By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
BRANDON, Man. – An Aboriginal youth and his mother say his high school crossed the line when they told him he couldn’t smudge before going school and if he does they’ll send him home.
That’s what happened to Stephen Bunn, 17, in Brandon, Man. just before Christmas when he was told the strong smell of sage was against the school’s scent policy.
But the problem really began in October when Bunn said he and his sister were accused of smelling like marijuana and asked if they had drugs on them by staff at the Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School.
Bunn said they were cross-examined.
He told them he and sister had smudged before heading to school and said the school made no mention of the scent policy then.
They just thought he was high.
The First Nation youth had been smudging more since his younger brother, 15, killed himself in June.
Bunn was the one who found him.
Then in November he went to school again, this time he says after helping his father move, and arrived through a side door when he was spotted by a “white” teacher.
She could smell smoke on him and immediately thought he was smoking weed, again.
Bunn told her it was sage as he had smudged.
She was having none of it and walked him to the principle’s office.
But while on the way there Bunn said she was barking at other students saying “don’t touch him” and pushing them out of the way.
“I was embarrassed and was starting to get to mad,” said Bunn Wednesday.
The principal, Matthew Gustafson, again, asked the young man if he was smoking weed and high.
“He said it was school policy that he ask me,” said Bunn. “It’s obvious it was sage.”
Again, no mentioned of a scent policy even though the school had implemented one in September.
So in December, when the school told him he wouldn’t be allowed to attend class if he smudged before class he stopped.
But his mother, Sandy Bunn, wasn’t happy.
She says she got a call from Brent Richards, one of the school’s vice-principals.
“We want you to notify us when he does (smudge) so we can send him home for the rest of the day,” Bunn’s mother said she was told by Richards.
“I said no.”
She wasn’t having any of it.
“You need to educate your staff on the differences … sage doesn’t smell like weed,” she told Richards. “Why should he have to miss school for this?”
APTN asked the school Wednesday about the allegations the Bunn family made and after several hours of “he’s in a meeting” and “when do you need this by” a Brandon school board spokeswoman sent APTN a statement at about 6 p.m.
They didn’t deny anything Bunn claimed, nor did they apologize.
“The Brandon School Division actively promotes and encourages respect of a variety of religious and cultural practices, including the practices of our First Nations students and their families,” the statement said.
Then the school board claimed privacy reasons as to why they couldn’t comment on Bunn’s specific claims.
“Although the Brandon School Division cannot comment on a specific student due to confidentiality requirements, the Brandon School Division regularly consults with Aboriginal Elders with respect to the specific needs and cultural practices of its Aboriginal students and their families,” the statement continued.
The school board said they have consulted with an elder to work with its staff and students to ensure smudging “ is carried out in such a way as to minimize any discomfort for students and staff within its schools.”
APTN followed up with questions – Was there ever a complaint about smudging from another student? Why was the scent policy never brought up before December?
APTN has yet to receive a response.
As for Bunn he’s smudging again.
“It just got to me for a bit and I stopped. But I smudged a couple days ago and went to school,” he said.
And there were no problems.
Still, he wants everyone to know what happened to him and posted this Youtube video.