After a unanimous vote, Indigenous students in the Saint Paul public school system are now allowed to practice smudging in schools. The Saint Paul Public School Board (SPPS) passed a new policy designed to be more inclusive of Native American students and hopes other school districts across the nation will soon practice the procedure.
Details About the New Smudging Policy
As the second-largest school district in Minnesota, the SPPS board’s decision to allow smudging will impact its 40,000 students in attendance.
Further, the new smudging policy recognizes sage, sweet grass, and cedar among some of the traditional Indian medicines used in the ceremonial practice. Naturally, tobacco is not permitted on school grounds, but an exception will be made for students who wish to use it for smudging.
The school board saw all the previously listed elements as critical pieces of the purification process involved in the sacred ceremony.
SPPS American Indian Education Program Supervisor, John Bobolink, feels it is important to recognize that smudging is not exclusively a religious ceremony. “The policy that we want to bring forward is to introduce smudging as a cultural, social, and emotional intervention,” Bobolink explains.
In regards to where and when students can smudge, that will be left to each school to decide on its own. Additionally, students must have a designated school staff member present while performing a smudging ceremony.
Offering Equality for All Students
The SPPS board views the new policy as a way to provide equality to more students belonging to minority groups.
Mary Kunesh-Podein, a Minnesota state Senator and member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, explained that if the school district altered policies for minority groups like Muslim or LGBTQ students, it ought to do the same for its Native American students.
Essentially, the new policy that passed is a way to make schools more inclusive for all students in attendance.
Johnson Senior High School Innovates School Acceptance Policies
The Saint Paul public school district passing a policy that allows smudging is undoubtedly a progressive step to making education more inclusive. Still, the idea for the policy didn’t come out of thin air.
That said, Johnson Senior High School provided an example for the recent policy changes, as the school has allowed smudging since the 2018-19 school year. Basically, Johnson Senior High School laid the groundwork for the district-wide policy to be set in place.
Also, when Johnson Senior students pushed for their school to allow smudging, they presented their research to the entire student body. The primary concern from those on the opposing side of smudging was the effects on air quality.
However, Johnson Senior advocates presented definitive research that proved air quality and overall health concerns are not significant risks.
The fact that a public school is allowing such a practice is exciting to schools with an all-Native population, like the American Indian Magnet School (AIMS).
“It’s nice to know that Native students that don’t attend AIMS can experience that part of their culture,” AIMS President Tim Brown says.
Spreading Change to Schools Across the Country
Part of the Saint Paul school district’s hope by passing a smudging policy is that other schools across the country do the same.
Fortunately, the National Indian Education Association has requested that the Johnson Senior students give their presentation again at the Education Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City.
By doing so, the NIEA wants to prove the positive cultural and emotional impacts Native American students feel when sacred traditions like smudging are allowed.
One SPPS board member, Jeanie Foster, points out that the bravery it took for students to come forward and request change should not be overlooked.
“I’m extremely proud of the adults here that allowed our children’s voices to be heard,” Foster notes. Because of the open lines of communication, students “have a space of centering and healing while they’re in our buildings,” Foster continues.
What is Smudging? Why is it Important?
Smudging is an Indigenous ceremony in which an individual burns specific herbs or resins in a clay or shelled bowl while reciting prayers. It is one of the most popular rituals in Indigenous cultures in North and South America and has been practiced since ancient times.
As the herbs or resins burn, the smoke produced is believed to cleanse the air and the people within it. Moreover, the smoke is thought to clear the air of any negative energy, sadness, anxieties, etc.
Most Native American tribes view smudging as a bridge between mortal life and higher realms. On top of that, the practice is a way to bring positive energy and healing into a person’s life.
Overall, smudging is a sacred and cherished Native American tradition that allows a person to clear their mind and bring positivity into their lives whenever they need it. Therefore, the fact that public schools in Saint Paul are permitting this ceremony is momentous.
Regarding non-Native students, this gives them a chance to open their minds and learn about cultures and practices different from their own. Also, the recently passed policy offers a sense of reassurance and cultural acceptance to all Native American students.