Thursday, 6 February 2014

Human Rights:First Nations teen Stephen Bunn was accused of smoking drugs after smudging by his school

Here is an interesting case of a Indigenous student who is using traditional beliefs (smudging) on his own time and not at school is forced to encounter the bureaucracy of the state. Stephen Burn has been accused of using drugs and was searched by his school. While it is legal to search students on school property it was his explanation of doing smudging that were not believed. Eventually he ended up in the principals office where he was told he must give up doing is smudge. Eventually another reason was raised that the school is scent free environment and he can no longer attend classes after having smudged. Incredibly students and staff that smoke cigarets are allowed to continue this health hazard.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-teen-told-not-to-smudge-before-school-1.2524641 

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says in section

 Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

Perhaps Indigenous spiritual traditions are not religious rights.

Smudging is Indigenous physical and mental cleansing technique and tradition. It is a ceremonial way to cleanse a person, place or an object of negative energies or influences. It is also an effective method for energizing or blessing a person, place or object. Smudging can be useful when you're feeling depressed, angry, resentful, unwell or after you have had an argument with someone. It is common to smudge yourself, the space and all the guests or participants before a ritual or ceremony or celebration. You can smudge your home or work space as part of a general spiritual housecleaning. Sage is probably the most popular herb for smudging, followed by Sweet Grass. When the herbs used for smudging are tied into a bundle and allowed to dry they are called a "smudge stick". In traditional societies the herbs used for smudging are considered sacred and the smudge stick is treated with great respect.

To learn more and see his youtube video click the link
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L-ktxzVwDE

16 comments:

  1. It's very unfortunate and frustrating how Stephen Burn was dealt with by his school for smudging. I think it's wonderful that an Aboriginal youth is practicing smudging for religious and healing purposes. This young man could be using drugs and alcohol to cope with the death of his brother, but instead he chose a traditional healing method. However, Stephen's healthy and spiritual way of coping with his grief was doubted, discouraged and not valued. As stated by Stephen in his You Tube video (2014), “It's been a while since I've smudged myself because of how they made me feel”

    I believe that students should not be denied from smudging before going to school. However, out of concern for people who are sensitive to scents, I think it could be respectful for clothes to be changed after smudging. That being said, I can understand how someone who smudges has no more reasons to change their clothes than someone who smokes. Since we don't expect smokers to change their clothes after smoking, why should we expect someone who smudges to change their clothes after they smudged?

    If schools have a no-scent policy, I think it should apply to all scents, not just particular scents. It doesn't make sense to ask someone not to smudge before coming to school, but to accept people who smoke to come in the school. If a school was truly scent free, most anti-perspirants, cleaning products, flowers, smoke-scented clothes, etc. should also not be allowed in the school. In the Canadian Medical Association, Senger (2011) states that no-scent policies is unconvincing“...the science supporting such policies is fuzzy and inconclusive. While scents can trigger both physiological and psychological symptoms in some individuals, there is no reliable diagnostic test for fragrance allergies.”

    I believe the school used their no-scent policy as a way to justify their reasoning of not tolerating smudging, while avoiding the religious aspects of this sacred practice.

    Emily Senger (2011). Scent-free policies generally unjustified. Canadian Medical Association DOI:10.1503/cmaj.109-3800
    http://www.cmaj.ca/content/183/6/E315.full.pdf

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L-ktxzVwDE

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  2. In this case, I think that Stephen Bunn’s rights were violated in a variety of ways. The blog post looks at the fact that his human rights were violated by not being able to practice freedom of religion. Although it is not exactly a religious practice, the act of smudging is a traditional practice that is closely connected to spiritual, mental and physical health for Indigenous peoples. By being asked to stop smudging, his human rights were violated. The reasons for this connects to the larger picture, with a lack of understanding being at the centre of it all. Many people are quick to judge when they don’t understand the situation. In this case, the school quickly assumed he was doing drugs based on the stereotypes of teen drug use. They then refused to let Stephen smudge before school, failing to recognize the principals behind the practice. The lack of knowledge and understanding of a culture are at the heart of issues such as this one.

    The other issue he faced was the no-scent policy the school put in place. This extends beyond the religious practice and looks at his rights as a student. The no-scent policy makes sense on its own, as it protects those who are sensitive to strong perfumes. The issue arises when one student is given consequences for having a strong scent on this clothing, while others are not. The fact the school feels they can control his smudging, but choices not to take any action on students that smoke demonstrates the lack tolerance and understanding from educators. To take this farther, some students may not have control over the scent of their clothing. One example would be traditional foods that also leave a strong scent. When looking at these factors, it seems that the school used the policy to control the traditional practices of a student, which in no way goes along with his human rights and his rights as a student.

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  3. After having a class discussion on the issue regarding Stephen Bunn, I became more interested in the practice of smudging. I do not agree with the manner in which this particular school dealt with Stephen Bunn and his smudging. This Aboriginal youth was simply using smudging to mourn his brother’s death. In a CBC News interview, Bunn said “It’s important to me because when I’m feeling down, I smudge myself and it helps cleanse my body and makes me think better.... Every time I see him in a dream or my mom gets a glimpse of him, we will smudge." In my opinion Bunn could have been engaging in a much more dangerous way of mourning. For example, he could have been using drugs or alcohol to cope with his loss but instead he was smudging in the privacy of his own home. I do not personally feel that smudging is beneficial for me however; I do understand that for Aboriginal peoples it is a way of naturally healing oneself. As he was smudging in the privacy of his own home with nobody else around and not at school, I feel that the school administrators were completely unfair with the punishment given to Bunn.
    In regards to the school stating that Stephen Bunn can no longer smudge before attending class due to their school having a no-scent policy, I feel that they were simply using this as an excuse. I do agree with schools having a no-scent policy as there are many people who have a strong sensitivity to scents but I feel that it should apply to all scents. For example, a person is allowed into the school smelling like a cigarette as long as it was smoked off of school property. So my question is why should people who smoke cigarettes be allowed into school without changing their clothes, while a person who smudges is not?
    It seems to me that this was a personal attack towards Stephen Bunn and his smudging practices rather than a violation against the school’s no-scent policy. Schools must take students cultural, spiritual and religious practices seriously and they should look at all cultures as being equal.

    Sources: http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-teen-told-not-to-smudge-before-school-1.2524641

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  4. The manner in which the school in question reacted to Stephan Bunn’s smudging is most unfortunate. Having known about Stephen’s recent loss of his sibling, the actions of the staff speaks volumes. Taking this article at face value, the staff member that initially questioned Stephan was prejudiced. Personally, I would have a difficult time mistaking sage for marijuana, but even lacking this knowledge, the teacher was not interested in Bunn’s defense. They jumped to the negative conclusion and dismissed any other ‘excuse.’ This is an evident example of the dismissal of aboriginal traditions and practices in our society. The greater concern for me is the callous attitude the school exhibited during the course of these events. Here you have a student who has suffered an immense loss, and the first action you take is one of accusation and animosity.
    When the school realised its error, it further compounded the situation by bringing in the loosely enforced no scent policy. An argument without integrity as many of the staff and students were permitted to smoke and attend classes. If this were not the case, and these rules were strictly enforced, this may have been a valid concern. However, the prior actions of the school and its apparent hypocrisy in their later actions leaves me to conclude that the school was trying to sweep this issue under the rug.
    This ethnocentric view of Canadian society is one that is increasingly being challenged as more and more cultures are being represented in today’s classrooms. The unfortunate history of aboriginal education adds an additional challenge. No more can we turn a blind eye to unfamiliar traditions and practices. Schools either have to remain completely secular, or become more accommodating to the practices of other cultures. The old way of viewing these issues as the peculiarities of the minority are outdated and offensive.

