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Native Naturals spa line draws from traditional fragrances

NORMAN, Okla. - Mary DeHaas, Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux, grew up learning how to make homemade soaps and scrubs with the help of her ethnobotanist mother.

Little did she know at the time that her quaint hobby would someday blossom into Native Naturals - American Indian Spa Line. The chokecherry and sweetgrass line of shampoos, conditioners, lotions and soaps tops the sales list.

As a side note to the most discerning of noses, those familiar with the scents of indigenous plants from the northern Plains should be pleasantly surprised by the authentic fragrance of the sweetgrass and chokecherry products.

Mary and her husband, Keith DeHaas, Standing Rock Lakota Sioux, are no strangers to the business world. Many pow wow aficionados may recognize the DeHaas via their popular Rez Dog Clothing Co. line. They founded the company in 1996.

To boot, they are the creative minds behind the annual American Indian Beauties calendar.

Like many small companies, they started their business without the help of small-business loans or grant money.

The concept for Native Naturals was born out of a trip to Eureka Springs, Ark., in the Ozark Mountains. They started brainstorming ideas for a spa line when they visited a spa shop that allowed customers to make their own products.

''We were reflecting on how there was a void in Indian country as far as Native products went,'' Mary said.

It was then that ''the old light bulb went off in the head,'' Keith recalled. With Mary's experience making soaps and scrubs and their dedication to their existing enterprises, they were ready to start a new venture.

From there, Mary started experimenting by making scents with different herbs and plants widely used in Native cultures. Before the couple would head off to pow wows to sell their Rez Dog clothing, they would stay up all night bottling the products Mary had concocted.

''It became evident real soon that we needed to contact a cosmetic plant to help us,'' Mary said.

Call it luck or fate, but they discovered a cosmetics plant about two hours from their home. As an added bonus, the plant uses an aloe vera base to mix the product and grows the succulent plant on-site.

''It's the finest hydroponic aloe vera in the country,'' Mary said.

Native Naturals was federally trademarked in 2002.

The popularity of the products eventually brought purchasers and buyers down their path - many from Native-owned resorts.

In 2005, the couple launched their hotel amenities line. Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel was the first business to climb aboard followed by numerous more resorts.

''I think when people stay at an American Indian hotel, they want something different, a unique experience,'' Mary said.

She admitted that their product costs slightly higher than other amenity products, but a hotel can offset that cost by selling a bottle or two of Native Naturals products at their gift shop.

Tribes can choose from 25 different shapes and sizes of bottles and from a dozen scents.

When a resort chooses the Prairie Morning line, they can customize their amenities by selecting one of 50 prints by Cherokee artist Jeanne Rorex Bridges. Prairie Morning combines the scents of sage, green clover and aloe to produce a subtle, sweet smell.

''I thought about how North Dakota smells in the morning with the dew on the grass,'' Mary said. ''It reminded me of my childhood.''

For added flexibility, tribes can choose to feature one of their own artists and request a scent from plants indigenous to their area. ''You're only limited by your imagination,'' she said.

The Water Dance Collection, the featured signature line, has a clean smell with a slight hint of fragrance - an excellent product for someone with a sensitive nose or desiring something with a light, creamy consistency.

Additionally, the DeHaases have recently finished developing the Mother Earth signature line, with select items being released no later than August. The scent was exclusive to the hotel amenities line.

Mary said that she recently created a facial line that includes a wash, scrub, toner and moisturizer with a production date pending. Meanwhile, be on the lookout for the new red corn body polish made from

cosmetic-grade corn.

All of their products are reasonably priced, starting at $10. Gift sets are available online.

''If it's not high quality and not the best, then we won't sell it,'' Keith said.

For more information, visit www.nativenaturals.com.