Western University, a Canadian university in London, Ontario, is ditching standard dormitory fire safety codes in favor of making indigenous students feel at home.
Their Housing and Indigenous Services departments have introduced a pilot project “designed to help self-identified Indigenous students stay connected to their culture, while in the comfort of their own dorm rooms,” according to a CBC report. Essentially, this change is allowing students to participate in “smudging ceremonies” inside dormitories.
According to Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., a company focused on training Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on how to work together effectively, smudging ceremonies are a traditional act “for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place.”
The ceremony requires a container, traditionally a shell representing water, sacred plants (cedar, sage, sweetgrass, and tobacco), fire produced from lighting the sacred plants, and smoke produced from the fire.
“When you walk into an Indigenous community of living, what would it smell like?” program coordinator Sean Hoogterp asked Western students. They responded that it would smell “like burning sweet grass or sage," according to Hoogterp.
Coincidentally, this new policy, approved by fire and safety officials, comes right after the university held their fourth annual Indigenous Awareness Week, which was purportedly intended “to build relationships and promote the achievements of Indigenous students, staff and alumni.”
The new policy is part of a broader effort from Western to provide more Indigenous-focused housing to their nine residential communities.
"This is an excellent way to be proud of your culture," first-year business student Grace Swain stated. "I always want to learn more, and go to more ceremonies and smudging ceremonies. So coming to this residence has really connected me a lot more to my [roots]."
"[Non-Indigenous people] want to learn more, and they want to know more, and I think that's very important because ... there are [lots of] stereotypes and misunderstandings," Swain added.
The Center for Campus Fire Safety, a membership-based nonprofit with reach throughout the U.S. and Canada, has strict guidelines on how to practice campus fire safety. In many dormitories, anything producing smoke and potential fire hazards are forbidden — even candles or Christmas lights.
In the past year, nearly 450 undergraduate and graduate students at Western identified as indigenous.
Isaiah Denby is a college freshman from Tampa Bay, Florida studying economics and political science.