Toronto’s Indigenous consultant resigns, files human rights complaint

From a reasonable accommodation standpoint, her right to practice smudging would need to be weighed against the overall ban against smoking and the effects of second hand smoke.

Will be interesting to see how complaint will be resolved:

The woman hired to help city hall improve its relations with Indigenous communities has resigned and filed a human rights complaint against the city, Metro has learned.

Lindsay Kretschmer, a Mohawk Wolf Clan member, was hired last March as a full-time Indigenous Affairs consultant in the city’s Equity, Diversity and Human Rights division. Part of her job was to liaise with local Indigenous communities and provide the city with expert policy advice, in line with the city’s efforts to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

But her stint was short-lived. In early July, Kretschmer tendered her resignation over what she calls “disrespectful” treatment of the Indigenous file. She has since filed a complaint at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, claiming the city violated her right to practise smudging, an Indigenous ceremony that involves burning sacred medicines.

“I waited for three months but I was never allowed to smudge in that building,” she said. She wanted Indigenous people to have a specific room at city hall where smudging can be performed, like the prayer/meditation room where members of any religion can pray.

City spokesperson Wynna Brown did not discuss specifics of the case with Metro but wrote in an email that the city has responded to Kretschmer’s application and “looks forward to the opportunity to present its case through the tribunal process.”

Kretschmer said she was later told she could smudge inside one of the managers’ offices — a response she regarded as “not dignified” because of the lack of privacy and personal space. One colleague even suggested she smudge outside.

“In 2017 you’re forbidding me from practising my culture. That’s essentially a repeat of colonization behaviour,” she said. “It’s just really bad to work there as an Indigenous person.”

Mayor John Tory has committed to increasing Indigenous presence at city hall, and the hiring of Kretchmer was seen as the first step. The city recently started acknowledging Toronto’s position on traditional Indigenous land at council and committee meetings. Indigenous flags fly on a permanent basis, and there’s a plan to give councillors and staff cultural competency training.

Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat referred Metro to strategic communications for answers on the case, adding the mayor “is committed to continuing to build positive relationships with Toronto’s Indigenous communities. He recognizes there is still much work to be done.”

At its meeting next Monday, the Aboriginal Affairs Committee will discuss the recruitment of a new consultant as they continue to work on the creation of an Aboriginal Office at city hall.

Kretschmer now believes that’s all “glamour” because there’s no concrete plan to promote Indigenous communities across the city. She says her hiring was just for show.

“It was a token position to make themselves look good, but they are doing nothing on the Indigenous file,” she said, adding there’s no Indigenous employment strategy and no budget to train staff.

“They are very far behind on that file. People are very upset with them. They’ve failed in so many ways it’s not even funny.”

Source: Toronto’s Indigenous consultant resigns, files human rights complaint | Toronto Star

First Nation smudging ceremony does not infringe on religious freedom

Richard Moon’s perspective in contrast to Ashley Csanady: Indigenous prayers in the classroom and all-Muslim suburbs are equally dangerous attacks on our secular society:

On first glance, the inclusion of the smudging ceremony in the school’s curriculum would seem to breach this prohibition on state support for religion. If it is objectionable and a breach of the Charter’s freedom of religion for a school to include the Lord’s Prayer as part of its opening exercises, then surely it must also breach the Charter when a school involves its students in a smudging ceremony. The equation of these practices, though, is too simple and fails to understand why the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools is objectionable and why the smudging ceremony has been included in the school’s curriculum.

It is important to remember that the Port Alberni school is not affirming or supporting the smudging ceremony as a spiritually true practice — as the correct way to worship the divine. The school’s purpose is to introduce students to some of the practices of the local indigenous community.

The courts have accepted that a school may teach students about different spiritual traditions. The parent’s objection, then, must be that the students are being exposed to the practices of only one spiritual tradition — that indigenous practices are being given some form of preference in the schools.

But there are good reasons for this apparent preference. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped Canadians to see more clearly that the dominant culture in Canada did not simply ignore the cultural/spiritual practices of the First Nations, but actively sought to suppress those practices through residential schools and other means. Exposing public school students to a few of these practices is a small start in the process of acknowledging the presence of First Nations and the injustices committed against them.

A parent who believes that it is immoral or wrongful for her children to participate in an indigenous spiritual ceremony should be able to request an exemption from participation. The parent, though, should not be able to prevent the school from introducing other students to the cultural and spiritual practices of the local indigenous community.

Source: First Nation smudging ceremony does not infringe on religious freedom | Vancouver Sun