Nanaimo Courthouse (News Bulletin file)

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

Peter Flynn sits at the piano at a Christmas concert. Flynn retired at the end of 2020 and sat down with The Standard to reflect on his long career in the Hope area. (Photo/Peter Flynn)
EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Coquihalla’s longtime elementary school teacher retires

Peter Flynn reflects on decades as a teacher in Hope, teaching at school he went to as a child

Two teens were sent to hospital after being stabbed Saturday evening. (Shane MacKichan photo)
Two teens stabbed in Abbotsford

20-year-old man has been detained

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother missing for four weeks

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Most Read