Native American Student in Trouble for Spiritual Cleansing

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.Kids get into trouble for many things, but rarely do they get in trouble for being too clean. Crazy as it sounds, that was the case with Stephen Bunn, a high school student in Brandon, Manitoba in Canada. The 17-year-old junior came to school smelling like sage after burning some to “smudge” — or spiritually cleanse himself — at home. Officials at Crocus Plains High School told him to stop smudging or risk facing suspension.

While it makes sense for schools to prohibit strong scents that may be confused for marijuana, smudging is actually a religious practice.

There are many cultures that have rituals to spiritually clean physical and emotional areas in their life. They exist all over the world, including the United States. Native Americans often use smudging as part of a prayer ritual. Bunn explains, “Smudging is a healing process.” This ancient ritual is a way for a person to cleanse themselves of bad influences, energies, or spirits. The practice also has scientific validation. Research shows herbs such as sage release negative ions, which can be linked to a better mood.

As part of the practice, Bunn burned dried sage leaves in a clay bowl and cupped it around his body while he prayed. He became more involved with the cleansing ritual after a family tragedy, and said it helps create a positive attitude before he goes to school.

“I smudge just to make myself feel good and to hope me and my family have a good day . . . . I use it to send prayers out and to stay positive,” said Bunn. “It actually helps me feel more confident about my day.”

Bunn plans to continue smudging as cleansing before going to school. He has a YouTube video explaining his story, hoping to reach other aboriginal people. He and others feel this is an infringement on his religious freedoms.

The school gives conflicting reports, generally stating they weren’t asking a student to stop religious or cultural practices. But any kind of prohibition of spiritual actions should raise concerns. If smudging is a part of Bunn’s spiritual cleansing and something he does outside of school, the school should respect his spiritual beliefs and focus on more important issues.

If it helps him focus and do better in school by creating a better environment, then let him cleanse.

News and PhotoSource: Indian Country Today Media Network

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.