    An overview of the smudging ritual can be found at http://www.sageandsmudge.com/.
    The manner in which the school in question reacted to Stephan Bunn’s smudging is most unfortunate. Having known about Stephen’s recent loss of his sibling, the actions of the staff speaks volumes. Taking this article at face value, the staff member that initially questioned Stephan was prejudiced. Personally, I would have a difficult time mistaking sage for marijuana, but even lacking this knowledge, the teacher was not interested in Bunn’s defense. They jumped to the negative conclusion and dismissed any other ‘excuse.’ This is an evident example of the dismissal of aboriginal traditions and practices in our society. The greater concern for me is the callous attitude the school exhibited during the course of these events. Here you have a student who has suffered an immense loss, and the first action you take is one of accusation and animosity.
    When the school realised its error, it further compounded the situation by bringing in the loosely enforced no scent policy. An argument without integrity as many of the staff and students were permitted to smoke and attend classes. If this were not the case, and these rules were strictly enforced, this may have been a valid concern. However, the prior actions of the school and its apparent hypocrisy in their later actions leaves me to conclude that the school was trying to sweep this issue under the rug.
    This ethnocentric view of Canadian society is one that is increasingly being challenged as more and more cultures are being represented in today’s classrooms. The unfortunate history of aboriginal education adds an additional challenge. No more can we turn a blind eye to unfamiliar traditions and practices. Schools either have to remain completely secular, or become more accommodating to the practices of other cultures. The old way of viewing these issues as the peculiarities of the minority are outdated and offensive.

    An overview of the smudging ritual can be found at http://www.sageandsmudge.com/.

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  5. I absolutely agree that everyone has the right to partake in traditional rituals such smudging. In fact, I would encourage Stephen Burn to continue his traditional Aboriginal practices, especially if he is partaking in these events on his own time. If a student wants to smudge before school, I believe they should be allowed to do so.

    I do, however, also identify with those who are sensitive to strong scents. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety makes a valid point that I feel many individuals fail to recognize. Sensitivities, or "Environmental sensitivities (ES) describes a chronic condition whereby a person has symptoms when exposed to certain chemicals or other environmental agents at low levels tolerated by most people. The symptoms may range in severity from mild to debilitating.” I would like to point out the use of the word chronic –the individual does not choose to be sensitive and secondly, although most individuals can tolerate the scent –some individuals cannot. So although it might be easy for one to say that this is an issue of an Aboriginal student’s human rights, I would also argue it is a human rights issue for the remaining 1175 students of Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School as they should be entitled to a safe learning environment which does not adversely effect their health.

    With that said, I understand that a school, or any public place will never be completely free of scent. There are and will continue to be individuals that choose to use scented products such as soap, shower gel, perfume, cologne, and hair spray. Unless the school is enforcing the discontinued use of ALL scented products, Stephen Bunn’s decision to smudge should be none of their business. Stephen Bunn has both the right to education and right to partake in customary traditions such as smudging; he should not have to choose one or the other.




    (February 4, 2014) Unable to Smudge in school https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L-ktxzVwDE

    (January 28, 2013) Scent-Free Policy for the Workplace
    http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/scent_free.html

    Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School
    https://www.bsd.ca/schools/crocus/Pages/default.aspx

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  6. In my response, I did not want to focus on the main debate of this post and the one occurring in the news articles. I do agree that the situation could have been handled better, but I feel like there is more to this story that should be taken into account. It was nice to hear about an Aboriginal youth taking part of this traditional practice. Both the CBC and Winnipeg Free Press news article explained that Bunn’s reasoning for smudging was in order to help him in the healing process of his brothers passing last year (2014). Hearing about how he was incorporating this practice in his every day life was interesting for me, as a non-Aboriginal youth, to see how he incorporated his culture. Rarely in the media do we hear about Aboriginal youth using indigenous traditional practices, such as smudging, in their everyday lives. In general, it is the negative news stories about Aboriginal youth that we hear. It is the stories where the youth are stealing, abusing drugs, and committing violent acts. For me it was encouraging to hear about how this individual was using this practice. I think it also brings this traditional practice into the forefront and encourages other Aboriginal youth to learn and practice these traditional areas of the culture. Aboriginal youth are able to see Bunn’s story and look to him as an inspiration. A study done on urban Aboriginal youth in Winnipeg looked at how these youth formed their cultural identity (Belanger, Barron, McKay-Turnbull, & Mills, 2003). The study found that most of the participants believed that “Aboriginal youth identity is influenced by the lived experience of those youth who recognize that their culture, even if it is derived from historical times, is always a part of them” (Belanger, et al., 2003, p.30). I think this accurately describes what Bunn’s story does for Aboriginal youth. Even though he went through this treatment, I think that this experience allows him to be an advocate for Aboriginal youth.

