Chelsey Luger - The Whiteness of the Wellness Industry
Though I have never thought about it this way, movement is medicine. When I began researching Chelsey Luger, I started by reading through her website. A particular concept written by Luger rang true for me:
“Indigenizing movement will lead to stronger individuals, stronger communities, and stronger tribal nations.”
Luger spoke with Matriarch Movement podcast host Shayla Oulette Stonechild to unpack this concept of wellness from an Indigenous perspective, including the connection to family, ancestral teachings, and matriarchy.
Who is Chelsey Luger?
Luger is an Indigenous matriarch who has turned her passion for wellness into a movement, a business, and a passion project. She has a graduate degree in digital media and works as a freelance writer, with her work being published in internationally recognized publications.
Luger comes from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and is now based in Arizona. As a multifaceted wellness advocate, she is also the co-founder and editor of Well For Culture, a grassroots wellness and media platform focussing on what she calls, “the seven circles of wellness”.
As I explored the Well For Culture website, I felt a deep sense of inspiration to get up and move. I’ve never thought of movement as a form of medicine before–then it dawned on me: this is Luger’s gift. She has the ability to motivate Indigenous peoples to reconnect with our ancestral knowledge and lifeways, to channel our inner strength and protect our wellbeing. I will admit that I have often turned away from the wellness world, due to white settler appropriation and harmful stereotyping. But Luger offers up something different; she looks to the medicine wheel as a lens in which to view the world. And to her, this work is more than just a job.
“I wanted to use my education for something more than just a paycheque.” Luger explained.
Connecting Wellness to Indigeneity
The Well For Culture website reads: revitalizing optimal physical wellness for the evolution of indigenous nationhood.
This phrase captures the complex relationship that Indigenous peoples have with health; coming from an ancestral line of Métis people who, like so many other Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, were discriminated against and excluded from opportunities, falling into a place of unhealthy comfort and stasis has been too easy for me. It may be difficult to mobilize after long periods of staying still (like during the pandemic), but if we can remove the idea of wellness from an individualistic lens, a deeper importance emerges.
Just as Luger says, movement really is medicine, and stepping into a greater sense of health is an empowering move for Indigenous peoples. It is even a form of decolonization and re-Indigenization.
Wellness can be a challenge though, especially for mothers. Yet this is when we need our healthy ways of being the most. When speaking to Stonechild, Luger provided a new lens through which to view wellness in motherhood.
“I am well because of my children,” Luger explained. It can be hard to balance things like working out and eating well, but it’s crucial to begin viewing these challenges differently. For example, Luger told Stonechild that she starts every morning with gratitude and focuses on the parts of motherhood that bring her joy, though it hasn’t always been easy.
“Motherhood is also a skill, you get better at it as you go,” Luger said.
The Two Worlds of Wellness
Because Luger’s work is focussed on Indigenization of movement, she is unapologetic for her culture and lifestyle. Just as she tells Stonechild, there have always been Native people leading the way in wellness.
“I feel grateful for the people who came before me,” Luger said. Though we should center wellness in our communities, there are still important movements happening outside of Indigenous culture. Unfortunately, being an Indigenous person in the mainstream wellness world can be difficult because like so many other industries, Indigenous representation is lacking.
Ironically but not surprisingly, much of the mainstream wellness world takes theories and practices from Indigenous culture and traditions. Luger explained that appropriation is very common, which can sometimes make us feel alone and isolated when we step into these circles.
“In those moments when you face discrimination, or when you face cultural appropriation or whatever it may be, its an emotional experience. We’ve all been there as Native people.” Luger described feeling angry and anxious as the only Indigenous person in a wellness circle, when many of the practices are appropriating ancient teachings.
It can be difficult to stay grounded in these types of situations, but Luger works to practice mindfulness to stay grounded in her identity and wellbeing.
One aspect of wellness circles that has always been difficult for me is the idea of perfection. Social media is a series of highlight reels and although we all know this, it can still be difficult to imagine wellness “gurus” having an off-day.
Luger spoke honestly and openly with Stonechild about how wellness is not a perfect linear process.
“I certainly feel out of balance...” Luger said. “What I hope that folks recognize is to just be gentle with yourself when it comes to wellness, and to know that you’re not going to achieve this state of perfect being.”
“You can feel pretty well balanced. I think when I am an Elder I will be doing pretty alright,” Luger laughed.
She says that it’s okay to feel out of balance. In fact, it’s human. When Luger feels that way, she starts small, knowing that even moving her body for a few minutes can make her feel better.
“Start with five minutes and usually what will happen, is it will turn into more,” Luger explained.
Even then, some things can still impede our health journeys. A common theme that we have seen from many Indigenous women that have joined us on the podcast is the negative impact of technology and social media.
“Unplugging is a big one for me,” Luger said.
For more insight into wellness, check out our recent podcast episode: