It starts with the strike of a match and a sizzle as that match sparks into a flame. A soothing waft of sweetgrass smoke follows as Jody Funk, an Executive Assistant at Suncor, begins her smudge.

Jody is from the Métis community of San Clara, Manitoba, and is new to smudging having learned about it through Suncor’s Indigenous employee inclusion network, Journeys. She embraces the ceremony because of its healing and calming benefits.

“As a Métis woman, I didn’t smudge because my family didn’t,” explains Jody. “When my parents were younger, they identified as French because it was safer than being Métis. I have adopted smudging and I do it when I want to release negativity, fear, worry and anxiety. It’s a beautiful concept and I feel it’s an incredible mind tool.” 

As the flame dies on her tight braid of sweetgrass (Jody’s favourite of the traditional medicines), smoke drifts into the air. The smell is calming. Elders teach that the smoke from medicines such as sweetgrass, sage and cedar stimulate endorphin production and promote healing. 

Jody sweeps the smoke across her eyes, ears, mouth, heart and her feet so she may see, hear, speak, feel and walk a path of truth, compassion, care and love. In addition to healing, Indigenous People believe that as the smudge smoke rises, it carries prayers to the ancestors and Creator in the spirit world. 

Jody’s smudging ceremonies are usually only for her, but she recently held a ceremony with her mother, brother and three children that was particularly meaningful.

“My dad passed away 15 years ago, and my mom wanted to have a ceremony this summer on the family farm to release his ashes,” says Jody. “We used cedar that my brother brought to perform a smudge ceremony to say goodbye to my dad. It was very special to me because it gave me a chance to teach my children about smudging.”

Not over-the-counter medicine

There is no wrong way to smudge, all one needs are good intentions, matches and of course, the right medicine. There are four sacred medicines in Indigenous culture: tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar.  

Although the medicine used in smudging isn’t found at a pharmacy, you can find Mother Earth’s healing herbs by simply taking a nature walk.

Jody collected sage during a medicine harvest in Calgary, an annual event held by Journeys. 

“I was really proud to be a part of the harvest,” says Jody. I collected two bundles of sage—my first time harvesting my own medicine, which makes it even more precious to me.”

Journeys members gather on Nose Hill in Calgary to harvest traditional Indigenous medicine and learn traditional Blookfoot teachings.
Journeys members gather on Nose Hill in Calgary to harvest traditional Indigenous medicine and learn traditional Blookfoot teachings.
Event participants practiced COVID-19 protocols in place at the time.

Under the July heat dome, Jody and about 15 other Suncor employees hiked to the Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel—a Blackfoot monument on Nose Hill—where they learned about Blackfoot traditions, listened to a drum song and were taught how to harvest sage. As part of the protocol, tobacco and prayers were offered before picking the medicine.

The purest way to get traditional medicine, if not harvesting it yourself, is through gifting. You can also buy it, although exchanging money for medicine is discouraged in Indigenous culture.

However, if you find yourself needing to buy medicine, you can offer tobacco to the seller to incorporate traditional protocol into the transaction. And while you can find medicines in various stores, it’s best to get your supply from an Indigenous Person to ensure it was harvested properly. 

As the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, both on Sept. 30, approach, Jody’s story is a reminder of the importance of learning more about Indigenous culture and history. Because there was a time, not all that long ago, that Indigenous People were not only prohibited from practicing their ceremonies but were often severely punished for living their traditional ways and honouring their culture.