    Barron, L., McKay-Turnbull, C., & Mills, M. (2003). Urban Aboriginal youth in Winnipeg:
    Culture and identity formation in cities. Canadian Heritage.

    Newspaper articles:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-teen-told-not-to-smudge-before-school-1.2524641
    http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/student-told-not-to-smudge-before-school-244172851.html

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  7. In the Faculty of Education we are taught that schools do not just teach the curriculum but help to raise students as well. The manner in which schools respond to students will have a large impact on how they will view the world. I think it’s safe to say that we all want each and every student to feel safe and comfortable in our classrooms and that is where things sometimes seem to get dicey. Blanket rules such as no-scent policies have been instituted because people are becoming increasingly sensitive to scents;“migraines, nausea and tightening of the throat are common symptoms and people with asthma who are affected by fragrances can suffer respiratory impairment” (Saint-Cyr, 2005). While it makes sense to have these increasingly common policies schools and workplaces must be careful in how they implement them. This brings me to the situation with Stephen Bunn who was treated unfairly because of his practice of smudging.

    I have been following this story since the article that Robert posted from cbc came out, in particular I have been reading the discussion on ebrandon.com. What strikes me is that most people are quick to make assumptions when we really have no idea about the whole story. It sounds like Stephen Bunn was treated unfairly and I hope that since he has made this public people can learn to not make assumptions and the public will also learn more about smudging. Since Brandon School Division is working with an elder to make sure that a suitable outcome is reached I hope that this will not be an issue again. However, I also think it is unfair to make accusations against the school, we do not know everything that happened and I think that school’s generally are trying to do their best and they seem to be taking a positive step forward from this experience.

    In the end I hope that people read and listen to Stephen Bunn’s words and gain a new perspective on the practice of smudging and that school divisions become more respectful about this and other cultures practices. In all school rules you have to be careful to treat everyone fairly and equally, the example in this case is that smoker’s do not have to follow the scent free policy. It is a critical point and as someone sensitive to smoke one that I can relate too. Hopefully Stephen Bunn is able to keep smudging and that the School Division takes the steps to apologize to him and insure that it doesn’t happen again.

    References:

    Crocus Plains: no smudging before school. (n.d.). ebrandon. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from http://ebrandon.ca/messagethread.aspx?message_id=814824&cat_id=3

    Saint-Cyr, Y. (n.d.). WORKink - Canada's largest virtual employment resource centre. WORKink - Canada's largest virtual employment resource centre. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from http://www.workink.com/articles.php?prID=5&pgID=21&art=136

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  8. AB ED BLOG 5
    Laura Fridfinnson

    In response to, “ Human Rights: First Nations teen Stephen Bunn was accused of smoking drugs after smudging by his school”

    After discussing this case in class, I found myself quite angry about the entire situation. The accusation of smoking drugs, without concrete proof is completely unacceptable. As a teacher candidate, I cannot imagine reprimanding a student without a solid base knowledge on what was going on. Also, the fact that the school has pushed aside these allegations seems outrageous. When school staff make a mistake when accusing a student, amends need to be made. Instead of amends being made, the school made further demands of the student. What is even more frustrating is the fact that the school decided after they accused him of using drugs that he can’t smudge due to the no scent rule. This was clearly an after thought. If the no scent rule was the issue, why was it not brought up initially? It sounds like a desperate attempt of the school to “win” this fight. Stephen Bunn has the right to exercise his freedom, and therefore to smudge.
    As the article states, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that people have freedom of religion. This should include every Canadian; Stephen Bunn is not being offered this freedom. The public school system should not be able to tell him what religious practices he can and cannot do. After reading some articles on this story, I found one that stated that there are schools that encourage smudging, as it is great for calming people. If it is encouraged in some schools, it definitely shouldn’t be discouraged in others. Stephen Bunn should be offered an apology from his school for the false allegations of drug use, as well an apology for disrespecting his rights as a Canadian.



