Last year, quiet but confident student Zander Johnson of Norwood Elementary School was one of the catalysts for offering the First Nation practice of smudging to students. Strongly supported and encouraged by Norwood Principal Jodie Mattia and Family/School Liaison Officer and FNMI Support worker Kristy Strong-Gialet. The program has now been approved despite it being suspended for a time while the school board considered some of the concerns that were raised, and was celebrated by the school, staff and invited guests in a meaningful, heartfelt and entertaining event on March 20, 2015.
Smudging, despite the visual assumption, is the practice of fanning the scented smoke of burning sweetgrass and/or sage over oneself, typically with a feather. The ceremony is believed to be a cleansing and purification of the mind, body and soul. Prayers are spoken during the smudging, carried up by the smoke to the Creator.
Young people, like Zander, have desired to see this practice made available to students as a part of their cultural heritage, or may have been struggling at home or having trouble at school, and want to take a moment to focus and prepare for the day. Now that the school and school board have been able to work through the difficulties with accommodating such a request, the desire has become a reality, to the approval and applause of many.
The celebration held at Norwood Elementary School saw invited guests, students and staff who were willing to participate engage in a smudging ceremony, to be followed by an assembly where students and guests listened to drum circle performers, and words of greeting spoken by Wetaskiwin Mayor Bill Elliott, School Board Representatives and Elder Roy Louis of Samson Cree Nation. The assembly concluded in willing participants joining hands in a ‘Round Dance’ where the group moved in a shrinking circle, reflecting the nature and meaning of this ‘friendship dance’.
Photo: Elder Roy Louis of the Samson Cree Nation joins hands with Norwood students in a Round Dance. Photo by Ken Matthias.