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Scott Strasser

Board of governors approves $250,000 smudge room for Edmonton social work building

By Scott Strasser, January 12 2015 —

The University of Calgary’s Board of Governors approved up to $250,000 in extra funding to build a smudge room for the Central and Northern Alberta Social Work Relocation project.

Smudging is an indigenous method of purification. Sacred herbs like sage or sweet grass are burned, creating smoke meant to clear negative energy. It is practiced by plains indigenous peoples from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Kerrie Moore is a volunteer cultural advisor with the U of C Native Centre. She described smudging as a way to ground oneself.

“Whenever we’re worried or there is something not right in our lives we have a tendency to go into our heads,” Moore said. “[Smudging] is simply the way we bring ourselves down into our spirit.”

Smudging can be done personally or in a group. The U of C Native Centre has two rooms used for smudging.

The U of C’s faculty of social work has a location in Edmonton, with around 300 social work students studying out for the Garneau Professional Building.

But the lease of that building expires in 2016. The faculty is now relocating to a space offered by the University of Alberta’s downtown campus — Enterprise Square.

“The new space requires construction of offices, classrooms and related areas to house the requirements for delivering social work programs,” said U of C dean of social work Jackie Sieppert.

According to Sieppert, including aboriginal world views is part of national accreditation standards for social work degree programs. He said at least one room in Enterprise Square needs to allow space for smudging.

The smudge room’s hefty price tag is due to operational requirements.  Improvements to the ventilation system in Enterprise Square will allow for smudging in a main classroom and a second smaller room. 

“The building is not equipped to allow for [smudging],” Sieppert said.  “The additional budget request was made to secure the mechanical ventilation system necessary for this purpose.”

Sieppert said the faculty wants to expand its aboriginal programming as the U of C plans to implement an aboriginal strategy.

“This is a natural area of focus for social work professionals, given the experiences of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and the overrepresentation of Aboriginal Peoples in systems such as child welfare and justice,” Sieppert said.

According to Sieppert, the social work faculty has the highest proportion of aboriginal students at the U of C. In 2010, working alongside Blue Quills First Nations College, the faculty graduated the largest group of aboriginal masters’ students anywhere in North America.

“We have quite a few [indigenous students] at the U of C and at the U of A,” Moore said. “In education there is a huge push right now for providing aboriginal education.”

Sieppert doubts the final price tag will equal the full amount approved by the BOG.

“The estimated cost was provided by architects who examined the physical structure of Enterprise Square,” Sieppert said. “Our expectation is that the total cost of installing a ventilation system for smudging will be lower than $250,000 and true costs will be known once tenders are received for construction.”

The $250,000 funding increase puts the relocation project’s total budget up to $3,950,000.

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