I want to have an indigenous spiritual ceremony for my team

A reader writes:

I am a research manager in a university setting. The projects my team engages in are varied, but focus on one specific health problem. I specifically manage one of the large projects on the team that works with indigenous communities across the country. I supervise a team that is 90% women (this will be relevant in a second), with most women much older but also a few young women. There are only two men on my team, including myself (again, relevant in a second).

As we work with indigenous communities, we strive to incorporate indigenous ceremonies and cultural activities when possible. Even though there is some cultural understanding of indigenous practices and ceremonies, my team is largely not exposed to such things. I have worked with indigenous communities for most of my career and have participated in numerous such ceremonies in different parts of the country.

My project is entering a new phase in 2017, and I am planning to have an opening ceremony with my team to start off the year with grounding in indigenous practices and creating cultural awareness and understanding. I have contacted an indigenous elder who is from the territories that we are working on, and he has agreed to do a ceremony for my team. However, I have run into an interesting problem.

As part of the ceremony, there will be smudging and a pipe ceremony. All ceremonies have specific protocols, and most of them are manageable and my team and I can make accommodations for that. But there is one protocol that is giving me anxiety on how to deal with it.

The protocol for the pipe ceremony is that women who are on their “moon time” (menstrual cycle) are asked to sit outside the ceremony circle for only that part of the ceremony. The reasoning for this cultural protocol is this: “During her moon time, a woman is going through her own natural purification process. While her body is going through this natural purification, she is also recharging her own body’s powers and energies, so it is a cleansing and restorative time for her. Because a woman’s power is being renewed during this process, she must stay away from all sacred ceremonies … A woman’s power during her moon time is so strong that it can draw the power away from the sacred Sweat Lodge, Sundance, and Pipe ceremonies. Her power during this time can interfere with the power in the Sacred Pipe, Eagle Feathers, and the food offered for the feasts following ceremony. Men do not have their own natural purification and renewal process, therefore they must come to the Sweat Lodge ceremony for purification.”

As a young male manager, with most of my team being women, I am really uncomfortable addressing this with them. I don’t think this is an appropriate conversation in the workplace, especially coming from a male manager.

I am going to reach out to the elder and explain the situation and tell him that this is a conversation that I cannot have with my team. I will ask him if this is going to be a problem and see if we can come up with a solution that does not put the women on my team in an uncomfortable situation. Maybe this could be a deal breaker and I will have to cancel the ceremony, which I am willing to do as I am responsible for creating safe spaces for my team.

Aside from this issue, I also recognize that there might be people who might not be comfortable participating in this ceremony due to other factors: personal religious beliefs, never having participated in something like this, and any other personal reservations. To manage this, I am going to make attendance at this ceremony completely voluntary. I am curious to know how you would navigate this situation. What is your advice?

I’ve been following your site for many years and I know the commenting section is quite robust. I would request the commenters to provide their perspectives on navigating this rather than turning the conversation to sexism. This is a practice followed in certain Indigenous communities from time immemorial, and you may not like their explanation for this protocol, but it is a completely accepted practice and non-controversial in indigenous communities. This has the potential for great cultural misunderstanding, and I’d like to avoid that conversation. I am trying to understand how to address this as a male manager with a predominantly female team, and how to honor the ceremony in the workplace. (Note from Alison: I’m asking people to respect this request as well.)

Yeah, there is zero place for asking who on your staff has their period or treating people differently if they do. It doesn’t matter that it’s part of a cultural ceremony; it’s just so, so far over the line that you cannot do it in a work setting. I think you’re in agreement on that, based on what you said about trying to make a different arrangement with the elder.

But leaving menstrual cycles aside and tackling the broader question of spiritual ceremonies in general: You’re working in a specific context that makes this question quite different than it would be for most offices (where the answer would be a blanket “don’t do it at all”). And because of that, it’s possible that I’m missing some key element about how this plays out with the specific work you do. That said…

I get that you work with indigenous communities and that you want your staff to be culturally competent. And in that context, it may make sense to give them opportunities to participate in cultural activities that will help build that competence … but you’re talking about spiritual traditions here, and it’s just not appropriate to make that an official work activity, even if you make it voluntary.

So I’d drop the idea of the ceremony altogether — this or any other — unless it’s clearly a 100% optional extracurricular activity and not something that you or your department is officially organizing.

