The impacts of the smoking ban on Indigenous students, staff and faculty at McMaster

By Anonymous, Contributor

In January 2018, McMaster became Ontario’s first 100 per cent tobacco and smoke-free campus with the implementation of the Tobacco and Smoke Free Campus policy. The policy, also known as the smoking ban, was created without proper consultation of Indigenous groups on campus and has negatively impacted Indigenous students, staff and faculty.

The ban includes all forms of smoking, including vaping and smoking medicinal marijuana. Many campus groups, including McMaster Students Union peer support services, have spoken against the implementation of this policy as it particularly harms marginalized students. There is an exception upon request in the policy for the burning of Indigenous Traditional Medicines, if 48 hours notice are given.

The way the exception is regulated by the university is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, as other Indigenous students on campus have previously spoken to, we don’t necessarily plan on when we are going to smudge or burn tobacco — we do it as needed (unless it is planned as part of starting off a formal meeting).

Secondly, this bureaucratic regulation of when we can use our medicines is an act of colonial violence, reminiscent of when our spiritual and cultural practices used to be illegal in Canada. It prevents Indigenous students, staff and faculty from being able to engage in our own healing or self-care practices whenever we need to, in an effort to potentially heal from colonial trauma. Either we have to provide 48 hours’ notice or go to Indigenous Student Services, the only spot on campus where we can use medicines, which can be inaccessible if you’re not ever around that area of campus.

For example, I’m in social work and our classes often speak on very difficult issues that can be emotionally draining. For me, smudging helps me cope with that, but I am unable to smudge during a class break or after class because of the smoke ban. This prevents me from being able to engage in my own form of self-care which allows me to reconnect with my spirituality and cultural in a settler-colonial environment, such as this university, which is not designed for Indigenous folks. This again is an act of colonial violence upon Indigenous community members who are on any of McMaster’s campuses.

In addition, Indigenous groups on campus such as the Cooperative of Indigenous Studies Students and Alumni were not consulted in the planning of the policy, nor did they even know about it prior to McMaster’s press release. While Indigenous cultures were considered in the creation of the policy, the fact that consultation did not occur is also an act of colonial violence. White settler higher-ups in the university, who worked on this policy, decided that they knew what was appropriate protocol for practices that they neither engaged with nor knew anything about.

While Indigenous cultures were considered in the creation of the policy, the fact that consultation did not occur is also an act of colonial violence.

As for “reconciliation”, they checked off a requirement for good public relations. However, a lack of consultation with Indigenous communities on campus and the intense bureaucratic regulation of our sacred traditional medicines continues to harm Indigenous community members on campus. The one exception to the rule that allows Indigenous folks to smudge does little to repair relationships between Indigenous community members and the university. In effect, this actually continues to do more harm than good.

Images courtesy of C/O Silhouette Photo Archives and Photo by Cindy Cui

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