St. Paul schools develops policy on Native American smudging

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — St. Paul Public Schools officials are drafting a new policy to allow and encourage the Native American practice of smudging at schools and events in Minnesota’s second-largest district.

Smudging is the cultural practice of burning sage or other sacred herbs for healing and to cleanse the soul of negative thoughts.

Smudging is already taking place on an informal bases at some St. Paul schools, but supporters want to develop an official policy.

In a presentation to school board members Tuesday, John Bobolink, supervisor of the district’s American Indian Education Program, said that during a smudge, cedar, sage or sweetgrass is placed in a shell or container and ignited. The flames are gently blown out, creating wafting, cleansing smoke.

Leonard Spears, a Johnson Senior High School freshman, said smudging is a source of positive energy and he tries to do it daily.

“It is a cleanser,” Spears said. “It is a medicine for the mind.”

Supporters say it’s a way to create a sense of belonging for Native American students who make up about 3.7% of the school district’s population. District officials say smudging could help students who struggle with test anxiety, or aggressive behavior, or who are fighting to overcome trauma, the Star Tribune reported.

A policy draft says smudging can be done at an event such as a pow wow or cultural presentation, or with a student or group of students with a counselor or Indian Education staff member present.

Duluth Public Schools instituted a similar policy this spring.