Coyote Tales: Reaction to B.C. lawsuit over smudging ceremony

I just returned from a meeting held at Amiskwaciy Academy, an Edmonton public school that provides junior high and high school programming within an aboriginal context.

The morning activities had already started when I arrived at the school. I was a little late because I had driven in from Red Deer and had to battle rush hour traffic but I immediately had a peaceful feeling from the sage that had been lit for the opening smudging ceremony.

The drummers were singing a song that I knew from our own sweat lodge and I immediately felt at home. When the song was finished, I felt completely focused and ready to spend the day discussing indigenous women’s issues.

Smudging involves burning a small amount of usually sage or sweetgrass, to cleanse oneself with the smoke.

Smudging is a way to acknowledge and honour indigenous traditions and is a practise in many (but not all) indigenous communities across the country.

The First Peoples have experienced the impact of this cultural activity, which is also one we do at Red Deer Native Friendship Centre, since time immemorial.

However, like many of our cultural activities, the smudging ceremony went underground due to colonization and has only recently started to be shared with non-indigenous people as a way to increase understanding of indigenous culture.

So when I read B.C. mother takes school district to court over Aboriginal spiritual ceremony on CBC News on Nov 15, 2016, I immediately wondered why indigenous children are still being forced to go to public schools that don’t honour their cultural way of learning and being.

In the past, the residential school system forced religion down our grandparents’ throats and today many public school systems continue to deny our traditional cultural practices.

The parent in the lawsuit stated that her children were forced to take part in a smudging ceremony that violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and B.C.’s School Act prohibits any religion to be taught in a school.

The lawsuit will have to prove that smudging is a religious activity, and that indigenous people share an organized religion.

Our teachings are about a positive attitude and a positive way of life, which may include various practices that provide ways to assist people maintain a balanced way of life.

There is no “institutionalized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods” (Mirriam-Webster).

What saddens me is that this lawsuit comes on the heels of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 Calls to Action, which makes several recommendations to the education system including integrating indigenous content into the curriculum to promote reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.

I agree that no one should be forced to participate in any cultural or religious practice but I support the indigenous people working to ensure that our culture and language is nurtured and handed down to our children.

While the legal battle between “church and state” drags on in B.C., I’m grateful that I live in Alberta where educational institutions are already developing policies that address the needs of indigenous students.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the best way for indigenous people to reach their goals will be through charter schools like Amiskwaciy.

Tanya Ward-Schur’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre.

Just Posted

Relatives of murdered family critical of killers’ sentences

Open letter to sentencing judge criticizes ruling allowing killers to apply for parole in 25 years

City rolling out Green Carts

Green Carts used for organics, such as yard waste, food scraps and pet waste

New teaching standards applauded

New code of standards affecting teachers, principals and superintendents to kick in Sept. 1, 2019

UPDATED: Agriculture minister speaks to cattle producers

2018 Alberta Beef Industry Conference underway in Red Deer

Updated: Red Deer gets WHL Bantam Draft and Awards Banquet

WHL will holds its draft and awards ceremony in Red Deer for next three years

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Twenty years later, figure skating’s most famous backflip remains amazing (and illegal)

Figure skating involves spins, jumps, twizzles and a whole host of other… Continue reading

You don’t need to chop like a TV chef to get the job done

Standing in line at the emergency room, makeshift bandage around my finger,… Continue reading

Seychelles swaps debt for groundbreaking marine protection

CURIEUSE ISLAND, Seychelles — With deep blue waters, white sand beaches and… Continue reading

Trump endorses raising minimum age to 21 for more weapons

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump endorsed stricter gun-control measures Thursday, including raising… Continue reading

Red Deer blood clinic in need of 600 donors

Aunt encourages Central Albertans to donate blood after losing nephew

Court considers banning diesel cars in German cities

BERLIN — A German court began considering Thursday whether authorities should ban… Continue reading

US women beat Canada in Olympic hockey; Gisin tops Shiffrin

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — A tense shootout, a dazzling deke and… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month