Why Smudging is Part of Our School Culture
Since Wellington College had a Wellness Centre located on Main Street, Elder Joe McLellan has been a part of our community. A story-teller, priest, First Nations elder, College professor, elementary school teacher and all around great guy, Joe has become an integral part of the family especially over the last year. In 2016, we reconnected with Joe at the Equip Massage Supply Garage Sale, after a ten year time apart. After reconnecting, Elder Joe became a staple at our major events to bless our activities and students.
Wellington College has always been eager to include all peoples, especially the First Nations community of Manitoba, which makes up approximately 80% of the population. Unfortunately we never really knew how to practically include them until now.
The Smudging Protocol and Guidelines as set forth by Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning indicate that, Many First Nations share the concept of “mino-pimatisiwin”, which means “good life” in both Cree and Ojibwe. Implicit in this is the understanding that all of life is a ceremony; that the sacred and the secular are parts of the whole; that people are whole beings (body, mind, spirit, emotion); and that “mino-pimatisiwin” is achieved by taking care of all aspects of one’s self… One of the most commonly shared experiences is the First Nation tradition of smudging.*
As part of the smudging ceremony, Elder Joe first initiates a sharing circle where are all students, staff and people involved are invited to sit in a circle and share one-by-one whatever is on their hearts. This year, we have focused these sharing circles to our experiences with First Nations students at the CCMTS Conference in June, gossip and being a better friend at the staff retreat and finally our thoughts for the beginning of school in the first weeks of September. One of the more powerful ceremonies or sharing times that we have at the school, these circles have created a space for vulnerability between the staff and students and have strengthened the relationships and disciplinary situations that arise.
The following part of the ceremony, which is the actual smudging itself, has again created a vulnerability among staff and students to share in a new experience and open themselves up to a spiritual encounter that is often taboo nowadays. While not all students and staff believe in the First Nations belief-system, most are open to the idea of cleansing for new beginnings and the idea of letting the past go and looking forward to the future.
It has been an incredible blessing to have Joe back in our community, not only to lead us into a more accepting culture, but also because he is a calm force that helps anyone relax in his presence. And as a group of massage therapists, that is something highly valued!