At most, I think you could say something like this: “We’ve been offered the opportunity to attend A, B, and C over the next three months. If you’d like to attend any of these, you can sign up here. These are completely optional and it’s up to you whether you attend any of them.” But you should avoid framing like “I’ve arranged for us to attend a sacred pipe ceremony. Attendance is voluntary, but we’ll be gathering for it on January 19.” The first is opt-in; the second is opt-out. If you’re going to do it, go for opt-in, and see yourself as facilitating exposure to this stuff for people who want it, not organizing team spiritual activities yourself. (That also means that it should not be an opening ceremony with your team to kick off the new year because that’s an official work activity, no matter how voluntary it is.)

And really, even with these limitations in place, I’d still avoid doing spiritual ceremonies unless you can truly make a compelling argument that it will help your staff do their work better in concrete ways. Maybe it will — I don’t know enough about your work to say that it won’t — but I’d take a very hard look at that question.

{ 744 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Hibiscus

    Why not just bring in bagels the first day? Make a little speech too.

    Even if I worked with indigenous people, I would be uncomfortable adopting their rituals for our secular business. This doesn’t sound like it’s improving cultural competency; it sounds like appropriation. It’s awfully close to the “my boss wants us to go to a sweat lodge” and the “my boss thinks he’s a mayan shaman” letters.

    Besides, if I did have my period I would be sure to sit in on this ceremony simply so I can draw all the power away from you and run around like a Marvel super villain and take your job.

    Reply
    1. I used to be Murphy

      This doesn’t sound like it’s improving cultural competency; it sounds like appropriation.

      I’ve done more than my fair share of these ceremonies through work (my work also touches on indigenous issues and I work with people who are themselves indigenous), and have definitely had (and voiced) this concern in the past. I’m guessing this letter writer is Canadian (as am I) and have been told repeatedly by the Indigenous elders themselves that sharing their cultural ceremonies is not just ok, but encouraged. So my cultural appropriation claims were laid to rest.

      That being said, I still find it very, very uncomfortable to have to take part in these ceremonies. They are spiritual in nature and they definitely don’t align with my (atheist) viewpoint. I also imagine they may make people who are spiritual within other contexts uncomfortable as well.

      Alas, it’s never stopped us from doing them as it has become the thing to do, but I agree with an opt in, rather than opt out approach. No one ever feels like they can really opt out. Trust me. I’ve been there (and I’m a boss, so I have the political and positional capital to step away and still haven’t felt able to).

      Reply
      1. Kate

        This letter also really strikes me as being written by a Canadian, and I think the context matters a lot.

        There was a fascinating article about a month/six weeks ago (I think) about some of the university-wide efforts that the University of Saskatchewan is doing to promote aboriginal culture on campus. I wish I could track it down again because it seems like it would be relevant, but my Google-fu is failing me.

        Reply
          1. SebbyGrrl

            Thank you Jennifer that was a great piece.

            I subscribed to the University’s newsletter.

            So many days I wish I was Canadian :)

            Reply
        1. CanadianDot

          I live out in BC, and I know that all the staff where I work would be pretty thrilled to have a first nations ceremony when we moved into a new office, and would have no problem respecting the rules about menstruation.

          Reply
          1. CoveredInBees

            Respecting the rules? Sure.

            Feeling comfortable having to disclose what many people consider to be personal information (noting that only women are pressed to make this call)? I wouldn’t assume so unless this is the type of office where women have some sort of public, shared menstruation tracker.

            Reply
          2. Jiiii

            The ceremony? Yes! Letting people know that your womb is currently shedding its lining (or, alternately, alerting them to a pregnancy or highlighting your age/health status in menopause)? Not quite! Period stigma is real and rampant, between luxury taxes on tampons (though I think Canada dropped them), and myths about PMS and ‘bitchiness.’ The average workplace can barely keep a tampon dispenser stocked, if there is one, and PMDD/cramps are a strike against sufferers rather than legitimate health claims.

            When is the last time you even saw/heard a woman mention her period casually, at the office, in mixed company? ‘Sorry I was out, I had terrible cramps.’ ‘Excuse me, I need to change my tampon.’ I don’t even recall seeing someone ever openly HOLD a tampon, in their hand, in view of any male coworkers. Ever. In 2016.

            tl;dr Reduce period stigma but let men go first

            Reply
            1. Vicki

              While I understand where you’re coming from “excuse me; I’m going to the restroom” is close enough to TMI. No one (and I mean No One) needs or wants to know specifically what you’re doing in there.

