We aren’t a religion

First Nations curriculum has come a ways in recent years.  Where there was once a wide spread feeling of animosity and contempt towards education and its formal systems because of residential school, there is now an understanding that education, in all its forms, is a foundation upon which we can build strong First Nations and facilitate reconciliation with the broader population.  I was at a loss for words today when I read this article from the Global BC Facebook page. However my Facebook share of the article created some great discussion.  A mother has filed a petition with the Supreme Court of BC against School District 70 for violating the Schools Act by requiring her children participate in a Nuu-chah-nulth cleansing ceremony at their school in Port Alberni.

Further details about the petition and the ceremony in question are found in the CBC coverage.

I am a Hesquiaht Woman.  Hesquiaht is a part of the Nuu-chah-nulth people.  First off,we are not a religious or political group. We are 14 Nations whose territory spans from Ditidaht up to Kyuquot on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. We are Indigenous to these territories.  Our spiritual beliefs are not religion, religion is a foreign concept introduced after contact.  Our structures of governance, our spirituality, our connection to the land, our songs and dances, our house structures are all connected.  To learn about our cultures means to learn about Hishuk’ish Tsawalk, everything is one and all is interconnected.

In regards to the children being told they must participate, that was indeed not ok.  I can only imagine at this time that a well meaning teacher thought it would be seen as disrespectful for some children to not participate.  That isn’t the case at all.  When we are sharing our culture with others it should be a choice whether one wants to participate or to observe.  Bearing witness to our culture is just as powerful as participating.  The act of witnessing is acknowedged and practiced in many Indigenous cultures and can also be a teachable moment for those students who are non-Indigenous or Indigenous from other Nations in BC and Canada.

Nevertheless, when a dancer recites a prayer before they perform a dance that is not intended to indoctrinate anyone into Indigenous spirituality, nor could it.  Our culture cannot be joined just because one has heard a prayer in our language, we are not seeking to recruit anyone.  It is actually a fundamental part of the dance, it further shows our traditions around the interconnectedness of all things.  Spirit, mind, body, land, animals, etc.

So now we have a mother filing a petition and seeking costs to prove her point.  Could this have not been resolved in a different, less adversarial way?  This could be an opportunity to learn about our cultures and to hear about what you would like to learn if you aren’t comfortable with what is currently being offered.  It is also an opportunity as a parent to ask yourself why you are so uncomfortable. Why are you so uncomfortable?  Ask that your children be given a choice.  I can get behind that.  I can support that.

It is hoped by many that through learning about our cultures and our histories that bridges can be built and reconciliation can be worked towards through honouring our differences and identifying our similarities.  I believe it is incredibly important to learn about the Indigenous people upon whose territory you live within.  I also think it is important to learn about the other cultures of people that make up Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, BC, and Canada.  Knowledge is power.  Knowledge breaks down barriers.  We need more of that.

Section 76 of the Schools act states,

  1. All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly non-sectarian principle
  2. The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or cree is to be taught I a school or Provincial school.

Sectarian: 1 of relating to, or characteristic of a sect. 2 Not willing to consider other points of view.

Sect: 1. A religious group that is a smaller part of a larger group and whose members all share similar beliefs. 2. A religious or political group that is connected to a larger group but that has beliefs that differ greatly from those of the main group.

Dogma: 1. A belief of set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. 2. A belief or set of beliefs that is taught by a religious organization.



About pswatts

I am a Hesquiaht, Nuu-chah-nulth woman, mom of 3, and passionate about a lot of things. I see limitless potential in people and hope to inspire even just one person to see it in themselves. You can find me on twitter @sabbaswatts
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7 Responses to We aren’t a religion

  1. Tooie says:

    Well written and powerful message – kleco kleco for sharing 🙂

  2. Licavezina says:

    Wonderfully written, and from the heart.

  3. Dennis Robert says:


  4. Shelley Rabinovitch says:

    The whole lawsuit surrounding a mother who claimed her kids had smudging “forced” on them in 2015?? It’s being put forward by what can only be described as a neo-con, right wing “constitutional law” group, whose founder is a former member of the Reform, and Wild Rose Party. They’re particularly fond of advocating for pro-life, evangelical causes. The ‘Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms”.

    “While JCCF claims to be a non-partisan group, it is endorsed by individuals associated with right-of-centre politics including Ezra Levant and leading figures of evangelical, conservative think tanks and activist groups such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Institute of Family and Marriage Canada (research arm of Focus on the Family Canada, the homophobic, “gay therapy” organization founded by James Dobson of Missouri), Montreal Economic Institute, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, Institute for Liberal Studies, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and the Fraser Institute.” (Adapted from Wikipedia)

  5. Carla says:

    Good, Strong Words that should be shared by all – Thank You for Sharing –

  6. Pat O'Brien says:

    Anything which invokes a spirit or non material realm should not be introduced to children as something we need to consider as real. We can respect each other’s right to have their beliefs and to practice them but not to teach them as true in a classroom setting. Teach all spiritual/religious practices but to ask kids to participate in a classroom setting is to tell them that there is something real going on. Should a Christian come into classes to baptize the students? I see no difference in that and a smudging ceremony. Schools are to be secular, this is in the School Act, no exceptions. Oh, and for the record, I am a Humanist with no religious beliefs at all. The real world is more than I need to live a fulfilling life.

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