Aboriginal People's Television Network
Eleventh-grade student Stephen Bunn tells the Aboriginal People's Television Network about being threatened with suspension for smelling like smudge.

Sage-Burning Student Who Was Smoked Out of Classes May File Human Rights Complaint

David P. Ball

Bunn took exception to the school's explanation that “the strong smudging scent draws unwanted attention to the student,” because the only unwanted attention he has experienced came from the school administration itself. Educator concerns, he said, were first expressed last November when he was asked if he had been smoking marijuana, but his explanation was accepted by the principal. On February 4, he uploaded a YouTube video about the incident.

Bunn learned the traditional sage-burning practice from his parents when he was nine years old, but after his brother died by suicide last June, smudging became a vital part of healing from the tragedy. The ritual involves smoldering dried sage and cleansing one’s body with the smoke. Bunn said it created a “positive attitude” before school.

“It helped me deal with my brother's passing away a lot better,” he explained.

The school did not return interview requests, and Brandon School Division refused to speak to ICTMN. Instead it e-mailed a lengthy statement saying that it “actively promotes and encourages respect” of aboriginal and other cultural practices, but has to keep the environment “safe” for those with severe allergies and sensitivities.

“The school wanted to respect and support him in his spiritual needs,” the statement read. “At no time has any staff member or administrator asked a student to cease a cultural or religious practice. The Brandon School Division owes students and staff with environmental sensitivities an obligation to ensure a safe learning environment, and in order to protect them it is sometimes necessary to relocate a student who is wearing a scent within the school, or ask the student to go home.”


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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Amen little brother of the People! NEVER back down from any group or person who wants you to go against your cultural & religious beliefs. Never back down to these devils who hide behind titles & buildings. Just because our children attend these public schools does not give these school officials the right to EVER tell our children they must leave their beliefs outside the school campus. We have constitutional rights protections from such ignorant people. Stand tall, stand proud & continue exposing these cowards for who they are regardless of whose toes get stepped on. The Creator loves a righteous person who exposes evil people & their wicked ways & stands up for what is right in our Creator's eyes my young friend. All my many friends across Indian Country lets encourage our people far & wide to do as this young man of the People has done & continue exposing evil people & wicked ways every chance we get when our freedoms & rights are violated regardless of who is committing these offences. A good human being does much good when they stand up for what is right. It pleases our Creator each time we stand up & say, "No More!" to anyone who dares cross the line of what is right & of a good way. Idle No More & no more tolerating those who dare try & stop us from believing & practicing our rights as given to us by the Creator my friends!

Flower's picture
Submitted by Flower on
I have a story to share. When I was in the first grade at our BIA school my entire class had to cover our faces looking down our desks one morning so that the teacher could see who might raise their hand and admit they had been smoking cigarettes when she asked the question of us all because she smelled smoke in the room and couldn't pinpoint who it was or where it had come from.. Of course, not one student raised their hand because none of us smoked at that age. The stupid ignorant teacher failed to realize that most of us had wood stoves at home and in the winter of course our jackets smelled like smoke because sometimes we might have gotten too close and burned a piece of it.. in addition we were always around adults or elders who smoked indian tobacco in the morning. I remember feeling like we had done something wrong and looking at one another wondering why were we being subjected to this, when it just boiled down to ignorance on her part as a non-native teacher who had no clue what it was like living in a native home on our rez. Looking back, I really resent that stupid teacher for making all of us feel bad because of her ignorance in our way of life at the time.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Flower, I am sorry you had to endure the ignorance of this educator. Take heart today that numbers of our native children are now standing up for their rights, cultures & beliefs. It brings me hope for a brighter future as more are exposed to our ways & learn to stop their ignorance one person at a time. The Creator is joyful when one who was in ignorance, hatred & foolishness opens their eyes, hearts & spirits & turns away from these things. Instead, they embrace others with a heart of compassion & understanding, a spirit enlightened with kindness & eyes that now shine with joy of spirit. However, Man Above despises the willfully wicked ones who go about harming others just because they delight in it. For those evil ones, the Creator turns His wrath & anger towards them.