By NC Raine


Community members proudly joined in the Smudge Walk. Photo credit: NC Raine.

Saskatoon’s first blizzardy weather of the season couldn’t stop community members from gathering in the historic Riversdale neighbourhood to march for a good cause.

October 4th marked the inaugural Smudge Walk in Saskatoon; an event serving to strengthen culture and community in Saskatoon.  The event began in Regina in 2006, in response to a Maclean’s article calling Regina’s North Central neighbourhood the worst neighbourhood in Canada. The event now draws over a thousand people.

Smudging is the traditional practice of purification through the smoke of burning herbs, such as sage or sweetgrass. The process allows the smoke to clear and bless a space. A smudge walk takes this practice to a larger scale, bathing an entire neighbourhood in purifying smoke.

To celebrate the first Saskatoon Smudge Walk, Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations [FSIN] welcomed dignitaries such as National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations, Vice Chief Bob Merasty of FSIN, Saskatchewan MLA Jennifer Campeau, and Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Vaughn Schofield, among others.

“[The tradition of] smudging brings people together,” said Lieutenant Governor Schofield, during a short ceremony proceeding the walk. “Everyone in the community deserves our support.”

One of the major issues the walk aimed to address was the missing and murdered Indigenous women tragedy, coinciding with the annual Sisters in Spirit vigil, honouring the lives of those missing and murdered.

“You don’t have to wait every two years for the government to make a [missing and murdered women] inquiry […] through events like this we can make change. This is what this is all about,” said Chief Bellegarde.

“Let’s put our minds and hearts together to end this tragedy and create some hope – not only for us, but our children and future generations,” Chief Bellegarde said.


Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau spoke on this very issue Tuesday during a vigil on Parliament Hill. He told activists he understands their impatience and frustration.

“I hope in the coming years that we will be able to do it as a remembrance of things past and not as a reflection of an ongoing national tragedy that continues,” Prime Minister Trudeau said.

The walk also aimed to address the problem of gangs and crime. Saskatchewan, according to Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan, has the highest concentration of gang membership in Canada, at 1.34 per 1000.

“We have a lot of gang activity in our community, we have a lot of drug activity, and a lot of homeless,” Cecile Smith, President of Pleasant Hill Community Association told Treaty 4 News.  “Through this event, we want to pray for both our next generation and the older generation, for safety, love, and respect, so they can follow the way of a good life.”

According to a Statistics Canada report in 2012, Saskatchewan’s rate of gang-related homicides was three times the national average. Among Canada’s cities, Saskatoon had the highest rate of gang-related homicides in the country.

“Through this event I’d like to accomplish having our people [in the community] follow a good life. To be able to stand up against the gangs, against the drug activity, against the violence,” said Smith. “Let’s teach our children that this is a good community. You don’t have to move away. We’re going to do good right here.”

The Smudge Walk, led by powwow drummers, circled around the 19th Street to 21st Street West areas of Pleasant Hill and Riversdale.  The walk was followed by a complimentary community barbecue. Like the event started a decade ago in the Queen City, leaders hope the walk will soon draw crowds in the thousands, and act as a conduit for healing and strengthening culture and community.

“It’s important to preserve these old traditions because the majority of people in our community are First Nation and Metis, and this is really a good reason to uphold those traditions. We want to keep them going strong,” said Smith.

Vice Chief Bob Merasty echoed the important roles events like this play in creating positive change.

“We want to help each other. We want to stand together, as human beings, helping each other, addressing our issues together,” said Vice Chief Merasty. “Our culture, our community, our history is what keeps us together. Let’s continue to stand together strong.”




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