Students Can Be Forced to Watch Indigenous ‘Cleansing’ Ceremonies, Court Rules

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Students Can Be Forced to Watch Indigenous ‘Cleansing’ Ceremonies, Court Rules


A school did not violate the religious rights of two elementary-aged Christian students when it allowed an Indigenous elder to perform a smudging ritual at an assembly and “cleanse” the room with smoke, a Canadian court ruled Thursday.

At issue were separate smudging and hoop dancing demonstrations that the students’ parents said became forced participation in religious ceremonies. The demonstrations took place during the 2015-16 calendar year. 

In one event, a Nuu-chah-nulth elder visited a Port Alberni, British Columbia, elementary school and demonstrated the practice of smudging — the burning of plant material to “cleanse” the room of energy and to “cleanse” the participants’ spirits. A few months later, the students witnessed an Indigenous dance performance in which one of the dancers said a prayer. 

The parents filed suit, claiming their religious liberties under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated. The children were ages nine and seven at the time.

Justice Douglas W. Thompson, in a 47-page decision, sided with the school. 

“I conclude that these smudging and hoop dancing demonstrations were in no way — either by design or in their execution — an expression of the School District’s beliefs or an expression of religious favouritism,” Thompson wrote “Rather, the organization of these events reflected a gathering momentum to…

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