The people seated in a circle then take turns smudging to cleanse of negative energy.

Sage is a multipurpose medicine, and one of four on a tray before him: There are also containers of buffalo sage, cedar and a braid of sweetgrass.

“Each smudge has their own distinct scent to it and it triggers different parts of the mind and the spirit,” said Littletent, cultural community engagement adviser with the school division.

“We use sage in a way of protecting your spirit.”

Paul Cutting lights a match to burn the sage in a seashell. The people seated in a circle then take turns smudging. They cup their hands to grab the smoke, then wash their hands with it. They repeat the process, moving the smoke across their faces and bodies to cleanse of negative energy.

For the past six years, smudging and other Indigenous ceremonies have been held in this room at the Regina Public School Division office.

Last fall, smudging was made more widely available to students and staff in a yearlong pilot project at Balfour Collegiate and Albert Community School.

Soon, smudging will have an even larger reach, to be offered in any public school that requests it. Schools with elders in residence will see the practice on a more frequent basis.

For schools with a large Indigenous population — some upwards of 40 to 60 per cent — sharing in a cultural practice can help students focus and prepare for a day at school, said Littletent.

For children who are new to the city from a reserve, he added, smudging provides “a place of sanctuary where they have that opportunity to still carry on their traditional means and customs into the new setting.”

“Our Indigenous students are experiencing anxiety and depression at a much higher rate than our non-Indigenous students, so smudging can assist students and staff to bring that sense of grounding and direction and connection,” said Greg Enion, director of education for the Regina Public School Division.

Littletent has seen students’ reactions from the pilot project: “They feel more comfortable; they feel more aware; they still have their cultural base in that school.”

Enion said smudging is a voluntary activity, and students must have written permission from a parent or guardian in order to participate. The ceremonies will not be conducted for whole classes of students.

Enion said smudging in schools would take place in designated spaces with good ventilation or windows that open. He said students and staff would be notified in advance of smudging, to accommodate anyone with smoke allergies.

Providing smudging opportunities in schools is a “natural next step” to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action for education, added Enion, “trying to build stronger connections with Indigenous students.”

That said, “A lot of non-Indigenous children are taking part in it, which is a good thing,” said Littletent.

“If it’s not your belief … it’s just that learning experience, that bond, bridging that gap between First Nation and non-native people coming together and learning from one another.”

Enion said this initiative reflects a core value of his school division: that of belonging.

“I really see that as our strength, is our diversity, and I think that makes us a stronger school division.”

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