Ferntree, of Duncan, British Columbia, a member of the Cowichan Tribes, holds her hand up as she partakes in a smudging ceremony as smoke from a smoldering bundle of dried sweetgrass is directed toward her during a Native American protest against Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, in Seattle. The fourth annual protest by the Oldgrowth Alliance included leaders and youth from Native American and Alaska Native communities speaking out against the annual holiday honoring Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Protest organizers say that Columbus could not have “discovered” a western hemisphere already inhabited by about 100 million people. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Alberni student tells B.C. Supreme Court she wasn’t allowed to leave indigenous smudging ceremony

Girl cross-examined Monday in Nanaimo courtroom, case continues Tuesday

A Port Alberni student told B.C. Supreme Court on Monday that she was forced to remain in her elementary school classroom during an indigenous smudging ceremony, despite her wishes to leave.

The student gave evidence in a Nanaimo courtroom as part of a lawsuit filed by Candice Servatius against Alberni School District 70.

According to court documents, Servatius claims the school district breached its duty of neutrality and that her daughter’s rights to religious freedom were infringed on when she was forced to participate in a Nuu-chah-nulth smudging ceremony at John Howitt Elementary School in September 2015. The mother, who is described by her legal counsel as an evangelical Christian, claims her daughter experienced “anxiety, shame and confusion as a result” of the ceremony and that it conflicted with her own religious convictions. She is seeking a court-ordered ban on the cultural practice in schools across British Columbia.

RELATED: Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Servatius’s daughter cannot be named due to a publication ban.

According to an affidavit from the girl who spoke in court Monday, the school provided students with a letter informing them that a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation would be visiting to talk with students about their culture and history. A day later, the ceremony took place. In her affidavit, the girl claims she was confused, uncomfortable, and wanted to talk to her parents before the ceremony took place, but couldn’t.

On Nov. 18, the student was cross-examined by the school district’s legal counsel, Keith Mitchell of Harris and Company.

“I was forced to be in that classroom,” the girl told the courtroom.

The student told the court about the smudging ceremony, explaining how smoke fanned onto students’ backpacks and that it filled the classroom.

“It got too smoky inside the classroom. It was getting harder to breathe,” she said, later adding that there was “a lot of coughing.”

The girl also said the elder performing the ceremony told the students that the “classroom was dirty.” She said she asked to leave the classroom because she was uncomfortable with what was happening but that her teacher wouldn’t let her.

“I wasn’t allowed to leave the classroom,” she said.

However, Mitchell informed her that her teacher, who has yet to be cross-examined, disputes her account of what happened during the smudging ceremony and that despite her claims, she never asked to leave the classroom.

“She is going to say that you didn’t ask and she is going to say that other students did, in fact, leave the classroom,” Mitchell said.

ALSO READ: Nuu-chah-Nulth Tribal Council hopes for resolution in SD70 court case

Asked by Mitchell whether the ceremony made it “more difficult” for her to be a Christian, she responded by saying it did not.

The girl’s lawyers attempted to have her explain why she “had an issue with” the smudging ceremony but were denied by Justice Douglas Thompson, who said the affidavit explains her reasons for being upset with the ceremony.

The school district disputes the claims made by Servatius. The case is scheduled to continue at the Nanaimo Courthouse tomorrow, Nov. 19.



nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Ferry breaks down at Departure Bay, several sailings cancelled

B.C. Ferries vessel the Queen of Oak Bay held in dock in Nanaimo due to main engine issue

Donald Trump says Canadians on two stranded cruise ships will be heading home

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that there are 97 Canadian passengers on the Zaandam

Cowichan doc spurs octogenarian dad to develop low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

Graham Brockley takes concept to his dad who is trying to develop it to save lives

Victoria brewery uses 3D-printer to make face shields for health care workers

Phillips Brewing is teaming up with engineers to create single-use medical equipment

Saanich man serving life for notorious double murder-for-hire granted day parole

Derik Christopher Lord, convicted in 1992 Huenemann case, fathered a child in custody

VIDEO: Man breaks up Saanich road rage fight

Two men were throwing punches on Tillicum Road

Hip tradition sing-along planned again for Canadians April 2

The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois is encouraging all to join him virtually in a’Porch Session.’

Search for missing Island man comes to sad conclusion

Campbell River’s Bernard Eberlein was last seen March 27,

B.C. adding $300 to monthly income and disability assistance payments

‘Crisis supplement’ for COVID-19 for April, May and June

‘A matter of human decency’: Truckers’ union calls on gas stations, rest stops to fully re-open

Teamsters Canada wants feds, provinces to put pressure on facilities to re-open for transport workers

Vancouver Island teachers show the love for their students

Virtual message meant to give families hope in uncertain times

Migrant worker advocates blame feds, employers for COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. garden store

Migrant farm worker group calls on government for adequate health and safety requirements

COVID-19 has been impacting Canadian economy since January

But full effects of pandemic won’t be known for months

Most Read