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Indigenous elder from Regina told that smudging is not allowed in her home

Earlier this month, an Indigenous woman from Regina received a notice from her property manager that stated smudging was prohibited from her apartment because, "smoke is smoke."

My heart sank when I first read this story. I don't think I could go a day without smudging.

According to the CBC, which first reported the story, Nellie Rider was handed a letter earlier this month by her property manager stating that smoking and creating smoke indoors was not allowed on the property.

"This also means smudging," the notice stated. Smudging is a spiritual act common to many Indigenous cultures, but "is not allowed indoors," the letter added.

Rider, who is an elder from the Carry the Kettle First Nation, stated that although she has lived on the property for almost two years, this is the first she has heard of the ban. She would not have renewed her lease if she had known, since smudging is steeped in spiritual tradition.

Smudging, the act of using smoke from herbs to cleanse the body and spaces like living quarters, is usually done with sage, cedar or sweetgrass. It is often the foundation onto which one’s spiritual practices are based as it is so fundamental.

Using the sacred smoke from these herbs, a person can "wash" themselves down to purify themselves or the space around them.

The notice from Rider's property manager, Sharon Williams stated, "Smoke is smoke and creates the same issues no matter what it is used for."  

Rider said, "Every day I work hard, I come home and I have to purify myself by smudging. Now it seems that I can't live these sacred laws of life that I'm supposed to be living."

While I understand that a property manager has the right to protect the property that falls under their purview, a little cultural sensitivity would have gone a long way.

Rider is not the only one who smudges daily to keep faith with her ancestors and how they and she practiced, especially in a city like Regina.

Smudging is not about creating a bonfire of smoke and can easily be done indoors without creating havoc for any property manager. It should also not be equated as similar to smoking a cigarette.

Rider has also stated she would be willing to sit down with Williams to explain the spiritual practice.

The CBC article also quoted Saskatoon-based human rights lawyer Larry Kowalchuk who said, “regardless of the tenancy agreement, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code protects freedom of religion--and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumps all”.

"I think it's a violation of freedom of religion of an Indigenous person," said Kowalchuk. "It is a religious practice. It's fundamental and an important aspect of Indigenous religion."

Image: Flickr/ideaablaze

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