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

Sad ending in case of missing Vernon senior

Body of Wayne Orser found floating in Okanagan Lake Tuesday, July 7

North Okanagan district shifts attention to wildfire season

FireSmart, Grab-and-Go Bags and emergency planning among tips for wildfire preparedness

Vernon police deem car fire ‘suspicious’

A vehicle was fully involved last night on 24th Avenue, cause still unknown

Lake Country home destroyed by fire

Call came in from Teresa Road just after 6 a.m. Tuesday, July 7

Boomer Talk: Vernon homeless outreach team and COVID-19

Columnist Carole Fawcett catches up with two generous women going above and beyond to support the community

84-year-old Okanagan resident finishes 12,000-piece puzzle

Willie Tribiger started the puzzle in 2013, completing it in six and a half years

Aces aplenty at Okanagan golf course

Vernon Golf and Country Club has 14 recorded holes-in-one since April 30

Fraser Valley woman complains of violent RCMP takedown during wellness check

Mounties respond that she was not co-operating during Mental Health Act apprehension

B.C. sees 12 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths

Three outbreaks exist in health-care settings

Lost dog swims Columbia River multiple times searching for home

The dog was missing from his Castlegar home for three days.

Booze on beach extended through summer in Penticton

Pilot project will stay in place until Oct. 15

COVID-19: B.C. promotes video-activated services card

Mobile app allows easier video identity verification

ICBC to resume road tests in July with priority for rebookings, health-care workers

Tests have been on hold for four months due to COVID-19

Princeton ATV rider slapped with numerous charges after complaint of near miss on the KVR

‘I would never defend actions like that’ - Ed Vermette, Princeton ATV Club president

Most Read