Nanaimo Courthouse (News Bulletin file)

Teacher tells B.C. Supreme Court that student was ‘happy’ to watch smudging ceremony in classroom

Case being heard in Nanaimo over indigenous cultural practice in Port Alberni classroom

The teacher accused of forcing one of her students to participate in an indigenous smudging ceremony told B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo that the allegation is a lie.

Candice Servatius, an evangelical Christian, is claiming her daughter’s rights to religious freedom were infringed on when she was forced to participate in a Nuu-chah-nulth smudging ceremony at Port Alberni’s John Howitt Elementary School in September 2015.

Servatius alleges that her daughter expressed a desire to leave the room but was told by her teacher that it would “be rude” to opt out, according to court documents.

RELATED: Student tells Nanaimo courtroom she wasn’t allowed to leave indigenous smudging ceremony

On Nov. 20, Jelena Dyer, who was the teacher when the ceremony took place, was cross-examined by Servatius’s lawyer, Jay Campbell of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

“I take great offence to being accused of coercing a child and being accused of violating a child’s rights. That hurts me to the core,” Dyer said.

She told the court that on the day in question, there were between 29 and 30 students in her class and that when the smudging ceremony occurred, the Nuu-chah-nulth elder explained what was happening and how it was important to her and her people.

“She was actually quite skilled at explaining, I took particular note of that, how she was able to explain every single time, this is what her people believe, ‘our understanding, our knowledge, this is what we believe,’” she said, later adding that it was clearly communicated to everyone in the room that there was no intent to “impress” Nuu-chah-nulth’s beliefs upon the students or adults present.

Dyer said that the closest any of the students would have been to the burning sage was about a metre and that there was “barely” any smoke.

“At no point was there excessive smoke in the room,” she said. “I understand the fire code, we were actually quite concerned that any actual sort of smoke coming from the sage would set off the fire alarm, so we took great care to ensure that there was very, very little smoke coming out.”

During the ceremony, Dyer said Servatius’s daughter didn’t express any concerns, either orally or physically.

“I remember she was sitting in the front row very happy to watch the entire demonstration, enthusiastically,” Dyer said.

Dyer said students were given the opportunity to leave the room during ceremony and that some did, but Servatius’s daughter wasn’t one of them.

“She did not request to leave the room, she was a very quiet student,” Dyer said. “She sat, observed, didn’t say a word. Didn’t say she was upset with me, didn’t communicate [using] body language that she was upset at any time.”

RELATED: ‘Our culture is not a religion,’ indigenous educator tells Nanaimo court in case of smudging at school

Dyer also said she never heard from Servatius’s daughter about the ceremony at all.

“At no point did she get up out of her desk. At no point before, during, or after did she speak to me about the cleansing,” Dyer said.

Servatius is seeking a court-ordered ban on smudging at B.C. public schools. The case has been taking place all week in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo.







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

Sunflower Highway, art initiative to connect Fraser Valley, Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan

Sunflowers made out of reclaimed materials will be installed on public art trails

Residents warned to stay away from flooded Cache Creek park

Water might look shallow, but is several feet deep in places

Ashcroft receives grants to get new hot tub and lift station

‘The hot tub is a major benefit for many residents’

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Most Read