Brandon school responds to smudging scandal, Dakota student continues to smudge daily



By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
BRANDON, Man. – A Dakota student who says he was threatened to be sent home if he smudged before class, violating his school’s no-scent policy, continues to smudge daily before attending school.

Stephen Bunn, 17, refuses to comply with the ultimatum he and his mother said was leveled against him by the Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School last fall.

The story has made headlines for the last week, including these two APTN National News stories from Thursday and Monday.

Bunn said he began to smudge with sage before school after he found his younger brother dead of suicide in June. He said the school first accused him of smoking weed and having drugs.

However, the school, in a release posted to the school board’s website Monday, said they never told Bunn he couldn’t smudge.

“At no time has any staff member or administrator asked a student to cease a cultural or religious practice,” the statement says.

Sandy Bunn, Stephen’s mom, said the school isn’t telling the truth.

The concerned mother told APTN last week she got a call from a school vice-principal in December who said: “We want you to notify us when he does (smudge) so we can send him home for the rest of the day.”

APTN spoke to Sandy Bunn again Tuesday.

“They did ask me to phone when Stephen smudges so that way (they) can excuse him for the remainder of the day,” she said standing behind her comments “If they’re not being apologetic, or even admitting that conversation took place, that is crazy on their part. It’s ridiculous.”

APTN has asked for clarification on the school’s statement but it does say if a student violates the no-scent policy it could result in them being sent home.

The school says staff and administration has been unfairly labeled racists.

Sandy Bunn said she hasn’t received a call from the school to try and mediate the problem as she has no intention of telling her son not to smudge.

In their statement, the school said they have already reached out to the Bunn family.

“(Staff) have attempted to work with the student and family, through the Aboriginal Elder, to find a means whereby the student’s practices can be accommodated and respected while simultaneously ensuring that the school’s concerns are addressed. The Brandon School Division remains willing and open to engaging in further dialogue towards a solution,” says the statement.

The elder did reach out to Sandy Bunn a week after she said she got the call from the vice-principal.

“He called and said ‘the school had asked me to contact you as Stephen has been taken out of class a number of times and they’re concerned.’ He never mentioned anything about the smudging but did say he had sweet grass,” recalled Sandy Bunn.

She turned down the sweet grass for two reasons: She had some and her son uses sage and questions why the elder doesn’t know the difference between the two.

“He continued to say ‘don’t you want your son to respect authority?’” she said, adding that she certainly does, but, “I would like my son to be able to smudge in peace. They know we are not going to accommodate them. We have rights. I have always taught Stephen to stand up for what he believes in. You have to be that way in this day and age because we all have rights now.”

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