UMary Mid-Winter Powwow smudging policy causes stir

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 6:43 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Smudging is a Native American practice of burning sacred herbs to cleanse a person or place. The custom was the cause of an online stir last week.

Traditions are woven into cultures, just as hair can be intertwined to make a braid. Smudging is one of the many customs celebrated by Indigenous cultures.

“We use it for like a cleansing, its kind of to wipe off and to clear your mind. And to have the open spiritual feeling,” said Leander McDonald, president of United Tribes Technical College.

For some, the University of Mary Mid-Winter Powwow was met with a shock that created an online stir. Signs were posted on doors prohibiting the practice of smudging inside.

“I think it was the signage that people were disenfranchised about,” said McDonald.

The University says the cause of the signs was, in part, due to miscommunication with their facilities department and to avoid setting off fire alarms. They say people were welcome to smudge outside.

“It was something that was posted from the mindset of our facilities. And they didn’t want anybody to be injured, because when people hear a fire alarm, their first reaction is to run, to vacate,” said Dr. Carmelita Lamb, associate dean of the Liffrig Family School of Education and Behavioral Sciences at UMary.

Lamb says the practice of smudging is similar spiritually to the Catholic practice of burning incense and the University welcomes all forms of religion. However, it was the space the powwow was in that created a difference.

“It just so happens that big public venues like the MAC have lots of smoke alarms in them, and we have to look at public safety,” said Lamb.

As for next year, they hope to be able to welcome more people and show them specific places at the University where people are welcome to smudge.

“Good that somebody provided their concerns so that we can take that forward the next time we plan the event. But I think the event is so important for us too, as far as the sharing of culture,” said McDonald.

Lamb says the University does have dedicated places for smudging indoors.

McDonald says people were smudging outside during the powwow.