Algoma University Smudge Policy. There’s a Whiff in the Air.

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On Thursday, March 24th,2016, an information meeting was held at Algoma University’s Shingwauk Auditorium regarding Smudge and ‘Ceremonial Use of Sacred Medicines Policy’.  The Shingwauk Anishinaabe Students’ Association (SASA) hosted the meeting. Students, faculty, staff and administration from the university as well as First Nation elders and community members were invited to attend. Algoma University has had the Draft Policy (Reviewed: September 30,2014) for about two years.

Recently, issues have begun percolating at Algoma U around smudge. Issues that are now pushing SASA to find clarity and a workable policy framework that is amenable to all concerned. A rather big thing to have to do. Smudge is much more than the negligible amount of smoke it offers. Much more.

algoma u“The policy began development approximately two years ago. We’re trying to keep both sides happy.” shared SASA’s Amanda Sayers. “It’s been a difficult process.”.

algoma u “We do have a designated room that we have if we want to smudge, but if we want to smudge anywhere else, we have to give security notice. When we had ‘Walking With Our Sisters’ (event) here, we were smudging quite a bit, and apparently it bothered a number of people.” said Amanda Sayers.

“The fact that it’s an issue here is concerning.” said First Nations elder Emerson Riel.

Portions of the draft policy, dated September 30,2014, read as follows:

20160324_104020‘Smudging may take place in other locations on campus, but only with the written approval of the Director of Physical Plant. A member of faculty or staff must make the request for approval and must take responsibility for the safe and appropriate use of the sacred medicines. Prior to using a smudge or pipe, Physical Plant shall examine the location for the ceremony to check for ventilation, smoke alarm, or other concerns. Request for approval must be submitted in writing to the Director of Physical Plant at least five (5) working days before the ceremony.’

We have managed to get the time line down (to give notice to administration) to two days.” said Amanda Sayers, of the draft Smudge policy.

“We ended up meeting with the Deputy Chief of the Fire Department, and we asked what we need to do in order to keep smudging throughout this university. He came here, and we smudged with him, so that he could have an understanding of what smudging really is. We explained a lot of things that he didn’t know about smudging. He learned a lot about the importance of smudge.”

20160324_103030‘The medicinal plants used most often in  smudge are, cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco.  As the smoke rises, our prayers rise to the Spirit World where the Grandfathers and our Creator reside. Negative energy, feelings, and emotions are lifted away. It is also used for healing of mind, body and spirit, as well as balancing energies.’ http://www.ammsa.com/node/12407#sthash.tHIrRLB1.dpuf

The following is an excerpt from Anishinaabemdaa.com

‘Smudge – Pkwenezige Pigitinigewin

The smudging ceremony is a purification ceremony. Any one of the four sacred medicines can be used. Sometimes all of the sacred medicines are used. The most common one is mshkwadewashk, otherwise known as sage in English. Some pipe carriers and elders recommend that when people refer to these medicines, it should be in Anishinaabemowin. These medicines are picked from Mother Earth just for the purpose of purification. The four sacred medicines are sema, kiishig, mshkwadewashk and wiingash. The smoke from the sacred medicine purifies the mind, body and spirit. The inside of rooms, especially motel rooms, should be smudged. Some people smudge when they hear bad news, such as a death or illness. Most people who smudge use a shell as a container, and usually eagle feathers are used to fan the medicines. If a person does not have eagle feathers, then other feathers are used, such as hawk feathers. The ashes that are left should not be thrown away, but scattered by the entrance at the door to symbolize that bad thoughts, words and feelings are not welcome inside.’anishinaabemdaa.com/ceremonies

“If you have to ask permission to smudge, the school is basically saying that you have to ask permission to pray. It’s freezing your spirituality, and putting barriers on people coming together in a spiritual way.” shared an elder in attendance.

20160324_105117“The University is dictating the terms upon which we can negotiate. And that is the history of our relationship with the Crown. That history needs to stop repeating itself. The issue and double standard of advanced notice.” Mitch Case described a situation when steaks cooking in the cafeteria created smoke throughout most of the building. “We don’t need a clear, concise policy to manage the corporation (Algoma U), only the anishinaabe people.” he said

“I still can’t get any answers on what ‘disciplinary actions’ means. If, after two years, they still can’t answer that question, I have a problem with that.”

From the Algoma University draft policy ‘Ceremonial Use of Sacred Medicines’, Section: Enforcement. ‘Repeated failure to comply with this policy may result in disciplinary action.’

