Hospital asks forgiveness after Indigenous smudging ceremony forced outside into -20 C cold

The Ottawa Citizen

January 23, 2019

Blair Crawford: The Ottawa Citizen

The Ottawa Hospital has asked for “understanding and forgiveness” after a counsellor was forced to wheel an Indigenous patient outside in Saturday’s bitter cold to perform a smudge ceremony when staff mistakenly told them the ritual couldn’t be performed on hospital property.

“What happened in this case was not right, and does not reflect our values or our smudging procedure,” the hospital said in a emailed statement Wednesday. “We are determined to work with all patients and their loved ones, and we ask for understanding and forgiveness with regard to this instance.”

Brooke Stratton, an outreach worker from the Abenaki nation, went to the hospital’s General campus Saturday afternoon to help a woman who was in crisis and had been admitted the day before. The woman is a witness in a human-trafficking trial underway in Ottawa.

“She was messaging me, saying that she needed a couple of things,” Stratton said. “I told her I could bring her a ‘care package,’ but she said, ‘I just need smudge.’”

Smudging in an Indigenous ceremony where a bundle of sage, sweetgrass, cedar and tobacco is placed in a bowl, then lit to produce a sweet-smelling smoke that is wafted over the recipient.

“It’s how we pray,” Stratton said. “It’s to clear the negative. If someone is sick, it’s cleansing. We do it constantly — at a meeting, in a circle, if someone is in distress or crisis …”

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