Smudging Ceremonies in Healthcare Settings: Is Your Organization Ready?

A smudging ceremony is a practice in Native American culture traditionally performed when someone is born, dies or is in a time of crisis. People generally burn medicinal plants such as tobacco, sage, cedar or sweetgrass and waft the smoke over parts of the body as a spiritually cleansing ritual. The ceremony is akin to praying for some Indigenous populations.

For healthcare providers, it is imperative to have a plan in place for safely accommodating the spiritual, religious and traditional practices of the surrounding community. In 2019, The Ottawa Hospital faced controversy for its improper handling of a smudging ceremony. The staff was described as ‘dismissive’ to the Indigenous patient as they required the ceremony be held outside in sub-zero temperatures because they did not have a plan or process in place.

Due to the nature of how a ceremony like smudging is performed, it is crucial to consider a multi-disciplinary approach to developing a policy to accommodate the tradition for your health system. The input and support of fire and life safety, occupational health, spiritual care, medical staff, and facilities professionals is critical.

Your organizations smudging policy should include:

Your organization should also consider other populations in the surrounding area and determine if there are any similar ceremonies, practices, or traditions that may need special accommodations. Consider consulting directly with representatives of those communities to ensure your organization is prepared to meet their needs in time of crisis.

Click here to review The Ottawa Hospital’s Standard Operating Procedure for Smudging Ceremonies.