Ottawa

Smudge room to move when Rideau High School closes, trustee says

School board officials say they're hoping to relocate the Aboriginal Learning Space — a special room where Indigenous students practice the spiritual cleansing ceremony called "smudging" — if plans to shut down Rideau High School go ahead.

Smudging is an Indigenous spiritual cleansing ceremony

Sage, sweetgrass and cedar boughs — medicine to Indigenous people — are used in smudging. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

Public school board officials say they're hoping to relocate the Aboriginal Learning Space — a special room where Indigenous students practice the spiritual cleansing ceremony called smudging — if plans to shut down Rideau High School go ahead.

Smudging usually involves burning a small amount of sage, cedar bough or sweetgrass and cleansing oneself with the smoke.

On Thursday night, trustees with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board recommended closing Rideau High School in east Ottawa, after an emotional two days of delegations and debate.

If the recommendation goes ahead, Rideau's 400 students will be sent to Gloucester High School. Both are operating at 40 per cent capacity.

Kris Meawasige is the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit student support coordinator with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. He says students will have to take a leading role in re-establishing the smudging room at Gloucester High School. (CBC)

Creating the spiritual space at Rideau High School took years of work, and students will need to have a strong voice when it comes to reestablishing it at Gloucester, said Kris Meawasige, the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit student support coordinator with the school board.

"We need to engage the youth, the young people, the families, [as to] what that transition could look like. It's so important that they're involved, they have voice into it," Meawasige said.

'It's about them'

"It's not about me, it's not about us. It's about them. We need to honour their wishes and what they feel comfortable with."

Trustee Sandra Schwartz says that school board officials are committed to creating a similar environment for Indigenous students at Gloucester High School as the one that currently exists at Rideau High School. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

School board officials say they're committed to creating a similar environment at Gloucester High School, according to Sandra Schwartz, the school board trustee for the area. 

"We're working with the community. We passed a motion last night to bring the lodge, and create a new lodge and spiritual place for children at Gloucester," Schwartz told Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Rideau High School is expected to close down after the 2016-2017 school year ends. 

now