Vancouver Island mother alleges classroom Indigenous ceremony violated daughter's religious rights
VICTORIA – A Port Alberni mother is taking a Vancouver Island school district to court, alleging an Indigenous smudging ceremony in her daughter's classroom infringed on the girl's rights.
The mother, Candice Servatius, says her daughter has the right to religious neutrality, which was violated when she wasn't allowed to leave class during the ceremony four years ago.
The smudging ceremony was held at John Howitt Elementary School in September 2015.
"They were smudging a wall and a chair, and it was to show the students this is how a Nuu-chah-nulth person would smudge themselves," tribal council president Judith Sayers told CTV News Vancouver Island.
"There were no prayers to go with it. It was just a demonstration."
But Servatius says the family doesn't share the same beliefs, and her daughter was denied the right to leave the room because the teacher said it would be rude.
"We believe that the government cannot compel citizens to participate in supernatural or religious ceremonies. That's the law," her lawyer said.
"My client objects to that because she doesn't believe in that, and there was no parental consent."
Sayers says she was "quite shocked" about the lawsuit.
"For us, this is just our culture, our belief, our way of life, our spirituality, which can't be equated to religion."
Lawyers for the family and School District 70 are in court in Nanaimo this week.