              Same with “terrible cramps”. I also don’t want to know about your diarrhea or your morning sickness.

              We all have bodily functions. They’re normal, yes. That doesn’t make them appropriate workplace conversation topics.

              Reply
        2. JM

          Very Canadian sounding. My company does a lot of aboriginal engagement because of two reasons
          1) Use of or access through indigenous land rights
          2) Agreements around employment and education for members of the nations around our operations.

          We do hold ceremonies, but they are focused around the land use. Because land and the natural environment is very important to indigenous culture, we want to honor their wishes for ceremonies they would like to perform on the land before or after work occurs. This is also how we explain it to staff. It is not a ritual on or for people (aka staff) it is about the land. I think this is really important. It is very hard to navigate ceremonies which are intended to impact people spiritually. We have also been able to work with elders to come up with solutions where we do not need to have questions around gender or periods. Participation is ALWAYS opt-in only and completely optional.
          The other thing we offer is aboriginal awareness training. This is run by indigenous people and does not include any religious or spiritual elements. This provides a background on culture, history, the reserve system, residential schools and laws. Not only is this more useful for cultural understanding and engagement, but it avoids an risk of appropriation, or religious freedom concerns. Most people comment that it is the type of course that should be taught in grade school, but unfortunately isn’t. This training is mandatory for those who engage directly with indigenous groups, but optional for most of the company. The courses are always full and I have never heard negative feedback, only very positive things.

          Reply
      2. Newby

        I would agree that it doesn’t really sound like appropriation in this context. If it is being run by an elder it is different than if the boss were trying to mimic a spiritual ceremony from another culture.

        Reply
        1. AMG

          OP, you seem like a nice guy but not only is this appropriation, it is a straight up terrible idea. So much so that if I were on your team, I would question your professional judgment. Go get the bagels and send some links for further reading on indigenous cultures that you can email to your group.

          Reply
          1. Jaguar

            Is the only safe area of cultural exchange between cultures getting bagels and e-mailing hyperlinks? Because not all cultural exchange is cultural appropriation, and keeping people seperate based on culture is pretty obviously fraught with peril.

            If you invited a Native American to celebrate Christmas with you, would that person then be engaging in cultural appropriation? Would it be more respectful if they just looked up Christmas on their phone instead?

            Reply
          2. Chinook

            AMG, I disagree about the idea that learning a culture can be done through further reading. Reading a book will never be the same as witnessing an event. I too think the letter writer is Canadian and this type of spiritual ceremony is common (up to and including it being part of national conferences, protests and various other gatherings where First Nations are there as active participants) and is not appropriation if it is being done voluntarily by a recognized elder (being led by some non-native person with no connection to the culture beyond thinking it is neat is where you cross the line to appropriation).

            I like AAM’s idea of suggesting that this is an opt-in event instead of an opt-out one and I see it on par with inviting a group of people who work with Catholics to a Catholic Mass. There is truly no better way to try and understand what a Catholic believes than to sit next to them while they are worshipping. No amount of book learning can mimic first hand experience. And if it is being offered freely by a member of that particular cultural group, I would think it is meant as a way to reach hands across a divide.

            In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this type of thing is encouraged by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

            Reply
            1. Cece

              Agreeing completely with this kind of ceremony being relatively common, and not even for high-profile national events – I was at a town council meeting in Southern Ontario where there was a sage smudge. Nbd.

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            2. Kira

              I also thought it might help to think of it in terms of other spiritual groups. But I strongly disagree that the best way to learn about Catholics (or any spirituality) is to go to mass, or reconciliation (or any spiritual rites).

              First, no one explains it while it’s happening. We do the ceremony, but learn about it in religious ed classes. It would be much more practical to have a presentation about major beliefs and how they affect everyday life rather than try to glean knowledge from the ceremony.

              Second, you don’t just do rites like reconciliation for the experience. They have a spiritual purpose and if you aren’t doing it for your own spiritual well being then you’re essentially a tourist. It’s fine to participate to see what it’s like, but it’s a really inefficient to learn.

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          3. Chinook

            Plus, if he is Canadian – bagels won’t work. Must be donuts, preferably from Timmy’s, for any type of understanding to be met without grumbling. :)

            Reply
            1. a different Vicki

              Bagels would absolutely be culturally appropriate for Montreal, of course, but that might only complicate things at a company elsewhere in Canada. Go for the Timbits.

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          4. Lissa

            I’m sorry but in this context, I think you’re wrong — this isn’t appropriation, but something often encouraged by elders in the community Don’t want to get too far into details about my own experience but I work at a Canadian university, was at one of these ceremonies and at one point a (white) professor asked about the appropriation asked at and the elders looked at him like he was nuts, and it was considered disrespectful *not* to participate. Which caused other problems, but I think the concept of appropriation is getting applied way too widely and without understanding these days.

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          5. AMG

            Okay, then don’t get bagels. Bring in some other food. Or don’t. But my opinion still stands that this is gross and in reading the other comments, I am not the only one who will judge you heavily for this.

            Reply
            1. Ann

              Please don’t call other cultural practices gross, it’s incredibly disrespectful to the communities involved and to the LW who wrote in good faith

              Reply
              1. Honeybee

                AMG is not calling other cultural practices gross. They’re calling what they see as cultural appropriation gross.

                Reply
                1. Ann O.

                  They sort of are, though. They don’t mean to, but that’s part of where the current discourse around cultural appropriation gets so problematic in the US. We tend to overgeneralize and not believe that context can change what’s appropriate and what’s gross. Those contexts are themselves culturally determined.

                1. P

                  This is why I *actually* read the comments on this site. Kudos to Alison for both leading by example and, I’m sure, making a concerted effort to make this a comments section where there’s plenty of disagreement but it’s nearly all respectful and understanding.

            2. thunderbird

              Your opinion is coloured by your experience, which is profoundly different than traditional teachings and exchanges, which is the whole point of this exercise. To learn about another way of knowing and doing so through traditional teachings and experiences.

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            3. I used to be Murphy

              I’m trying to be respectful here, so apologies if I fail, but what’s gross is a group of people who are not part of this particular culture/band/nation determining what is and isn’t appropriate within their own cultural context. If the elder is happy and interested in this type of ceremony and doesn’t feel it’s exploitative it’s no one else’s place to say they’re wrong. In fact, disputing their own lived experience and feelings on cultural awareness is a continuation of the colonial dominance over these cultures.

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              1. Lynxa

                Agreed. There are many people here trying to act like this is exactly the same thing (and carries the same cultural weight) as a Christian church and that is a very dangerous and ethnocentric thing to do. I understand why people are doing it, because it’s likely the closest thing they can think of, but when dealing with a culture that shares almost no historical markers with your own the best thing to do is listen to, and believe, the people in that culture.

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              2. AMG

                The elder is just one person. I would feel like I was being pushed to encroach on someone’s private religious ceremonies. I also have a lot of experience with working with Native American tribes in a professional setting. Some things are okay–this is not one of them in my experience.

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                1. I used to be Murphy

                  And this is where the Canadian context of this letter writer really matters. It’s not the same as in the US. These types of ceremonies are incredibly common here in Canada, especially in the public sector (government, education, universities, non-profits, etc.). Many Canadians have expressed this on this thread and it’s surprising to me that people won’t take our word for it that we encounter this a lot and have spoken to many, many Indigenous people (elders and other) and have been assured that is it not only ok, but encouraged for us to participate in these ceremonies as a way of building reconciliation with our First Nations.

                2. AMG

                  Yeah, I’d have to take OP’s word for it but as an American, I guess I can’t really speak to that aspect.

                3. Mander

                  I’d think it would also depend on the nation involved. Something that is fine with a Cherokee elder won’t necessarily fly with a Hopi representative. I saw this to a limited extent when working with Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act related stuff at a museum. Even though two tribes might be culturally related they don’t necessarily have the same views.

            4. Ms. Chanandler Bong

              I honestly don’t see aneone else here “judging [the OP] harshly” so please speak for youself.

              Reply
    2. MamaGoo

      I don’t think it’s fair to call this appropriation. It’s being proposed as a way of connecting with and understanding the culture they are working with/for. That seems like the opposite of appropriation to me. I agree with the bagels and speech and super villain comments though.

      Reply
      1. Jessie

        It’s a way of understanding one very specific piece of the culture, but not “the culture.” Not the group and the people and their struggles and their needs – just this piece. It’s an important piece, but still a piece and not the whole – and how does knowing more about this one thing (the actual ceremony specifics, and not, say, the way the religion intersects with public health issues) enhance their work? It actually feels a mite condescending to me. I understand this LW is trying his best and has good intentions, so this isn’t meant to criticize him too much; but the message that he is telegraphing sounds a bit like “now that we have done this sacred ceremony we know you guys so well, we know your culture, and we are now awesome!”

        Reply
        1. LBK

          I don’t think that’s what he was saying at all. I think being able to understand and appreciate one piece of someone’s culture just makes it easier to bond with those people; I doubt anyone is going to go to one of their clients after the ceremony and talk about how they’re now an expert on their culture because of this one event. It’s more like if it comes up in conversation, they can say “I’ve actually been to one of those ceremonies!” and then bond on it from there.

          Reply
          1. Jessie

            Yes, I was too flip there in my fake quote. I’d hope and assume they would not actually go around and literally present themselves as experts. But it still seems condescending to me. Participating in one sacred ritual as a way to raise cultural awareness and understanding – it is one ritual. It’s not educational, it is like…. going to my church service. You can see when we stand, when we sit, what we sing, what that little cracker that I eat looks like. I wouldn’t think you’d be any more “aware” or culturally sensitive for having done it yourself, and it just strikes me as condescending.

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            1. LBK

              You don’t think being able to say “Oh, I actually did one of those! I found it really interesting when X happened. Can you tell me more about Y?” would show genuine appreciation for a culture and allow someone to connect? I just don’t see how that could be condescending.

              If someone came to a Catholic mass and didn’t at all understand the communion ceremony (because it could be really weird if you don’t know the full story of the Last Supper), that would open up a chance for dialogue and to talk about your beliefs. It’s not supposed to make you an expert, it’s just supposed to give you a little more context and detail rather than a mass just being this opaque event you’ve only heard about but never experienced.

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              1. Parenthetically

                But observing a religious ceremony (which is totally possible with a mass) is pretty different from being a participant in a religious ceremony.

                Reply
                1. Chinook

                  “But observing a religious ceremony (which is totally possible with a mass) is pretty different from being a participant in a religious ceremony.”

                  But if an elder (or a Catholic priest) knew that this was a cross-cultural event, then it is very likely that they will be explaining more of what is going on. Or, at least that has been my experience with both Cree elders and Catholic priests when they know they are hosting “outsiders” at their ceremony. It isn’t like the OP’s group is “crashing” it. They are invited.

              2. Jessie

                I am skeptical of people’s ability to say things that are not offensive if they do not know any of the actual context, in which case it’s less a chance to connect and more a field of possible landmines.

                If someone came to my church and took communion, and then a month later was asking me why we did that, I’d tell them, and we might have a nice talk. So is that the goal? Does this one chance at a conversation where I – a random person – am suddenly responsible for Explaining What Being Episcopal Is to someone else raise general cultural awareness and understanding? I don’t know that it does. If he wants his staff to participate in a thing to be able to make connections with people as they talk later, okay. If he wants his staff to have a deeper understanding of the society with whom they are working, this does not do it.

                Reply
                1. Jessie

                  And yes – the idea that doing something (i.e., taking communion) without any idea what or why you are doing it, and finding it a fun fact we can bond over later. Really? Not condescending?

                2. Cat

                  It’s a start though – you have to start somewhere. And as we’ve pointed out, there’s nothing in this letter to suggest this isn’t part of an on-going process.

                3. LBK

                  I think it’s different being asked by a random person on the street than by someone whose work seems to involve being knowledgeable about your culture. I’m not saying people should be put on the spot to suddenly be the representative and educator for their whole community.

                  I guess I just don’t know what the appropriate way is to learn about someone’s culture without involving them at all; it feels even more insulting to learn about it purely through third-party sources, as they’re a lost civilization rather than your next door neighbors that you could just go and talk to. There never seems to be a satisfactory answer about how you’re supposed to come to appreciate and understand someone’s culture without it being offensive.

                  And FWIW, I haven’t been Christian in quite a while, but I’m pretty sure preaching the good word and teaching others about Jesus is actually part of the religion.

                4. Jessie

                  I completely agree that learning from third parties isn’t ideal and is impersonal. I am all for observing.

                  “And FWIW, I haven’t been Christian in quite a while, but I’m pretty sure preaching the good word and teaching others about Jesus is actually part of the religion”
                  That isn’t what we are talking about but thanks for the lesson on my Christianity.

                5. LBK

                  I was responding to this:

                  Does this one chance at a conversation where I – a random person – am suddenly responsible for Explaining What Being Episcopal Is to someone else raise general cultural awareness and understanding?

                  Maybe this was more specific to being Catholic, but I was absolutely encouraged and expected to do that kind of thing when I was in CCD (raised Catholic for 14 years before we switched to Episcopalian where I only was for about 2 years before I stopped going, so my memory of those beliefs isn’t as strong).

                6. Anna

                  I live in a Western European country and over Christmas I invited two Asian friends (literally from Asia) to spend the holiday at my parents’ house. It’s tradition in my family to go to church Christmas Eve, and I asked my friends whether they were interested. They have come to my country especially to study its language & culture in university, and they were most definitely interested. They came to church, tried to sing along with the songs, tried to follow the sermon, observed what was going on. We explained a bit here and there what was going on and answered more questions on the way home. It didn’t occur to me that anything could be condescending about it, and I think that while of course it doesn’t make them experts on my country and its culture, it certainly adds a little piece to the puzzle.

                  Of course, it’s not the same for indigenous people who have been oppressed for centuries, and appropriation can be a risk, but it’s not appropriation by definition and can certainly increase cultural understanding, even if it’s just a little bit.

                7. Jessie

                  Anna, what you’re describing isn’t at all what the LW is writing in about, or what LBK and I have been debating about either. LW is organizing this as a work event and reached out to get it arranged, and wants to modify it so that it fits with what is okay at work, and wants to start the year with this – not with, say, a group blessing by an elder or a talk by the elder about various aspects of the rituals, but just to do the ceremony and that in itself raises cultural awareness and understanding (though as some have said, maybe he is also doing tons of other things and just didn’t mention any of that whatsoever in his letter).

                  I must not be explaining myself well because in no universe do I think that inviting a friend to come along to a service and having a conversation among friends about what’s going on is condescending. !!

                8. Anna

                  I was reacting to the idea that being at a ceremony is not helpful in understanding the culture. That I disagree with. What I described was of course different from a workplace organising such an outing.

                9. MashaKasha

                  Communion is a great analogy. I am not religious now, but used to be, and belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church for 15+ years. I would have been livid if I heard of a group of people that had nothing to do with the church, just walk into it and take communion for no reason other than fun, bonding, and cultural awareness. Heck, I cannot take it myself now because I no longer believe what one needs to believe in order to take communion. People take this ritual seriously, and for good reasons. This is an extremely personal, intimate interaction between the person and the Jesus that he or she believes in. Not something for a non-believer to try “to see how it feels”. Relevant factoid btw: in stricter Orthodox churches you cannot take communion if you’re on your period (this is on the honor system, of course – nobody checks), which again adds to the analogy. It’s a good analogy, that IMO provides a great reason why for OP’s team to participate in the ceremony might not be the best idea ever.

                10. LBK

                  Anna’s example is actually exactly what I was talking about and how I was envisioning this event potentially informing the OP’s employees’ ability to connect with their constituents going forward. So maybe we’re imagining very different conversations being had after the event, because Anna’s was almost to the T how I was picturing it in my head.

                11. LBK

                  MashaKasha – But I don’t know that we have enough context here to determine that this ritual is sacred enough that non-members shouldn’t participate in it, and I’d think if that were the case the tribe elder wouldn’t have agreed to do it.

                  It’s like if you asked a priest if you could accept communion without being Christian; they’d definitely tell you no, but they’d probably welcome you to participate in most of the rest of the mass. They’re the authorities on the ritual, so I think I’d take their word on it over an outsider putting a blanket ban on participating in any element of the ritual. It feels a little condescending to decide that it’s wrong for the OP to participate when there’s an actual member of the tribe saying it’s okay.

                12. MashaKasha

                  After re-reading the letter and reading most of the comments, it frankly boggles my mind that the elder agreed. Says right there in OP’s letter that this is a sacred ceremony. There may have been a miscommunication. I’d verify with the elder at the very least.

                13. SpaceySteph

                  With regard to the communion analogy… if someone who was a church representative (the equivalent of a tribal elder) wanted to stage a communion-like event with unblessed wafers in order to introduce a group of people to your brand of Christianity, would that be objectionable?

                  Similarly, I’m Jewish and I always invite non-Jews (the majority of my friends and half my family fall in that category) to Passover dinner. I like sharing the ritual and my invitees like to experience my culture. Speaking from the minority religion side, I do feel like it helps others understand me better.

                  Anyways, all of that to say… given that a member of the tribe is sanctioning and organizing this, I don’t think it’s so objectionable from the cultural appropriation perspective. The other aspects (work-related, sex discrimination) do make it not such a good idea, but I don’t think it’s cultural appropriation.

                14. LBK

                  But the OP also says he’s participated in these ceremonies multiple times before. It doesn’t seem like this is one rogue elder. I think hinging on “sacred” is over-parsing the word choice.

                  SpaceySteph – The unblessed wafer thing seems a liiiiittle sacrilegious to me, but that detail aside, I agree with your point. I think there’s many times when people are invited into religious rituals of other faiths so it’s not like there’s zero precedent or parallel to thinking it would be okay to participate in this one.

                  I have to say, I feel like the comments here are trending towards being overly protective of other cultures on this topic, to the point that it’s becoming demeaning and contrary to the wishes of the people who are actually part of the culture.

                15. doreen

                  MashaKasha – about the Communion analogy. Different sorts of Christians have different beliefs about Communion and different beliefs about who can receive . The fact that some churches have strict rules about only members of that denomination receiving Communion doesn’t mean that other churches can’t offer it to anyone who been baptized or other churches to anyone who identifies as Christian, baptized or not and that still other churches can’t offer it to anyone in attendance, Christian or not. Which is a long way around to say that we can’t just assume based on our own religious background that it’s inappropriate for others to participate in this ceremony.

                16. NotAnotherManager!

                  Yeah, communion at the church in which I grew up was open to everyone. (The invitation prayer from the minister specifically said, “All are welcome at the table of the Lord.”) I accidentally took Catholic communion as a teenager because I went to church with someone who prodded me to the front with them, and I didn’t know at that time that there were prerequisites to taking it that I didn’t meet. When I came home and told my mother the Catholics used real wine, she told me I wasn’t supposed to have received it.

                  If you are not part of a spiritual belief system, it’s tough to know and follow all the rules, and I think some benefit of the doubt would be kind.

                17. FrequentLurker

                  This struck me: someone taking communion without understanding why.
                  In my church, that isn’t permitted – communion is only for members of the church after a particular marker of their spiritual progress. Is it available to all, including newcomers, at yours?

                  I’ve been looking at the question of participation in other culture’s rituals such as the OP’s question as something that would often be inappropriate in the same way as a person taking communion without the understanding behind it and the spiritual “permission” level the church requires.
                  It sounds as though there is even more variation on that point among Christian churches than I had realised, so perhaps even that comparison falls down and I need to reconsider.

                18. FrequentLurker

                  Sorry, that reply was for Jessie, in reference to this:
                  “If someone came to my church and took communion, and then a month later was asking me why we did that, I’d tell them, and we might have a nice talk.”

                  I should have scrolled further down, as I see some others also discussed this point.

            2. GS

              In a Canadian context in my work, there is a sense where indigenous groups feel they participate in our (often secular) cultural ceremonies all the time, just to conduct business. They submit to wearing suits, getting business plans approved by colonial capitalist leaders, things like that whenever they’re working on projects in our culture. So they sometimes appreciate and invite a situation where organizations they work with reverse those roles and accept their cultural practices and expertise about how to, for instance, significantly mark the beginning of a project (sometimes in non-secular ways, granted)

              Reply
              1. irritable vowel

                As a Canadian raised in the US, I agree with others that the OP’s situation is uniquely Canadian, and difficult to understand from an American perspective. I think there is a much better effort in Canada to honor and integrate First Nations cultural practices in non-indigenous life. In the US, what the OP describes would definitely come across as appropriation and pandering because Americans just don’t do this with any regularity. So, from my perspective as someone with a foot in both countries, I can see the Americans here responding from a place where this would be seen as completely inappropriate, and in Canada it would be seen as more acceptable. That being said, any event that requires potentially treating men and women differently should absolutely not be made obligatory in the workplace.

