We begin with a smudge ceremony led by the elder who has joined us for that express purpose. Elder hardly seems appropriate for the young man with the long braid and bright smile, but elder he is.
I’ve participated with my junior high aboriginal students and their teachers several times so I know enough to do it right. Cup your hands to sweep the smoke towards your face and over your head. I say a silent prayer and bow my head, eyes closed as I wait for the smudge pot to be passed around the circle.
Now we can proceed to hunt for sweet grass which we’ll weave into braids and hang to dry for use in future smudges. Three teachers and forty odd kids weave their way through the brush to gather the grasses. The young elder has shown us samples of the grass and explained how to differentiate it from regular old grass.
I spot some, but I’m not sure if it’s the authentic article. “Is this sweet grass?” I ask one of the boys.
He takes a look, shrugs and says, “I dunno.” He gestures to the elder. “Ask that old guy over there.”
I stifle a chuckle and keep hunting. Eventually I find enough sweet grass to make a proper if loosely woven braid which I will hang in my office with pride.
Suddenly we hear a frantic cry. “Sue, Sue, I gotta pee,” one of the girls cries to the nearest teacher.
“Well, there’s your bathroom,” Sue says with a sweeping gesture to the bush around us.
The girl stares at Sue, mouth hanging open. “Eeeugh!” She races to the bus where she will sit cross-legged for the ride home. Sue and I don’t dare look at each other. We’ll laugh later.