“I have to continue to object to whole process of this. We have approximately 80 staff here and the university has put the responsibility on you folks. (SASA) It’s offensive that this has been left to you (SASA) to have to manage and deal with the backlash from students. And to face the emotional consequences of triggering people; students who may be carrying trauma and are coming into a former residential school.” said Mitch Case, adding “A policy that you had no part of drafting. There still isn’t a policy on perfume, after two years. Smudging isn’t the only thing that can affect a person. Two years has gone by and not even a draft policy on perfumes, which are made from chemicals. Medicinal plants used in smudge are natural materials from the earth.” he said.

“Let’s talk about the mental and emotional safety that this university has a responsibility to ensure.” He added, “When a security guard will come in to a space where we are holding a feast to ask if we are smoking weed in here? That has happened. And that was after giving three weeks’ notice when we were holding a ceremonial feast for missing and murdered aboriginal women. Where is the emotional safety in that?”  Mitch Case, former president of SASA and Algoma University graduate is a Member of the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities, Ontario and President of Metis Nation of Ontario Youth Council, Metis Nation of Ontario.

TedX member and York University Business graduate, Jerry Mikula, said, “Sage removes about 99% of bacteria in the air. Sage is healing. Nikola Tesla used to begin his day with  smudging his workshops. He said he did that to remove bacteria from the air, and he carried sage with him wherever he went. We can do more harm to our environment by not smudging. These medicines used in smudging have healing properties. If you don’t allow a person to smudge when they need to, you are taking away a basic fundamental human right to be in a healthy state of mind.”

In an effort to find more smudge friendly spaces at Algoma U, Amanda Sayers said, “We do have The SASA Lounge (to smudge) but it is still a lounge. It’s inclusive to everybody. When we are smudging, we are also educating people who come up and ask questions. Which is good, but it can create difficulties because it is so open, people are coming and going.  It can get really noisy and crowded.”

Ongoing interference during smudge would pose a challenge to those who are smudging. Where is the emotional safety in that? Smudge is inviting prayer, quiet reflection. It is intentional and mindful. Opportunities to find moments in the day for a busy university student to pause for smudge would happen based on how any given day unfolds. Defining this by a policy framework that seeks to garner ongoing permission, is creating anxiety.

“For me, it is reassuring and powerful that so many community members came out to support SASA. That we are not here by ourselves fighting this.” said Sarah Crowell, Anishinaabe student advisor. “I appreciate your love and support here. For staff persons like myself, we are in the awkward position to liaison between students, and administration, trying to communicate in ‘policy-speak’. Your being here gives us strength to carry on with this policy. It is not acceptable in its current form. It can be very emotional and potentially charged with trauma, specifically for anishinaabe students who I work with. To have one of our healing components denied or constrained in some way is very frustrating. I think administration would be very surprised to know how important this is to the community.”

“Smudging helps me to cleanse my mind and body, and helps me find a sense of well being” shared Amanda Sayers.

SASA members Rebecca Commanda, Amanda Sayers, Makayla Laramey, Brandee Ermatinger, Keithera Riley, Cheryl Jamieson and Jamie McIntyre were all in attendance for the meeting.

Algoma University faculty members, Judy Syrette, Director of Anishinaabe Initiatives; Dr. Richard McCutcheon, Academic Dean, and Assistant Professor Rainey Gaywish were also in attendance. SASA did send out an ’email blast’ to the entire schools’ staff and administration, notifying them of the meeting.

‘The Shingwauk Anishinaabe Students’ Association (SASA) is committed to ensuring that Anishinaabe (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) students’ university experience is fulfilling and enjoyable. SASA is an organization run by students for students, and works to ensure that Anishinaabe students’ voices are recognized amongst the Algoma U community.’ (www.algomau.ca)

The Thunderbird, which is Algoma University’s logo represents power, strength, pride, integrity, and goodness. Legend states the Thunderbird dwells in regal solitude in mystic cedar forests, where no man may enter. There, the Thunderbird rules the activity of the skies. It’s also said the Thunderbird smokes tobacco from cedar pipes. How’s that for irony.

Dee Shanger, Umbrella B.E.A.C.H. (Bartley Eco Arts Community Hub) Live Streaming and Social Media Director, was invited  by elder Emerson Riel, to attend and live-stream the meeting through ‘UStream.tv’. Link to the meeting here:

http://www.ustream.tv

or on YouTube here:youtube.com

1 COMMENT

  1. The students from other countries asked for and got a space for prayers without such policy and red tape the real message is everyone benefits from the healing. just some do not welcome changes……. even if they feel it in the heart

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