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)

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

The Local Store is currently open for online harvest orders. (Photo Contributed)
Local Store launches online harvest orders

The orders must be placed prior to Oct. 27 for pick-up or delivery on Oct 30

Top row, left to right: Tom Shypitka, BC Liberals; Wayne Stetski, BC NDP; Kerri Wall; BC Green Part
Kootenay East candidates messages

We offered each candidate in Kootenay East space to hold forth on issues important to them and to voters.

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read