    Wilson, S. (2014, February 06). Brandon school division threatens to suspend student for smudging. Retrieved from http://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/brandon-school-division-threatens-to-suspend-student-for-smudging-1.1674449

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  9. I was very happy to see you wrote about this story this week. I’ve been following it and am in total disbelief that a school would take this issue as far as they have.
    A friend shared this story on FaceBook when it had just appeared in the Brandon Sun. Though I couldn’t believe a school administrator could be so ignorant, I truly thought it would get no further than that city’s paper, and the school would figure out that they were in the wrong fairly quickly. Alas, the story has grown to attract national attention.
    My very first thought when I read this story in the news this week was, “This is a human rights issue!” I was absolutely incredulous that the school would even pursue this beyond having allowed Bunn to explain. That the students rights are at issue seems so completely obvious, yet the school administration continues to dispute them, seems just archaic.
    Additionally, asserting that the smudging must stop due to the school having a “scent free” policy is disturbing, and seems it was brought up as an afterthought to lay weight against the student to cease his practice. Generally these policies are brought in to assist those with asthma and allergies to avoid chemical fragrances. I don’t believe organic smoke fits in this category. The students who smoke cigarettes between classes surely smell much worse!
    Bunn’s 15-year-old brother died of suicide last year. It was after this event that he began smudging daily before school because he felt it helped him focus on his day and lay aside his grief and anger. It also serves him to commune with his deceased brother. (National Post)
    It shocks and surprises me that any school would interfere with a student’s religious freedoms. I can understand the school’s initial ignorance and false assumption. Once an explanation had been offered, the issue absolutely should have been dropped. The school administration has failed this boy, and missed an important opportunity to educate their staff and other students in a matter of spiritual freedom and cultural sensitivity.

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  10. Superficially it appears that Winnipeg is a strong representation of a fair and just city that undoubtedly follows the tenants of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/). In 1996, 80.3% of Aboriginal households in the Winnipeg inner city received less than the low-income cut-off, and therefore considered “living in poverty” (Government of Manitoba, Aboriginal People in Manitoba, p. 69, http://www.gov.mb.ca/ana/pdf/apm2006.pdf). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25 outlines that:

    Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    Therefore, the Aboriginal peoples that live in the Winnipeg inner city and are living below the accepted standard of living are being withheld their human rights. Cases such as Brian Sinclair, who died after a 34-hour wait in a Winnipeg hospital, exemplify the poor quality of life that some Aboriginal peoples are living within the city limits.

    Article eighteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also notes that

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom … either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    By this declaration, the prosecution of Stephen Bunn by his school’s administration for smudging at home should have never occurred. Stephen was exercising his right to a religious or spiritual practice, which is fully protected within the charter, and should have absolved him of any further prosecution.

    On the global scale Winnipeg is by no means the most insensitive or unjust city, but it cannot be obscured that with respect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there are still caveats where we fail to uphold those values, the majority of which fall on the treatment of Aboriginal peoples.

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  11. For years, Winnipeg has watched a gargantuan rise from the Earth, a beast of a building that is to finally be completed in Fall 2014. Yes, I am speaking about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, an exhibit that will educate the Canadian public, as well as tourist from abroad, about human rights and focus on select groups of people in the history of the world (Government of Canada, 2008). Having a monument dedicated to human rights is a great honor for the city of Winnipeg, but is Winnipeg a city that truly respects human rights? Does the province of Manitoba respect human rights?

    We turn to the example of a First Nations’ teen who was accused of coming to school high after smudging before the beginning of the school day. Smudging is a traditional activity that promotes mental and physical cleansing, as noted in the blog. In my opinion, this traditional activity is no different than that of a religious activity, which is protected by section 2a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, it is important to note that there are reasonable limits placed of the rights and freedoms of Canadians, as stated in section 1 (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982). If the rights guaranteed to a person affect the rights of another in a negative manner, this is where section 1 comes into play.

    There is not enough information provided to determine whether or not there was just cause for the principle to outlaw the smudge. We do not know what other variable could have come into play resulting in this decision. It is clear that the fundamental freedom of the student was violated, but was it reasonable? As far as the search in goes in the school, schools have the right to administer these searches for the overall safety of students in the school (Ruypers, Ryall, & Conner, 2006). This was a decision based on the discretion of the principle. We do not know the motives behind the decision and cannot definitively say that the search, or decision to outlaw smudging, was deliberately discriminatory.

