A season for soap in the Rocky Mountains - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

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A season for soap in the Rocky Mountains

A woman gathers lichen in the forest to make soap out of
Lauren forages moss and old man's beard in Alberta's Eastern Slopes. Photo: Arsan Buffin

Lauren Moberly-Lightning is a Cree-Métis woman who resides on the cooperative of Grande Cache Lake in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

She is a wife, mother and entrepreneur who lives on the lands of her ancestors. Over time, Lauren has worked hard on her cosmetics business, Fallen Mountain Soap. She handmakes artisanal soaps to respect the traditional ways of knowing.

Lauren forages for the ingredients in her soaps on her traditional territory. When foraging and harvesting she offers tobacco to Mother Earth as a thank you for providing her what she needs. Reciprocity is an important part of her culture.

“I’m inspired by cultural teachings and my family’s rich legacy. All living things have a spirit and we must honour that spirit. I take only what I need, and leave enough for new growth,” says Lauren.

A woman kneels close to the ground gathering small leaves of Labrador tea
Lauren forages muskeg/Labrador tea. Photo: Randy Karakuntie

Each plant has a season. Lauren is careful to only use what she needs to allow Mother Earth time to renew herself and maintain a healthy balance.

There are many edible and medicinal plants within the home of Aseniwuche Winewak Nation (Rocky Mountain Cree) whose territory includes seven widely dispersed parcels located north and south of the Hamlet of Grande Cache along an 80-kilometer-long (50-mile-long) stretch of Highway 40.

Oils and essence need to be combined. It took Lauren almost a year to settle on a recipe she was happy with. She adds locally foraged ingredients into her soaps by using the old ways that she was taught from her elders and community members. These plants include wild tobacco, sweetgrass and cedar.

Once the mixture of soap is completed, Lauren pours it into molds. The soap then cures. She explains that this is a very important part of the process. From stories in her community of past family soap makers, she heard tales when the homemade soaps burned and stung the skin. This is because the curing process was not completely understood.

Lauren has listened to the stories told by her community. She combines some of the old ways then adds in her skill and expertise for a perfect soap.

It is within these stories that Lauren has gained valuable knowledge and guidance. One thing that has remained the same is that she, like her ancestors, creates soap as a way to give back to her community and others.

Even the simplest parts of her soap making process have meaning. This forgotten family tradition has many teachings and Lauren is able to share her family story while embracing her culture. 

According to Lauren, each bar is an act of reconciliation that helps preserve traditional knowledge. Wrapped in recycled materials, foraged from the land and labeled both in Cree and in English, this simple soap merges two world views. It represents necessity and existence.

Lauren Moberly-Lightning's Fallen Mountain soap
Every bar of soap is designed and handcrafted by Lauren, from the mixing of the oils to the branding. Photo: Wanetta Karakuntie

After the soaps have been curing for a week or two and are hard enough, Lauren’s Fallen Mountain brand is pressed onto each bar. This is done with a custom soap stamp and tapping it with a rubber mallet onto each bar.

It is amazing to think that there can be so much put into one bar of soap. Lauren’s culture is woven together with her traditions, oral stories, her connection to the land and the seasons within it. For her it is about survival, the land is within the soap.

Lauren of Fallen Mountain soap with her finished soap
Lauren holds a bar of her hand-crafted Fallen Mountain Osâwi Sôniyâw soap. Photo: Randy Karakuntie

Lauren holds her bestselling Osâwi Sôniyâw or Golden Pineapple soap bar. Osâwi Cree for yellow and Sôniyâw is money.

Lauren says, “I’ve never seen the ocean before or been to an exotic tropical place so I created a soap that looks like gold and smells like a tropical paradise. Fallen Mountain has granted me the opportunity to express my culture and traditions but it’s also been a way for me to express myself and showcase pieces of my life and personality.”

Find Fallen Mountain soaps on Facebook, Instagram and online, as well as in select retailers across the province.

This article was written by Renee Fehr, one of Y2Y’s 2022 story gatherers. These four unique people are sharing personal stories, memories and places related to the special landscapes of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, often perspectives that are underrepresented in mainstream media. Read other stories in this series.

We are grateful for the financial support provided by Alberta Ecotrust and The Calgary Foundation for our story gatherer series.