Spirituality and Smudging at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Good afternoon! I am LaRayne, St. Joseph’s Native American Studies Teacher.

LaRayne is St. Joseph's Native American Studies teacher.
LaRayne, St. Joseph’s Native American Studies teacher

Spirituality is an important part of our mission at St. Joseph’s Indian School – to educate for life, mind, body, heart and spirit.

Smudging souls is something that has been done for generations in our tribal cultures. It is a cleansing ritual for our bodies and minds. We take advantage of special days at St. Joseph’s to perform this ritual for our children, staff and mission.

To mark a new beginning and the start of the school year, we smudged before we entered the school on the first day to show that each of us were entering the school with a clean being.  Smudging helps to rid a person or area of unwanted energies that aren’t helpful throughout the day, week, or month. Smudging is also used to bless new areas, items or places so that a fresh start is felt in the heart.

Not only is our school equipped with the ability to smudge, but also St. Joseph’s homes have everything they need for the students can be smudged whenever they feel the need to take part in this very meaningful ceremony.

Many of our students take part in smudging daily at their family’s home or watch a family member take part. The connection the ceremony has to home, culture and family is strong. I often hear our students say, “Oh, that smell reminds me of my Grandma’s house. She does that.”

Smudging is something we do as part of the whole person education to show the students that what they do is a beautiful part of who they are as Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people. It can be very prayerful and medicinal.

Students have the opportunity to smudge at St. Joseph’s whenever they feel they need to.
LaRayne holds out the burning sage for the Lakota (Sioux) students to smudge on the first day of school.

In order to smudge, you need sage or sweetgrass, (we use sage), a fireproof bowl (we use abalone or turtle shells) and a lighter or matches (optional).  Sage balls are made by removing the leaves of the sage stalks and rolling them in your palm to form small spheres.

I made several of these to burn for the 180 students plus 15-20 staff and houseparents who accompanied the kids through the open doors of our school on that exciting (yet sometimes scary!) first day of school.  When the smoke from the burning sage rises, people welcome and brush the smoke over their faces, hearts and bodies in a washing motion to feel the cleansing properties and take in the sweet scent of the sage.

If burning sage is not possible, one can also rub the leaves in the palms of the hands and then rub the hands over one’s body to cleanse. Also, the plant can be rubbed directly onto the body.

Either way, our students and staff are ready to embrace the 2014-15 school year with a connection to Mother Earth, home and school through the meaningful act of smudging.

Pilamayathank you – for helping us provide these important opportunities for the Lakota boys and girls!


Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

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