    In conclusion, I believe we are a city and province that respects human rights. There will be times, however, where decisions have to be made to prevent activities that are protected by the Charter from infringing upon the rights of others in society.

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  12. What a sad state of affairs this issue represents. After the tragic loss of his brother, a young Indigenous man attempts to cope with the pain and move forward. He uses his spiritual practice to cleanse the negative energy from his mind and be at peace with the events that have recently unfolded. Instead of empathy and understanding from the school board, Stephen Bunn faces accusations of smoking marijuana. If I were him I would start smoking pot to help transcend the incredibly racist society that we live in.


    This story represents many wrongs. Firstly, it proves that our society is still very racist towards Aboriginals and their beliefs and practices. Equality and freedoms of practice and expression are annihilated in one fell swoop with the board’s ruling that he can no longer practice smudging. This is even after an explanation of what smudging is and what it represents! And I thought that we all had rights and freedoms in this country?


    Secondly, it represents the narrow mindedness that we hope to steer students away from as they grow up to be active participants in our society. They are singling out a young man going through a loss and asking him to stop trying to heal because his practices make them uncomfortable. What sort of message does this give to young people of any religion or race, about the society that they are growing up in? As teachers we are meant to open up the worldview of our students. We are meant to help them mature into accepting, tolerant, caring citizens, both about the environment and about each other. If they are being oppressed by those who have power it will severely impact their growth and open mindedness towards others.

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  13. For my fifth blog entry, I have decided to respond to the blog post entitled, “Human Rights: First Nations Teen Stephen Bunn was Accused of Smoking Drugs by his School,” which focuses on a controversial issue that occurred when a 17 year old Manitoba teenager was accused of engaging in drug use at school (Ouellette, 2014). When it was discovered that Stephen Bunn was practicing an Indigenous tradition of smudging, the school requested that he withhold from the ritual because it violated the scent free policy (Walker, 2014). Smudging is a daily practice for Bunn and it is a cultural expression of cleansing that is held with a high degree of respect in the Indigenous community. As such, when the school requested that he either not attend school on days that he smudged or stop the practice altogether, Bunn and his family felt as though their human rights were being violated (Ouellette, 2014).
    While I agree and understand the perspective of Bunn and his family, as well as the importance of having the freedom to expression religious and personal beliefs, it is imperative to evaluate all perspectives within this issue. I am curious to hear the story from the school’s perspective and if the media is accurately portraying the actions of school members. As a future educator, it is important to encourage students to critically assess information and be mindful of the various aspects involved with a controversy. The issue of a no scent policy is not something that can be overlooked, especially if students within the learning environment suffer from health conditions that might be aggravated if exposed to strong odours. This does not undermine the importance of smudging; however it is an attempt to meet the needs of all students. With that being said, if Bunn or other Indigenous students are not allowed to practice smudging, then they are vulnerable to suffering from adverse spiritual and emotional effects. This diminishes their sense of pride of taking part in a traditional custom that the Aboriginal culture values highly. Therefore, if the education system openly says that students of that culture are not allowed to engage in practices that are essential to their well-being, then this initiative is counterproductive to creating an environment that fosters success, acceptance, and celebration of all learners. As for the no-scent policy, the school must work with the community and families that engage in that practice, as well as any other scent causing practices, and ensure that their needs are being met. It is easy to simply say that smoking or smudging is not allowed, but is that really addressing the deep root of the issue? Are the students who are banned from smudging going to enjoy going to school and feel as though they are valued entirely by their teachers, administration, and peers? I feel as though provisions have to be set in place to accommodate all of students’ physical and emotional needs. Overall, I feel as though this is a grey area in terms of how to fairly and effectively implement policies that allow smudging and other religious activities. It needs to be discussed and I am thankful that this issue has been brought forth because students, communities, teacher candidates, present teachers, and administrators are talking about the issue. Raising awareness about these things is a great place to start.

    References

    Walker, C. (2014). First Nations teen told not to smudge before school. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-teen-told-not-to-smudge-before- school-1.2524641

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  14. This blog post discusses the recent controversy over a teenage Indigenous student being accused of using drugs when in fact he was smudging, a traditional Indigenous belief. Smudging is “the practice of burning traditional medicines” (Walker, 2014). Smudging is used as a “physical and mental cleansing technique and tradition” (Ouellette, 2014). Stephen Bunn was asked by a teacher if he had been smoking drugs; however, the smell was from the burning of the sage involved in smudging. Bunn said that afterwards he stopped smudging “because he felt embarrassed and ashamed” (Walker, 2014).
    I believe that every student and human being is entitled to their own religious practices, beliefs, and expressions. I also think that it is extremely unfair for the teacher to have called Stephen Bunn out like that, and immediately blame him for doing drugs. However, I am assuming this teacher did not have the knowledge to realize that Bunn smelled of burned sage, as opposed to drugs. I have not experienced the scent of burned sage and may not be able to recognize the smell myself. I believe that students should be allowed to smudge before school if that is a part of their religious practices. However, I am slightly conflicted about how I feel about scent-free school environments. I do believe that it is important that schools acknowledge that children and adults may have allergies or asthma that can make breathing around strong scents difficult or even harmful to their health. It is tough for me to choose a side in this debate because I strongly believe that students should be allowed to practice what they believe in. However, if these practices are harmful to the health of another student, then that is definitely not ideal. In a perfect world there would be some way that students could practice smudging before school, and then attend school without the potential of affecting the health of their fellow students. Maybe the answer would be to have students practice smudging after school, but this is not fair to put these kinds of restrictions on students’ beliefs. This is a difficult question to address, and there is definitely not a conclusive answer.

    Reference:

    Ouellette, R.F. (2014). Human Rights: First Nations teen Stephen Bunn was accused of smoking drugs after smudging by his school. Retrieved from: http://www.attheedgeofcanada.com/2014/02/first-nations-teen-stephen-bunn-was.html

    Walker, C. (2014). First Nations teen told not to smudge before school. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-teen-told-not-to-smudge-before-school-1.2524641

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  15. We discussed this incident in our classroom and I was glad that during that discussion several different opinions were raised. While I regret that this incident has become such a national story I believe that we can all learn from it. Stephen Bunn of course has the right to practice his religious beliefs. No one should prevent him from practicing his spiritual tradition of smudging. However, in today’s world there are many laws that limit our freedoms. In a school setting, and in many work settings, people are not allowed to wear strong scents such as perfume or cologne. It is my understanding that Stephen Burns was smudging using sage. So to compare the smell to that of cigar or cigarette smoke is in my opinion unfair. Anyone who comes to a school with a strong scent will no doubt be a distraction and could cause others to develop headaches. I would also like to think that in this day and age teachers would not engage in what is assumed to be a racist or at least discriminatory act against a First Nations student.

    I am not ignorant to assume that racist attitudes towards First Nations people have disappeared. I found a related article to the one about Stephen Bunn, which was about a woman who was denied housing in British Columbia because she admitted to the practice of smudging. The landlord believed that it was a type of drug and so she denied Briana Ireland the apartment. In this situation no one should be able to prevent her from engaging in the spiritual practice of smudging. People should for the most part be able to do whatever they please in their own homes. This would not have impacted anyone else as it would have in a school setting (http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-woman-denied-housing-because-of-cultural-practice-1.2508291).

    In another related story a high school in Ottawa went to great lengths to be inclusive of First Nations students. This high school had a “separate ventilation system installed in the smudge room to allow students to burn herbs without disturbing classmates.” Although I think it is great to be inclusive of First Nations students in this way I think that this is a bit extreme. I’m sure that there are many students who would like to be able to practice their religious or spiritual beliefs but it is my opinion that those practices should be left at home. I think it was a great step forward when countries separated the church from the state and I think that it should also be separate from the school system. People go to school to get an education and as such academics should be the focus. Unless students are going to a school specifically to study religious or spiritual subject areas I do not think it appropriate to allow these practices within the confines of a school. I fear that by allowing some groups to engage in their religious and spiritual practices will only cause other groups to demand that they too have a place to practice their beliefs. And to me that should not be the focus of a school, at least not in a primary or secondary school setting (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/rideau-high-supports-aboriginal-smudging-tradition-1.2526481).

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