The owner and chief executive officer of Up the Hill At Loakin, an Indigenous herbal company in Chase, B.C., will be conducting medicine walks on Secwe̓pemc territory in the Shuswap this summer.
June Reeves, a medicine woman, and certified herbalist, created her company in 2012. She began working part-time on her business and two years ago she moved into full-time developing an Indigenous product line for health and well-being.
In an effort to create quality products, the Secwe̓pemc women and a member of the Neskonlith band launched an Indigenous herbal company and shares her herbal medicine knowledge through medicine walks that will be offered at the end of July.
The Beginning of “Up the Hill at Loakin”
With over nine years of experience working on her company and a lifetime of experience with traditional herbal medicines, Reeves developed several wild-harvested personal care products. She has created medicine lotions, like Devil’s Club which is known as a painkiller to help arthritis and to help heal skin conditions such as eczema.
Her anti-aging skincare line is currently in the development and testing stage, but will be available soon. She said she’s been busy harvesting locally to develop the line to avoid wholesale herbs. Her oils are currently infusing and will be available in August for sampling only.
Indigenous entrepreneurship and COVID-19 challenges and changes
Utilizing the knowledge passed down from her Ki7-ce (mother), Reeves works closely with clients and often makes house calls, but as the pandemic hit the way she conducted business changed.
With COVID-19 Up the Hill at Loakin went online to sell products. She also moved away from trade shows and workshops to teach through social media videos about Indigenous herbal plants in the Shuswap-Secwepémc territory.
Reeves financed her company on her own, opting out of going through financial institutions, but said accessing funding for more training for certification has been a struggle as an Indigenous entrepreneur.
“I think it may be different for us as we don’t have access to the information that may be available to non-Indigenous entrepreneurs,” she said, adding that one of the biggest struggles is accessing help to set up the digital media and technology aspects of her company.
Like many entrepreneurs, she struggles with time-management and devoting time to her business, she’s very involved with her community and balancing her family duties.
She said what she’s most proud of is being in contact with the Indigenous people in her area and sharing her knowledge.
“To have their knowledge grow about all of the different medicines that are available to us in our own local area, where they don’t have to go to the store to buy their products, they can go out into their front yard or their backyard. I get really excited about that,” she said.
Outdoor Medicine Walks the History of Herbal use and what people should know
This July, Reeves will guide outdoor medicine walks that will include a Secwépemc territory map with traditional land acknowledgments, a herbal sample, and printed plant information. COVID-19 procedures will be in place as participants learn about plant medicines and their uses.
Currently, it’s Saskatoon berry season, which marks the beginning of summer. Reeves said she can recall her mother gathering the berries which she would dry to sustain them throughout the winter.
Reeves has gathered raspberry leaves, and acknowledged she’s careful when gathering.
“When harvesting raspberry leaves I’m very careful not to just rip every leaf off the stem,” she said. “I’m very selective going to at least every second plant so the plant doesn’t die from what I’m doing.”
Unfortunately, sharing knowledge of Indigenous medicines online can create a higher demand from non-Indigenous people which can endanger the natural production of herbs and plants.
Sweetgrass, used by some Indigenous people to smudge and purify themselves, is now endangered. It has become a commercial product made popular by those who may be lacking in knowledge of its original intent.
To help spread knowledge, the walk is open to all participants as they will learn how to honour the land and plants as she guides them on how to connect with the energy of the medicines.
She said she encourages participants to explore the energy of the land.
“[I’m] hoping that will increase their awareness of the importance of respecting the land,” she said. “And respecting everything that comes off the land including water.”
There is a cost to attend the walks and interested individuals can reach out to her directly for the full details by texting (250)318-3806 or by email at [email protected]