When Joella Hogan moved to a tiny Yukon town and launched The Yukon Soaps Company, she had a mission.
Her goal: giving back to her grandmothers’ community and reconnecting its people to their culture and land. Soap was just the tool to do it.
“When I moved to Mayo to live on my traditional territory [in 2012], I envisioned reconnecting with my community, Elders, land and language,” says Hogan. “I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Elders learning our traditional way of life. Everything ties back to the land.”
Inside their traditional territories in Central Yukon lies one of the largest tracts of intact wilderness left in the world. Hogan takes her stewardship seriously, working with Elders to understand harvesting protocols such as never over-picking or leaving bare stems.
“We always give thanks while we are harvesting as well to show our respect to the plants,” says Hogan. “In some Indigenous languages, the word plant translates to ‘the ones who look after us.'”
Her latest line of soaps honours grandmothers and features local plants, such as wild yarrow, fireweed and Sʼáxtʼ that were hand harvested in the traditional way. She named the four soaps after the words for “grandmother” in four Indigenous languages spoken in the Yukon: Shëtso, Ēssu, Tłitłk’w and Ihtsu.
“There is so much more implied meaning within Indigenous languages than in English,” says Hogan. “What I hope, by including our language in our daily lives, into our activities and into our work, is that we develop a better understanding of our culture and create products with more love, more intention and more joy.”
“It didn’t take long for people in my community to start showing interest in what I was doing. It was when I came home to find local children had left baskets full of wild rose petals for my soaps that I knew I had made the right choice.
“We often say that we are ‘so much more than soap’ because the attention was given to the community, people and land. [It’s] everything that makes The Yukon Soaps Company unique.”
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“I really try to lead my business with the values and teachings that I have been taught. Our Elders give us these teachings so we can be strong Northern Tutchone people and live our lives in a good way. I try to uphold these values in my daily life and in my relationships with people and with the land.
“For my business, everything comes back to this. I use it as an indicator or measure in a way, the lens. So when we developed new labels, our employee workbook or our brand strategy, it all comes back to these values… caring, sharing, teaching and respect.”
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Looking to the Future
“I’m launching a new program in the spring, Dan K’ehte Natsedan: Learning Our People’s Way. I hired a team of Indigenous women to help build this land-based business development program. [It’s] designed to support aspiring entrepreneurs to engage in traditional harvesting practices, natural wellness product creation, and business development.”
Participants will be supported by Northern Tutchone Elders’ teachings, Indigenous life coaches, and hands-on mentorship from Hogan herself.
“[They] will have the skills, knowledge and Indigenous teachings necessary to develop a uniquely branded wellness product they can sell online and at a pop-up shop event at The Yukon Soaps Company store.”
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Images courtesy of The Yukon Soaps Company.
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