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

 

 

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

Just Posted

Kelowna’s MindRight brings more mental health resources with HeadCheck Health partnership

Myles Mattila’s MindRight for Athletes Society provides peer-to-peer resouces for Okanagan athletes

Hundreds at Big White are still without water

On Monday a water main rupture at Big White Resort left hundreds without access to showers, dishwashers and tap water

Warriors’ Head returns to West Kelowna

Wyatt Head spent the first part of the season in the NCAA

WATCH: Eyewitness captures moment truck slams into Tim Hortons in Kelowna

A pickup truck crashed into the front a Tim Hortons in Rutland causing a small fire on Monday night

Eastbound lanes of Harvey Avenue closed after car crash

A mini-van and a car collided at the intersection of Dilworth and Harvey Avenue.

Strata rental bans escape B.C. speculation tax through 2021, Carole James says

Vacant home tax won’t apply to cabins accessible only by water

Morning Start: How many people live on earth?

Your morning start for December 10, 2019.

China hints at national security trials for 2 Canadians detained for one year

The two Canadians’ detention is largely seen as retaliation for the arrest of a Huawei exec

B.C. seaplane company set to test the first commercial electronic plane

The plane is powered by a 750 horsepower electric motor

Fireballs to fill the sky Friday for brightest meteor shower of the year

Geminid meteor shower features colourful, brighter, longer shooting stars

Province sues over sailing incident that killed teen with disabilities

Gabriel Pollard, 16, died from injuries after marine lift failed

Most Read