Styawat / Leigh Joseph is an ethnobotanist and the founder of skincare brand Sḵwálwen Botanicals. As a heart-centered person, she feels things deeply. This has led her to contemplate both the traumas that her Indigenous family and community have lived through as well as the resilience embodied by her ancestors. It is this awareness that inspires her work with healing and her dedication to Indigenous teachings.
From the time I was small, I have felt most at home in the natural world. Whether playing for hours in the garden building tiny worlds amongst the flowers as a child, sitting at the edge of the ocean contemplating life as a teenager, or finding my way home to the traditional territory of my Squamish ancestors as an adult, I have always sought ways to connect to a place.
Nature inspires me, and time spent harvesting with family feeds my spirit. I feel nourished when I care for myself through plant foods and medicines. I am also a plant nerd. I love learning about plant life cycles, habitat, and identification, and my spring and summer seasons are guided by when certain plants grow leaves, bloom, or provide fruit.
This love of botany inadvertently led me on a path of cultural connection, deepening my identity as an Indigenous woman. As I grow into myself, understanding that my relationship to plants and to the land is integral to who I am, I am moved to share this knowledge in creative ways. By contributing my voice and perspectives as an Indigenous woman, I am finding ways to lean into my authority and occupy spaces where Indigenous women are still not present in large numbers such as academia and business.
Harvesting kw’enikwáy (kwa-in-i-kway), or cottonwood, each spring with my children, I can hear them quietly whisper thank you to the trees as they pick the fragrant leaf buds. This is one of my favorite experiences. Knowing that my ancestors took part in this exact harvest for thousands of years and honoring the knowledge that these practices were stripped from my grandmother and great-grandmother’s generations, it is essential to me to support the process of cultural reclamation and healing through my life’s work.
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