The Native American Herbalists Next Door


Parents and children, culture and commerce, need and want – these natural dichotomies rarely find fertile common ground, especially wherever they meet in one of the most divisive sociopolitical periods in recorded history. However, for Nick Ohitika Najin and his wife Akelai Brownwith their intrepid and ingenious daughter, Haleakala Brownthese seemingly disparate dicots bloomed in a rare symbiosis atop a shared ground of impending demands and an unwavering commitment to honoring Indigenous heritage.

Like so many others in the Denver area and beyond, Nick and Akelai have felt the pandemic’s powerful strain on their jobs and finances. Like a Mni Coujou Lakota & Kanaka-Maoli family, their community has been particularly affected. Before the pandemic, I had a regular full-time job and did some sewing on the side. It was the early days of corn maiden designs“, shared Akelai. Once Covid hit, Akelai lost his job and it was time to get creative on how to carry on. Corn Maiden suddenly moved front and center.

As an Indigenous artist collective, Corn Maiden Designs focuses its broad-spectrum, generative lens primarily on clothing, beading and other wearable skills that weave ancient Indigenous threads into contemporary designs. It would be pretty impressive and bespoke if it was the only thing this industrious family did, but it’s not by far. Nick and Akelai’s family has now forged of them distinct native brands shaping their share of the Denver market into something delicious, unique and truly inspiring. It’s on the second of them, Lakota Body Care, the first Native American soap company in the state of Colorado, that we are going to focus this first of a two-part series highlighting the two remarkable brands.

Few would disagree that, apart from the globally enforced stillness, the art of active and curious childhood is being lost in the technological age. Luckily, Haleakala Brown’s mind and heart aren’t from that era and staying away has helped her stand much taller than many three times her age when it comes to work ethic. and an innate sense of possibility. When 9-year-old Haleakala requested gym lessons during quarantine, which simply wasn’t possible with her parents’ tight budget, Lakota Body Care emerged not just as the clever solution to Haleakala’s quarantine dilemma, but as a holistic, handcrafted chest of hope for the post-pandemic era.

Beginning by stringing beads for dangling earrings which were then stabilized and secured with hooks by Akelai, Haleakala posted her initial constructions on a very receptive Instagram and met with instant demand – not just from loyal customers. ‘Akelai who had always supported Corn Maiden Designs, but from strangers who simply saw the undeniable beauty of objects that blended so many different loves: mother-daughter, ancestral-patriotic and artistic-ambitious.

Taking the approximately $150 she earned from that first parcel of lovingly crafted jewelry, Haleakala and her mother bought the materials to make melt and pour soap, the kind where you can add your own ingredients such as sage. or sweetgrass. Their first batch of soap sold out in less than an hour and a truly authentic family business was formally forged. Nick, a U.S. Army veteran, was able to quit his job to pursue Lakota Body Care full-time within six months of that first chance sale and, with both parents proudly involved in day-to-day operations. of the company, points out Akelai, “It was really my daughter’s self-determination that started Lakota Body Care.”

Lakota Body Care promotes better outer and inner health through energy teas, skin serums, foot baths and sugar scrubs that marry the sensual with the spiritual. Corn Maiden Designs and Lakota Body Care are Indigenous, Veteran and women-led businesses. They have each positioned themselves to pass on ancestral wisdom to younger generations and outside cultures in a sustainable and organic way. While it may be difficult for some to feel good about spending on personal care at a time when monetary constraints are felt so massively around the world, when the purchases in question harbor so many vital threads of underserved American voices and life-saving attitudes. on what we all owe to the global ecosystems that sustain our lives, it’s less about indulgence and more about introspective inclusion.

While the growing volume of conversations around sustainability and fair use of resources in popular culture may seem new to many, Native American societies of all persuasions have always been deeply rooted in a unique connection, not just with the story. ground of our country itself, but to a genealogical background philosophically rooted in respect for the natural world. Akelai sees the immediate success of Lakota Body Care as being completely open and welcoming to all interested parties, however:

“I do thinks what we do is a natural outcrop of our past and anyone interested in this kind of awareness can benefit from it. We are even attracting a certain type of customer, greener and more sustainable people. Also, only people who love native culture tend to want to support native businesses.

Expressing deep gratitude for being part of the kind of progressively inclusive atmosphere that Denver is known for, Akelai also points out that Lakota Body Care came into being during a nationwide renaissance for Indigenous businesses that saw a rise in businesses run by natives in almost every state. There is a huge sense of connection between Indigenous business communities, regardless of one’s tribal affiliation, and information about opportunities and events is easily shared between the groups. Akelai acknowledges the visible and significant support of the Oglala Sioux Tribe when it comes to Lakota body care.

303 Magazine, 303 Fashion, Dana Miller, Native American Herbalists, Lakota Body Care, Corn Maiden Designs

With Denver’s geographic location lending it so automatically to the proximity of the natives, the Mile High City was largely receptive to both the merchandise and the message of Lakota Body Care. Now Nick and Akelai are actively seeking resources for local and national expansion. Haleakala turns 11 in November and she’s still brimming with new and fabulous ideas that demand a bigger and bigger forum. Having been inexplicably denied every conceivable grant to small businesses that is aimed directly at serving their niche, Nick and Akelai hope to connect with a business advisor or other partner with the kind of practical and tax experience that can help them. to develop in a responsible and informed manner. .

Potential Denver-based investors or partners are strongly encouraged to reach out directly because even the use of a physical space could exponentially improve the reach of Lakota Body Care clients within the local community. Akelai notes:

“We would love to meet interested customers or potential partners who are interested in what we do, and we look forward to showcasing our products in such a special environment.”

Please search for Part II of ” “Native American Herbalists Next Door” featuring our in-depth conversation with Nick Ohitika Najin from Lakota Body Care on the philosophy and deep meaning of his family’s Indigenous brands in October.

All the photographs of Jason Sin.


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