Ferntree, a member of the Cowichan Tribes in B.C., partakes in a smudging ceremony during a Native American protest against Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Smudging in B.C. classroom did not affect Christian family’s faith, says school district lawyer

Lawyers make closing arguments in a Port Alberni case about the Indigenous cultural practice

Just how much of an effect an Indigenous smudging ceremony had on children in a Grade 5 classroom in Port Alberni was at the centre of closing arguments on Thursday in a civil trial against the school district.

Candice Servatius, an evangelical Christian, filed a petition against School District 70, claiming her daughter’s right to religious freedom was infringed upon when the girl participated in a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations smudging ceremony at John Howitt Elementary in 2015. She is seeking a ban on the cultural practice in schools across the province.

RELATED: Student tells B.C. court she wasn’t allowed to leave Indigenous smudging ceremony

Servatius’ lawyer, Jay Cameron with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argued the children were forced to participate in the smudging ceremony, and that it was not a demonstration, but an actual performance of the ritual.

“I think that this is an exceedingly important point because if the experience is not entered into on a voluntary basis, it changes the experience,” said Cameron.

“Certainly from [the daughter’s] perspective, there was confusion. There was a loss of trust.”

Smudging is a common Indigenous spiritual practice in which herbs such as sage, sweetgrass and cedar are burned for ‘cleansing’ purposes.

Earlier in the week, teacher Jelena Dyer told the court the Nuu-chah-nulth elder had come to the classroom, explained the ceremony and her people’s beliefs to the kids, and burned a bit of sage.

The court heard conflicting testimony about the amount of smoke in the room, from “heavy” to “barely any.”

RELATED: ‘Our culture is not a religion,’ Indigenous educator tells court in smudging case

Cameron also referred to a letter that had been sent home before the ceremony, without a date or a clear way for parents to opt their children out of it.

The school district’s lawyer, Keith Mitchell, dismissed the letter, saying the case is about what happened in the classroom.

He argued Servatius and her daughter are not reliable witnesses, because Servatius is only relying what her daughter told her, and her daughter does not remember the events accurately.

“Children are very much concerned whether their parents are upset, or whether the authority figures of their lives, particularly their parents or pastor, tell them something is wrong and that they should have felt a certain way,” he said.

He referred to earlier testimony from teachers, such as Dyer, who’d told the court the girl appeared “happy” to watch the ceremony, sitting in the front row, and had not expressed any concerns. The instructor also said it was made clear that there was no intent to “impress” beliefs on anyone.

Finally, Mitchell argued the family’s religious beliefs were not significantly affected by the ritual or how they practice their own faith, so the ceremony should still be allowed.

“It didn’t change the way the Servatius family lives their lives.”

The trial is expected to conclude on Friday.

RELATED: Teacher says student was ‘happy’ to watch smudging ceremony at Alberni school

ALSO READ: Nuu-chah-Nulth Tribal Council hopes for resolution in SD70 court case







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

An artist sprinkles ashes from a smudging ceremony on his sculpture unveiled at Penticton Regional Hospital in 2018. (Mark Brett/Western News)

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Farm life: Musings of summer

Summer is one of my favourite seasons for so many reasons. I… Continue reading

Ktunaxa elder leaves legacy of courage, resilience and mentorship

Herman Alpine helped Ktunaxa move on from Residential School era, was key in revitalization of language

Milestone RCMP Cops For Kids fundraiser ride going virtual

You can join and help RCMP raise funds for families and possibly win 20th anniversary cycling shirt

RDEK lifts state of local emergency in Fairmont

Clean up continues from two debris flow events at the end of May

Cranbrook receives $4M in federal infrastructure funding

Cranbrook is receiving $4.1 million from the federal government through an infrastructure… Continue reading

Police issue warning after baby comes across suspected drugs in Kamloops park

The 11-month-old girl’s mother posted photos on social media showing a small plastic bag containing a purple substance

Collision results in train derailment just east of Golden

The derailment occurred Sunday night, according to a statement from CP

Lower Mainland woman says llama farming neighbour shot her 11-month-old pup

Young dog was on owner’s Maple Ridge property when it was killed on June 21

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

B.C. highway widening job reduced, costs still up $61 million

Union-only project scales back work to widen Trans-Canada

Greater Victoria nanny pleads guilty to child porn, sexual interference charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to slew of sex crimes

Most Read