New Policy Increases Inclusivity for Native American Students

For a campus with an indigenous population of about 0.6 percent, or about 13 students, it is unsurprising that smudging has not been a widely discussed topic around campus. Although it may not be a concern for most Colorado College students, it is an important practice for some of the members of our community. For this reason, on Aug. 8 CC proposed a policy, now pending approval, to protect smudging and pipe ceremonies.

Illustration by Lo Wall

“Smudging is nuanced, it depends on which national or tribal affiliation someone belongs to,” said Dr. Dwanna Robertson, a member of the Muscogee Nation and an Assistant Professor in the Race, Ethnicity, and  Migration Studies department. “But in general, it is the use of particular elements like tobacco, cedar, sage, sweet grass. You light it and that smoke comes out and is used for different practices.”

A common misconception about smudging is that it resembles a bonfire. There were members of the committee who drafted policy who had to be told that this is not the case. According to Robertson, it is a perfectly safe practice with just a little bit of smoke that poses no fire hazard.

The policy states that its purpose is to “protect, promote, and facilitate indigenous/Native American students, faculty, staff, and visitors practicing indigenous/Native American religious traditions and ceremonies, including smudging and pipe ceremonies, and to do so in harmony with established college smoke and fire policies.” When asked why this policy would be put in place now when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act has been law since 1978, Dr. Robertson said that this policy was a direct response to the new tobacco usage policy put in place last year. “It has been important for us to delineate from ceremonial smoke and tobacco use in general.” This means indigenous students are allowed to use tobacco if they are doing it in accordance with their religious practices.

The 14-member committee, led by the Associate Dean of Students, Rochelle Mason, included indigenous students, faculty, and elders from the community. The committee worked throughout the summer without pay to be able to put this policy into place. They worked diligently to ensure that Indigenous students felt safe and comfortable to perform practices that coincide with their religious beliefs. Dr. Robertson acknowledges that while CC has issues involving becoming a more diverse and equitable institution, she says that she has been treated with nothing but respect from the students and faculty. She finds that CC students are eager to learn and that they have a great ability to want to disrupt what they have been taught since grade school.

During the RA In-Service meeting on Tuesday Aug. 4 in Loomis Hall, the RLC of South Hall Allison Hendrix spoke to all RAs about the implementation of this policy. She reiterated Dr. Robertson’s point about all of the time and hard work that was put into crafting this policy. After Hendrix, Zunneh-bah Martin ‘19 discussed her experience as an indigenous student who practices smudging. “I am glad that we have come this far to work on an official CC policy that supports Indigenous students and our rights to our spiritual, religious, cultural, traditional, and ceremonial practices,”  said Martin. She also mentioned how it made her feel unwelcome when students and staff would question what and why she was using these materials. “During my freshman year at CC…. I did not feel safe, comfortable, understood, respected, or welcomed on campus by many because it felt like I was being criminalized for carrying on the practices of my ancestors.” Zunneh-bah demonstrated an example of smudging by lighting a piece of sage on fire in order to show the Residential Advisors the difference between a substance allowed on campus and illegal substances. Zunneh-bah Martin mentioned how she is excited to see this policy put into effect soon. The policy has not been finalized yet, as the period for open comments ends this Friday, Sept. 7.

Elias Asher

Elias Asher

Elias Asher joined the Catalyst in August of 2018 and writes for the News Section. He is part of the class of 21'. He is a Political Science major born and raised in Montclair, New Jersey, but now resides in Austin, Texas. His grandparents and father were born in the Boston area which contributes to his devoted love of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots. He enjoys watching the Red Sox and Patriots with friends and family back home, and with Boston haters at CC. One of his favorite pastimes is walking and spending time with his dog Fenway. Can you tell he loves Boston?
Elias Asher
Elias Asher

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