Regina elder told she's not allowed to smudge in her home by property manager

A Regina woman says she was shocked and confused when she received a letter from her property manager that said smudging was not allowed in her home.

Traditional spiritual practice vital to her everyday life, says Nellie Rider

Nellie Rider stands on her front steps holding her smudge bowl. She was informed by letter last week she is not allowed to perform the ritual in her home. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

A Regina woman says she was shocked and confused when she received a letter from her property manager that said smudging was not allowed in her home.

The letter, which came last week, states smoking or creating smoke indoors is not allowed on the property. 

"This also means smudging," a spiritual act common to many Indigenous cultures, "is not allowed indoors," the letter adds.

"I was very shocked," said Nellie Rider, who is an elder from Carry The Kettle First Nation, roughly 80 kilometres east of the city. 

"It goes against my rights as a human being."

Rider said she has lived in the same half of the two-unit house for nearly two years and this was the first time she had been told about a no-smudging rule.

The letter Rider received from her property manager says, 'Smoke is smoke and creates the same issues no matter what it is used for.' (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

'It's part of us'

The act of smudging is common to many Indigenous cultures. Plants such as sage, sweetgrass and cedar are burned slowly to create smoke.

The smoke is then spread over the face and head, in a manner similar to washing with water.

"When we pray, we smudge first… our prayers go up to the great spirit," said elder Sidney Kay from Kawacatoose First Nation.

Sidney Kay, an elder from Kawacatoose First Nation, says smudging is a way of prayer for Indigenous people. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

Kay said smudging is used in many ways, such as healing the sick or to get rid of bad spirits.

"It's a very great spiritual thing," he said.

"It's part of us. Indigenous people know what that smudging means. We believe in our smudge. [It's] our spiritual way."

Wood-burning fireplace

According to Rider, a new property owner took control in the summer, but she was told nothing would change in her lease and she wouldn't have to sign a new one. 

She smudges daily, in the mornings and evenings.

"As Nakoda/Dakota people, we have to smudge because it's [one of] our seven laws of life, of living," said Rider.

"Every day I work hard, I come home and I have to purify myself by smudging. Now it seems that I can't live these sacred laws of life that I'm supposed to be living."

Rider stands by the wood-burning fireplace in her living room. After receiving the letter, she is worried she may need to find a new home. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

Sharon Williams, the property manager for Rider's home, said "smoke is smoke" when asked about the letter and why it specifically banned smudging.

Rider's home is equipped with a wood-burning fireplace, however.

Asked about that, Williams said she wasn't on the job when Rider rented the house and would have to review the rental agreement before commenting. 

'It is a religious practice'

Saskatchewan's Office of Residential Tenancies said in an email that, when a property is sold, the new owner inherits the existing tenancy agreements.

The agency cautioned, however, that without seeing the agreement, "we are not certain whether the elder has the right to smudge or not."

But Saskatoon-based human rights lawyer Larry Kowalchuk said regardless of the tenancy agreement, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code protects freedom of religion — and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumps all.

"I think it's a violation of freedom of religion of an Indigenous person," said Kowalchuk.

"It is a religious practice. It's fundamental and an important aspect of Indigenous religion."

Rider has not filed any formal complaints but said she would be willing to smudge with the property manager and explain what she does and why. 

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About the Author

Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC