No-smudging at Powwow Irks Students at North Dakota School

In the earlier half of January, the University of Mary became the subject of an online stir when it prohibited the Native American practice of smudging.

You may be thinking, “Isn't this no-smudging policy a violation of religious freedom?” Yes, it certainly is. The action hurt the sentiment of many, but the university’s associate dean, Carmelita Lamb, defends it by explaining how “a powwow is a social event and not a ceremonial event.”

Smudging is a practice of different Indigenous groups that involves burning sacred herbs to cleanse the aura of a specific place or person. Signs bearing the words “No smudging” were placed throughout the university during its yearly Mid-Winter Powwow that took place on 15 January in collaboration with the United Tribes Technical College.

According to Lamb, Mid-Winter Powwow is a chance for people to let loose, meet friends, and dance to some music. She explained that the reason behind the prohibition of the practice was not to set off the fire alarms. “We do not allow any cigarettes or vaping or any of that,” she said.

Tom Plenty, the president of Medicine Butte and member of the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara Nation, expressed his disappointment towards the university. He thinks that a high-caliber institution backed by thousands of federal funds would respect the culture and traditional customs of Native Americans and provide a non-discriminatory environment.

President of United Tribes Technical College, Leander McDonald, also weighed in by saying he didn't see the no-smudging signs while attending the powwow. Once the event had concluded, someone shared an online post with him regarding the no-smudging policy. To our relief, McDonald said he wants to revisit this issue and see if there are any opportunities to solve it soon. He explained that speaking up is important since doing so will put a lot of Natives in the right frame of mind, and we completely agree.

Note that the University of Mary allows smudging in specific parts of the campus, and being a Native American herself, Lamb stands behind the practice. She also took responsibility for the controversial action and promised to make a special effort to provide the right environment for smudging participants during any upcoming powwows.

Lamb also stated, “Nobody came to me to ask about smudging. We would have welcomed and provided a safe place for them to do the practice without triggering the smoke alarms.”

People on the internet also shared their thoughts when they compared the practice of smudging to Catholic priests burning incense while walking down an aisle. Tom Plenty was quick to observe that burning frankincense during a Catholic Mass is simply a variation of smudging. If the practice is allowed during Mass, then smudging should also be allowed for Native Americans during a Native event. The point is valid and something we can ponder upon.

A similar situation happened at the University of Michigan, which pushed it to amend its smoke-free campus policy to make room for smudging, provided that requests were made beforehand.



Last Updated on February 1, 2023 by Paul G

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