On November 13, 2017, the American Herbalist Guild received a letter requesting that we remove reference to the late Victoria Fortner in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion award. In the letter, it was brought to our attention that due to disputes regarding her Shawnee heritage, the association of Victoria Fortner with this award was seen as a form of cultural appropriation by some members of the Shawnee tribe. The AHG Council, Officers, and Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion reviewed the request and related documentation. The AHG changed the name of the award and drafted and published a letter through a collaborative process expressing how to move forward as a growing organization. We published an Open Letter detailing our stance and commitments.
Our actions have been met with passionate support as well as some concern and have caused tension within the herbal community, all of which will be considered in our steps forward. We also acknowledge that Victoria Fortner is loved and respected by many, and that this situation has caused heartache for her family, friends and colleagues. And while the naming of the award was under review, Victoria Fortner’s many contributions to the herbal community were not.
Just prior to the end of the year, a document (part of the information considered by the genealogist who originally approached us) sparked controversy and debate. Taking all into consideration, we immediately responded by asking others in the tribal, federal and state arenas to help us better understand the contrary information we had received. After exhaustive research we feel confident continuing with our actions as defined in the Open Letter.
Our direction moving forward as an organization is clear. Ethically, we cannot separate social justice from health and wellness, especially within herbal medicine. It brings us joy to see so many new and long term members standing with us through these growing pains, even if we make mistakes along the way. We hope that by cultivating more awareness and responsiveness to issues impacting herbal communities, while continuing the work we have always been dedicated to, the AHG will further embody its vision and mission. We continue to welcome suggestions from the AHG and broader community as we move forward. We recognize the importance of ongoing dialogue and deep listening as part of this process, including accepting guidance from the Shawnee and other Native American tribal members around appropriation of their identities and cultures.
We thank our members and community for contributing to the conversation, and helping us move forward together.