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Smudging away stress

The annual De-stress fest at Langara adds a new element courtesy of the college's Aboriginal Studies department.

Elder Mary Jane Joe will lead a smudge ceremony at the gathering space (A167) at 12:30 pm on Nov. 28. Photo by Perrin Grauer.
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Reported by Perrin Grauer

Participating in a smudge ceremony is an opportunity to relax and also to learn, said Rick Ouellet, Langara College’s director of Aboriginal education and services.

“It’s a ritual to cleanse, clear your thoughts, put yourself in a good space. A lot of students like doing it, for example, before you write an exam, or if you’re having a busy week,” Ouellet said, adding that maintaining an open dialogue with the Musqueam, on whose territory Langara is built, was key given that smudging is not part of Coast Salish culture.

“The strategy is to have a really good relationship with the Musqueam so they understand that, here, we want Indigenous students to succeed, and for some, that’s smudging,” Ouellet said.

“So they’re fine with it. But it’s not a part of their traditions, they have different traditions.”

A first for De-stress fest

Smudging will be a part of Langara’s De-Stress Fest for the first time this year, and will be led by Elder Mary Jane Joe, former Langara instructor and member of the Ntle’kepmx (Interior Salish) Nation.

The ritual involves burning sacred plants such as cedar, sweetgrass, tobacco and sage in a shell, and wafting the smoke towards participants with an eagle feather.

Joe said that as a teacher she had always given her classes the opportunity to participate in a smudge, as a way to both educate and rejuvenate.

“It was something to be involved in that is part of our Aboriginal traditions, knowledge and culture,” Joe said. “It’s part of reconciliation as well, and healing.”

The power of smudge ceremonies

Jimmy Aitken, Aboriginal studies department assistant at Langara, said the talking circle, held after the smudge ceremony, had been particularly powerful for past participants.

“The people that have participated are very thankful,” Aitken said.

“It helps to give a voice to what they’re processing and to their gratefulness for having that opportunity. To just be human with other people.”

Interested students are asked to meet at Langara’s Aboriginal Gathering Space at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. All are welcome.

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