“Spirituality is a big part of our healing process,” says Lois Standing, a member of the Wahpeton Dakota First Nation near Prince Albert.

In May, Lois’s mother Lorraine was admitted to Royal University Hospital (RUH) due to a fall. Lois says she’s grateful for the opportunity she and her mother have had to practice smudging while in hospital.

Smudging is a spiritual ceremony practiced by many First Nations and Métis people meant to enhance health and well-being by connecting the body with the Creator and Mother Earth.

Smudging items

Some items that may be included in a smudging ceremony (from left to right): an abalone shell for smudging, sweet grass, sage and cedar.

“It’s a traditional ceremony that helps clear the mind of all negative thoughts,” says Gilbert Kewistep, a Cultural Advisor with Saskatoon Health Region.

Smudging has taken place in the ceremonial rooms in Saskatoon’s three hospitals and in Parkridge Centre for many years. In May, a Facilitation of Smudging Ceremonies policy was released, affirming the Region’s commitment to provide culturally and spiritually appropriate care to all patients and their families by supporting requests for smudging ceremonies.

According to the policy, the Region will facilitate smudging requests from patients, clients, residents, family and staff in all overnight-stay facilities, each of which has a designated smudging area for the ceremonies. In exceptional circumstances, smudging may occur at the bedside.

“The policy is about facilitation and accommodation of traditional practices,” says Brian Walton, Saskatoon Health Region’s Interim Director for Spiritual Care. “It’s about supporting people in their healing journey, which is more than just physical. From my perspective, it’s a patient-centred approach to care that suggests the Region recognizes the importance of Aboriginal, spiritual tradition.”

Lois and her mother have used the ceremonial room at RUH for smudging on multiple occasions, one of which was for a family service that involved a smudging and pipe ceremony, as well as a feast.

“It was a positive experience for my mother,” says Lois. “Having that strong circle around her, all devoted to praying for her healing, and having that connection with the songs, the scent and the ceremony she grew up with, helped uplift her spirits.”

In the weeks since the smudging ceremony, Lorraine’s health has improved and she has been moved to Saskatoon City Hospital (SCH), where she’s doing physical therapy and getting stronger by the day.

“She’s come a long way in her healing process,” says Lois, who continues to smudge with her mother in the ceremonial room at SCH.

“The policy shows that times are changing and there’s a better understanding of our culture and more openness,” Lois says, adding that staff have been supportive throughout the process.

The policy is the result of a collaborative effort between the Department of Spiritual and Cultural Care, First Nations and Métis Health Services, First Nations and Métis Health Council, Elders Advisory Council, and patient family advisors.