I’m having to learn a lot about the business side of things. I’m taking a lot of online workshops in the evenings. The learning curve is really steep but it’s interesting and I’m enjoying it.

What advice would you give to other moms wanting to start a business?

I think one of the most important things is to listen to the instinct within you for something that you are passionate about. Don’t be too quick to push it aside in the name of all the other things going on in our busy lives, look for ways to integrate it into your parenting or your free time. For your own sanity, maybe you have to wait for the kids to go to bed before you can delve into it a bit more, or maybe it’s something you can do with the kids. It is important to feed that creative part of yourself. By doing this I’ve been able to draw more patience and be more present in my parenting. It really helps to have the time to delve into things that really inspire me, and get my brain going on a track I am really passionate about and interested in.

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