Following controversy over human rights complaint, Aboriginal Affairs Committee holds first smudge ceremony at City Hall

9:45 a.m. Sept. 25, 2017 Steve Teekens, executive director of Na-Me-Res, offers burning sage to Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee and City Councillor Mike Layton at the first smudge ceremony at the beginning of Monday’s meeting. Teekens says sage is one of the four sacred medicines. “Basically, burning of the sage, it helps to get rid of negative energy, it cleanses your spirit, it helps to bring people into focus, and that’s why often when we have meetings we smudge first.”

Sept. 25, 2017

The Aboriginal Affairs Committee incorporated their first smudge ceremony into the start of their meeting at City Hall on Monday. The ceremony comes amid controversy over a human rights complaint filed by former consultant at the City of Toronto Lindsay Kretschmer, who says the city wouldn’t allow her  to smudge at City Hall.

The complaint was reported in two major newspapers on Friday. Kretschmer told The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray that there is no place set aside for smudging, and told Metro’s Gilbert Ngabo that her request was for a separate room set aside for smudging and that she waited three months but was never allowed to smudge in the building.

Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee and City Councillor Mike Layton said the issue originally surfaced at a meeting in the spring. “Staff had to do some work to figure out whose permission do we need to do it, and we found out actually late last week that we could get the correct permissions [to smudge in the committee room] from city staff,” Layton told Signal Toronto after Monday’s meeting.

Co-Chair Frances Sanderson, executive director at Nishnawbe Homes Inc., confirmed that the reason smudging had not been allowed had to do with adjusting the ventilation in the building where the smudge takes place, which has now been resolved. The Aboriginal Affairs Committee will smudge at the beginning of each meeting from now on. “It’s not just a one-off; it’s the way it’s going to be.”

But Sanderson said it is also important the future consultant has ongoing access to a space that will allow for smudging, at any time of day. “It’s difficult when the facility doesn’t know what time you want to smudge. You often smudge during times of sadness, times of joy, to start your day, to finish your day, if it’s a very stressful day, and here, at city hall, that can be stressful all the time, so one could be smudging all day long,” Sanderson says with a laugh, saying the committee is hopeful for a new system that will allow for smudging.

When asked where Sanderson would like to see the space, she said: “There are so many areas that it could be; it would be up to the city to come up with an area. Something that would be acceptable to them and to us, and that’s hopefully what it will be… the facilities managers have very intelligent people, engineers who know the system. There are so many ducts and pipes and ways to ventilate, so I’m sure it can be done.”