Why buy native ingredients from Aboriginal owned businesses? There are a number of important reasons why you should buy native ingredients and botanicals from Aboriginal owned businesses!
While there are some very practical reasons (which we will cover in Part 2) for buying from Aboriginal owned businesses who use native ingredients and botanicals. In this blog post we will focus on some of the philosophical and ethical reasons for making conscious purchases of native botanicals.
For many years now, Aboriginal people have received a limited share of the world’s interest in our native foods and botanicals through the native foods and botanicals industry. This is especially true of the skincare and beauty sector where native botanicals appear in many products developed by businesses not owned by Aboriginal people.
Buying from Aboriginal owned businesses and buying Aboriginal owned brands supports Aboriginal people, families and communities. It allows Aboriginal people the opportunity to create economic independence through the use of our traditional native foods and botanicals.
Macadamia is an Australian native ingredient which has a global market and is grown around the world.
Why buy native ingredients from Aboriginal owned businesses?
You see, over the last 70,000+ years we shaped the landscape through our activities, we learnt, we discovered, and we used native plants as our food-source and our medicines. This knowledge and use of these plants became part of our culture and our lore. Ceremonies were conducted to ensure plentiful supply of these plants and we managed and respected ‘country’ to ensure this supply.
When you understand our cultural connection to these foods and botanicals over thousands of years, you get a sense of just how special our connection is. We wouldn’t be here without them! This is our birthright as Aboriginal people to be able to use these plants and connect to our culture.
Through the process of colonisation, people used and documented our knowledge of our botanicals for their personal use or to develop businesses. An example is the Macadamia, a traditional food of Aboriginal people in north Queensland.Tthis food was appropriated for commercial production in the 1880’s when Australian seeds were planted in Hawaii. Hawaii was one of the biggest growers of Macadamia outside Australia, buy over the last decade South Africa is now the biggest producer of macadamia in the world.
In more recent times, the incorporation of our botanicals into beauty products has exploded across global markets, with small businesses and global corporates all vying for the next Australian botanical to use in their products. These businesses effectively dominate the market, taking most of the available pie leaving Aboriginal owned business with the pie crumbs. This is mainly because much of our involvement in the sector is as the suppliers of the raw ingredients – the actual plants or seeds.
Many of these non-Aboriginal businesses incorporating our botanicals into their products have removed our connection to them. The ingredients incorporated into their products are now just that, an ingredient to include into their beauty products with some nice properties to market. They have no tangible connection to us (apart from our inherent cultural connection) and that is problematic. Because the one thing these products do, is compete with our businesses and make it harder for us to ensure an unbroken connection to these plants and country.
These ingredients mean a transactional purchase and leverage little social value. Not only do they not direct any value to Aboriginal communities and people, but they absolutely harm the small and fledgling Aboriginal-owned economy in the beauty sector and the businesses, traditional-owner and community enterprises who are building this sector.
Over the years we have seen many non-Aboriginal businesses describe a connection to Aboriginal people and our use of native botanicals in their marketing of their products when there was no tangible connection or any significant Aboriginal businesses involved in their supply chain. Equally, we have seen businesses ‘pass themselves off’ as having a connection, when they don’t.
Many businesses will shape their packaging, product lines and names, business names, artwork and language on their websites to imply a meaningful connection to Aboriginal businesses or communities when there is no demonstrated or verified connection. This is to make a product seem more authentic, seem more connected to Aboriginal culture and use of these plants when the business is not owned by Aboriginal people.
Some businesses may use Aboriginal businesses and organisations in their supply chain and promote this connection with these suppliers to bolster their message, however the information around these relationships are not transparent and even murky. This type of messaging is not consistent across all their suppliers, only the Aboriginal suppliers.
Certainly, it must be stated that there are non-Aboriginal businesses out there doing the right thing. They are developing their supply chains with Aboriginal-owned suppliers, being respectful not to look like an Aboriginal-owned business, they are creating reconciliation action plans to be transparent about their activities, but there is still some way to go to create better more meaningful, equitable and verifiable supply-chains and this is a responsibility of sector as a whole, not just individual businesses.
So the next time you go searching for a product with a native botanical such as lemon myrtle or kakadu plum, or you see a product that includes these ingredients, and you are thinking about purchasing it think about what you support by doing this.
Are you buying it because their marketing is slick, the packaging is uber-cool and eco-friendly? Do you really understand and do they communicated what the back-story is of their connection to Aboriginal people, businesses or culture before your buy it? Because you could support an Aboriginal-owned* beauty business like Mwerre and buy this ingredient in one of their products and know that it is a meaningful way to contribute to social, economic, and cultural well-being of First peoples while contributing to protecting their birthright.
Why buy native ingredients from Aboriginal owned businesses? Well buying from Aboriginal-owned businesses that use native botanicals is not just a transaction; it is a meaningful way to contribute to social, economic, and cultural well-being while supporting the birthright of Aboriginal people to continue to be connected to Australian botanicals that kept our culture and communities healthy and alive.
*Find Aboriginal-owned businesses nationally through Supply Nation