Should I smudge with my students?

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This week, I had the opportunity to again work alongside Indigenous colleagues at OISE/UT and deliver presentations to teacher candidates. Since I began this work in 2011, my colleagues have most often begun our workshops by lighting traditional medicines in an abalone shell and bringing the smudge around the room, inviting teacher candidates to bring the smoke over their bodies and as I have been taught, come together in a good way.  

As we went around the circle afterwards, many teacher candidates expressed their gratitude for being invited to participate and their interest in learning more. In the past, some have asked whether they could now bring the smudge into their classroom, and so I felt compelled to share my own approach and thoughts on this. 

I want to begin by saying that this is not a "Dos and Don'ts" list. I won't and I can't speak for all non-Indigenous people, because I do not know their story, and I don't know their relationship to the smudge, to traditional medicines, to the land, and the Indigenous folks in their lives. 

I estimate that I have personally participated in over two hundred smudges in the past ten years. I have had the privilege of hearing teachings and of listening to prayers that are offered before and after. I have been gifted medicines from friends and individuals I have worked with. One of my colleagues, who I have sat in circle with for over six years sometimes asks me to bring the smudge around when we teach together. 

And still with all this, I do not bring the smudge to groups I work with (mainly comprised of other non-Indigenous teachers and teacher candidates).

There are two main reasons of why this is a practice that I do not take up. 

I am concerned about appropriation, and modelling this to my mostly non-Indigenous audiences. Personally, I am not in a place right now where I feel I have a strong enough relationship with the smudge that I can bring it to others.  While I have heard some teachings, I do not yet feel that I "hold" these teachings about the smudge, or about the medicines used (however, I personally do try to follow the teachings I have heard about the medicines that have been gifted to me). 

I understand that the smudge is not just a pedagogy or a classroom management tool. I have been taught that it is a sacred practice and it should be treated as such, and I am concerned that if teacher candidates were to see me as a non-Indigenous person leading one, they might not understand the context from which it emerges.

Again, I am not passing judgement on other Settler folks who might have a different relationship with the smudge than I do. I offer these thoughts to you as where I am right now.

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