Leigh Joseph is a member of the Squamish First Nation. As an ethnobotanist, researcher and community activist, her aim is to contribute to the cultural knowledge renewal in connection to Indigenous plant foods and medicines.
As part of her effort to highlight Indigenous knowledge in a contemporary setting, she founded Skwalwen Botanicals, a small batch botanical skin care business that harvests ingredients in a sustainable and respectful manner.
We caught up with Leigh to get the lowdown on this unique and fascinating business.
How did Skwalwen Botanicals start?
I suppose the origin of Skwalwen comes from my background as an ethnobotanist, someone who studies the relationships between people and plants. It’s been a way for me to connect personally with my own culture and find my own path to healing and cultural connection. More recently, I realized the hands-on parts of working with plants was really something that inspired me and brought on a lot of creativity. It manifested itself as different recipes that incorporate wild, harvested and indigenous plants into health and wellness products and skincare products.
One of the main reasons I do this is I’m looking to offer opportunities for re-connection to Indigenous plant knowledge. First and foremost, for Indigenous people in communities, but there’s also such a broad interest in that area of knowledge that it definitely appeals to a wider audience.
What is the meaning behind the name Skwalwen?
Skwalwen is a Squamish word that doesn’t translate directly into English. I guess it would be a spiritual heart, or your essence of being. It’s a smart concept and sort of a guideline for how to be in the world. When I first started this business, I did so under the name Wild Botanical. About two years into it, I decided to rebrand under Skwalwen. It really unified things like my mission and the fact that it’s founded in the Squamish language and culture.
What are some of your most popular products?
Our KALKÁY line, which translates as Wild Rose, has a facial oil and toner that are super popular. Our cranberry facial bar and serums are top sellers too. And then we have the Sweetgrass and Sage cream, which is really popular but I’m currently reformulating and it will be available again in the coming months.
In terms of our salves, they’re also really popular, they’re at a little lower price point and people really utilize them for a whole wide variety of applications as well.
Why do you think it’s so important to support local small businesses?
There are so many reasons! I think, as a society, we’re often so disconnected from the source of where so many things we rely on come from. Learning about the small local businesses and their various expertise and knowledge that they bring to the craft – it’s such an enriching way to connect to the origins and the story of their products and how they were produced.
In the time of COVID, as businesses see the impacts on their supply chains further afield, whether it’s their product or materials, they’re more vulnerable to situations like we’re in right now. The more we can focus on our local economies, support local jobs, and source our products locally, the better we can connect with people and get through this together.
What is your favourite place in BC?
I would have to say Squamish, where I’m located right now. For me, there’s a layer of cultural connection and family. I haven’t lived here my whole life. In fact, I’m relatively new here. But just spending time in Squamish, looking at landmarks like the Chief mountain, or the Tantalus Range, and just envisioning that my ancestors lived on this same site, they looked at the same horizon – and to me that brings a whole new layer of meaning to Squamish.
Of course, I love the outdoor recreation, the natural beauty, but the cultural aspect is such an important thing to me.
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We respectfully acknowledge our place of work is within the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and that we serve the Peoples of the many Nations throughout British Columbia.