For centuries, American and European corporations have been bastardizing and profiting from the ceremonial plants and drugs used by Indigenous cultures in the Americas. Tobacco, cocoa, and cannabis are just a few of the substances that have been removed from their ceremonial roots and uses while retaining the cachet of Indigenous cultures. Now, history may be repeating itself in the emerging psychedelics space. Companies are monopolizing and patenting substances while lobbying policymakers against the wholesale decriminalization of these drugs.
This is a clear violation of Indigenous rights and a continuation of the historical trauma inflicted on Indigenous people. Marlena Robbins, an Indigenous member of the Diné (Navajo) nation, believes that companies should acknowledge Indigenous people as the original holders of these medicines and acknowledge the historical trauma that European Americans have inflicted on Indigenous people. Companies should not be profiting off of Indigenous knowledge without giving back to the communities that have been so deeply impacted by colonialism.
It is essential that we recognize the importance of Indigenous knowledge and the role it has played in the development of modern medicine. We must also ensure that Indigenous people are given the respect and recognition they deserve for their contributions. It is time for companies to start giving back to Indigenous communities and to stop profiting off of their knowledge without acknowledging their history.
Want to learn more? This Daily Beast article describes the practice – and problems – that arise when we coopt native traditions, for better or worse.