Feb. 12, 2021

How to approach Stoney Nakoda smudging teachings on campus — in a good way

Protocols specialist Elissa Twoyoungmen and Elder Una Wesley share the healing power of smudge and its importance at UCalgary
Smudge is a traditional ceremony protocol from an Indigenous perspective. Colleen De Neve

For many Indigenous cultures in Canada, using smudge for medicinal purposes and spiritual ceremonies is a frequent practice. The procedure generally involves prayer and the burning of sacred medicines like sweetgrass, cedar, sage and tobacco.

The practice of smudging in larger institutions like the University of Calgary is encouraged through the vision and goals of ii' taa'poh'to'p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy. Smudging on campus is a good way to transform how UCalgary approaches education, learning and engaging with one another in meaningful discourse.

Elissa Twoyoungmen, UCalgary’s Indigenous cultural engagement and protocol specialist, says, “Smudging is an opportunity and a chance to practise ceremony on campus. This is a great way to involve the campus community in Indigenous ways of knowing and ground many of the interactions that happen within our campus community.”

When do we smudge?

For the Indigenous Engagement team and other special events hosted by ii' taa'poh'to'p, smudging ceremonies most often take place at the beginning of a gathering, creating a culturally safe space for authentic dialogue, decision-making, and good intentions at an individual and collective level.

Indigenous Peoples across Canada are diverse, with distinct languages, lifestyles, and cultural practices. While various Nations may have different cultural approaches to smudging, they typically share certain common teachings. Those include a spirit of kindness, humility, and gratitude evoked through prayers to the creator for all our relations — human beings and all living things.

Smudging ceremonies include a distinct mixture of regional sacred plants gifted from Mother Earth to the people. When burned in small amounts, the sacred plants' smoke has cleansing and healing powers and carries the people’s prayers to the Creator.

Smudging on campus

The University of Calgary is a smudge-friendly campus with many buildings that allow smudging. Below is a list of spaces and places pre-approved for smudging.

  1. MacKimmie Tower, 7th floor meeting rooms
  2. Writing Symbols Lodge
  3. Vitruvian Space, Dining Centre

While smudging is permitted in other places and spaces on campus, there may be some stipulations on access, and the configuration of the buildings may require a Hot Work Permit from the Risk office.

Smudging ceremony remotely

Even in our new digital environment, the gesture of smudging is the same: to set good intentions and practice. Knowledge Keepers who conduct smudge ceremonies over Zoom encourage participants to take a moment to ground themselves before an event or meeting.

Who can smudge?

Within gatherings of people, smudges are usually led by an Elder or spiritual leader, though anyone can perform their smudging ceremonies in private. Twoyongmen says, “A general rule of thumb if you are not sure if it is appropriate for you to smudge: Reach out and ask.”

Twoyoungmen is happy to connect with the UCalgary community to direct them to Knowledge Keepers who can lead a smudge-in ceremony.

Una Wesley, Stony Nakoda Elder

For Stoney Nakoda Elder Una Wesley (White Buffalo), an essential part of understanding smudge is knowing the power of one’s thoughts and emotions. Wesley says, “When we participate in a ceremony from an unobserved self-awareness, we will fail to see the self-actualization that ceremony can provide.”

After recently losing her grandson, Wesley credits the power of smudge for her healing.

Wesley tells of the grizzly bear claws and how they are not as strong when the grizzly first comes out of hibernation. We all one day must emerge and make our mark or path wherever we go in life.

Mother Earth provides and creates balance. Ceremony and prayer are what lead people into healing. Stay grounded and humble and observe the importance of the connection between mind, body and spirit.

How do I work with a Knowledge Keeper?

Genuine, reciprocal relationship-building is essential for working with Traditional Knowledge Keepers for ceremonial activities, both large and small. UCalgary community members are encouraged to read ii' taa'poh'to'p's Cultural Protocol Guidelines for more detailed information about the process and navigating honoraria.

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, “in a good way,” UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization. 

For more information about the Indigenous Strategy and upcoming events, please visit the Office of Indigenous Engagement website.