LSS Smudging Controversy Sees Anticlimactic Resolution
Queen’s law students filled a Dunning Hall classroom yesterday evening to hear a debate on the controversial smudging motion.
The motion, put forth by LSS President Meagan Berlin and Senator Ian Moore, would see all future Law Students’ Society (LSS) meetings begin with a smudging ceremony—an aboriginal ritual of burning sacred medicines in order to cleanse the mind of negativity. After stating the motion to council, Berlin ceded the floor to LSS Aboriginal Student Representative Jason Mercredi, who introduced the proposal’s details to council.
The proposal started an intense debate on the Queen’s Law Facebook group after Juris Diction published an opinion article seen as favourable to the motion.
Students expressed concern that holding smudging ceremonies before LSS meetings violated the secular nature of the meetings and the law school in general.
“The act of smudging is inherently a spiritual or religious act and as a consequence, the LSS would be privileging the religious beliefs of one group of students over that of the vast majority of law students”, argued 3L Jonathan Nehmetallah, who led the Facebook debate.
He further argued that students felt uneasy about voicing their concerns because of a fear of being labelled ‘racists’.
Nehmetallah’s post soon garnered over a hundred and fifty ‘likes’ and several other students commented their agreement. Many echoed the sentiment that smudging was a religious ritual and thus inappropriate for a secular institution.
Some also argued that the uneasiness students felt in voicing their concerns went to a greater issue of the ‘chilling effect’ on free speech at the law school and an apparent disconnect between the LSS and the wider student body.
In an impassioned speech at the council meeting, Mercredi told the packed room that the motion was motivated by a desire to bring reconciliation between the aboriginal community and the law student body, as well as an attempt to dismantle colonial structures.
Mercredi suggested that the motion was misunderstood from the beginning. “The motion was interpreted as controversial. I apologize for not explaining it better”, he said.
He maintained that smudging is an individual activity that does not require spiritual attachment. First Nations peoples do not believe in a deity, but are spiritual. As such, he explained that smudging is a cultural ritual designed to bring harmony and balance.
Mercredi ended his speech by stating that the controversy stirred by the motion interfered with the sacredness of the ritual. After his speech, Mercredi requested leave to withdraw the motion. Council voted to grant leave and the motion was withdrawn and never voted upon. After this, most of the capacity crowd filtering out.
Adnan Subzwari (2L) is the News Editor for Juris Diction.