Reconciling the Irreconcilable? — Exploring the LSS Motion to Adopt the Smudging Ceremony
The Law Students’ Society (LSS) is considering opening Council meetings with a smudging ceremony—a traditional indigenous cleansing ceremony. Jason Mercredi, the new Aboriginal Student Representative, proposed the idea. After the first ceremony was carried out on January 17th, 2016, the LSS President raised a motion to adopt the practice as a regular opening to Council meetings. The subsequent discussion was emotionally charged; the meeting ended with a general sense that there was a need for Council to learn more about the topic.
To have a meaningful conversation about smudging, we need to be conscious of the various paradigms within which we operate. The Western paradigm is the reason some of us think smudging before an LSS meeting violates the sacrosanct division of state and religion. It is the reason why some of us have difficulty understanding smudging as anything other than spiritual. This Western paradigm was and continues to be imposed on Indigenous peoples.
The Western paradigm separates the spiritual and the material, conceives of human nature as fundamentally self-interested, and places the well being of the individual above the collective. We could, and perhaps should, debate whether or not these values are good, but that’s not the point today. The point is that this way of thinking and being was imposed on a people with a fundamentally different worldview.
Today, the LSS is presented with an opportunity to consider embracing an element of an opposing paradigm—one perhaps based on a notion of reality that views the spiritual and material as intertwined.
The LSS and the student body have an opportunity to embrace an element of this worldview and begin to learn about it through reconciliation. Reconciliation is not easy to define in the same way that a smudging ceremony cannot be reduced to a simplistic practice, categorized as wholly spiritual or non-spiritual. But it does not amount to simply accepting a place for Indigenous peoples when it is convenient or when it does not challenge deeply held Western traditions.
Reconciliation asks us to emphasize and strive to understand, and when we can’t understand, to trust and adopt a humble posture of learning.
It may also require sacrifice—sacrificing the desire to frame the discussion by our personal investments.
“The LSS and the student body have an opportunity to embrace an element of this worldview and begin to learn about it through reconciliation.”
Some will see this as an affront to our deeply guarded secular society. No doubt religious institutions have dealt the hand of oppression throughout history. However, would a smudging ceremony create this same oppressive relationship?
Others may see this as privileging the spiritual beliefs of one group over another. However, might there be something unique in Canadian-Indigenous relations that render this fear inappropriate?
It is therefore important that a step in this direction is not taken without a deeper understanding of why we are adopting this cultural practice. We cannot adopt this motion based on some vague notion of diversity or palatable trend of the day. Nor can we do it out of a sense of obligation motivated by a superficial “politically correct” respect for Indigenous culture.
Education is key. Unfortunately, many of us have been robbed of thinking outside of our paradigm, just like Indigenous peoples have been robbed of thinking within their paradigm. Oppression takes prisoners on both sides—the oppressor and the oppressed.
Queen’s Law needs a sophisticated understanding of reconciliation and we are privileged to have an Aboriginal Student Representative, such as Jason Mercredi, who can help us work towards achieving this goal.
The Dissent is written jointly by Nika Farahani and Sheida Rezapour, two 3L students.