                Reply
                1. Jiiii

                  Hey this cultural exchange ABSOLUTELY exists in parts of the US, especially in parts of Arizona and Utah and areas around new York State (though there is a lot of overlap with Canada there). But you are right that it is easy to find ‘experiences’ led by non-natives that seem quite shallow and showy – but I promise you there are Indigenous-run companies, spas, tour groups and more that want nothing more than to share their amazing history and rites with outsiders (for fun and profit).

              2. KM

                Yeah — I’m also in Canada and working with Indigenous communities in a good way is a major part of what we try to do at my workplace; that means I’ve been to a few smudge ceremonies at work. The ceremonies themselves aren’t part of my belief system, but respecting the communities we partner with is, so they don’t bother me.

                That said, even if I don’t share the same spiritual beliefs, I’ve never been asked to do something that goes against my values as part of a ceremony, and the protocol described by the OP is a little harder to manage because of the power dynamics involved. The idea of including ceremony is often about repairing a power imbalance between Indigenous and Western cultures, but this specific activity brushes up against a different power imbalance between men and women in Western culture, and I don’t think it’s helping anyone to just ignore that. I think the OP has the right idea by trying to find an alternative — but I get the sense he’s maybe doing that because he’s worried that the women will have a negative attitude about it and not because he understands why it might be offensive from their perspective.

                Reply
                1. Jiiii

                  Yes to all this.

                  Especially: ‘The ceremonies themselves aren’t part of my belief system, but respecting the communities we partner with is, so they don’t bother me.’ With a reminder (to all) that people are doing this every day (including lots of First Nations/Inuit employees in the corporate world.) We all make accommodations, we all get a bit uncomfortable, we all figure out our lines – heck that’s what most of this website is about.

                  But also yes, this guy (who I’m just going to say it – young male managing a team that’s 90% woman, shocker!) doesn’t seem like he totally gets the many, many ways this could be a nightmare (pregnancy, ageism, transphobia, etc.). As soon as he knew about the restriction he should have asked about alternatives. Because, and I hate that this is always the case with misogyny/sexism but there you go – If any other group had been told they couldn’t participate based on something they have no control over, in/of their bodies, would this discussion be the same?

        2. TootsNYC

          the “it’s not the whole, but just a piece, so it’s not valuable” point makes me think, How do you learn about anything, except in pieces?

          It’s not possible to immediately make his staff experts on the culture.

          But to create one spot in which the non-indigenous staff feels linked to the culture in somewhere DOES have value. Sure, it’s not everything–but it’s a start!

          However, the “spiritual” part of it makes this a really bad idea. I think that all of the LW’s many qualms are valid.

          Kudos to him for investigating and thoroughly considering all these aspects before he moves forward!

          Reply
      2. Temperance

        Eh, I disagree. Education is one thing – having the elder come and discuss his beliefs/cultures is one thing, having him come to do a ceremony is vastly different, IMO.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          The OP isn’t forcing him to do it, though. If he’s happy to perform the ceremony for them, it feels like of paternalistic to be angry about cultural appropriation on his behalf. It’s not like the OP looked up a video on YouTube and is now going to try to perform the ceremony himself.

          Reply
          1. Turtle Candle

            Yeah. If the elder is willing to do it, it feels really off to me to be saying, “Well, but you shouldn’t be willing to do it.” It would be a different situation if this was a random white dude doing the ceremony, or someone who is “1/89th Cherokee princess” or similar, but it feels inappropriate to police an elder’s feelings about sharing their own culture. (And there are plenty of other reasons why making this an official Work Thing are problematic, without the appropriation angle.)

            Reply
            1. Newby

              I agree. We shouldn’t police what other cultures feel about sharing their sacred ceremonies. It is just as bad as ignoring how they feel. Both attitudes send the message that it is our views that matter.

              Reply
              1. Temperance

                I get this side of it, too. It’s a complicated issue, and I’ve seen well-meaning outsiders cross the line.

                I’m also massively uncomfortable with inviting employees to be part of a religious ceremony, or one that might be construed as religious.

                Reply
                1. Turtle Candle

                  Oh yes, I agree with you on the discomfort side–that’s why I said “there are plenty of other reasons why making this an official Work Thing are problematic.” I wouldn’t have a problem participating myself, although I would not be thrilled to have to disclose my menstruation status, but one of my coworkers is a Muslim woman for whom this would be a real problem: identify yourself as Different, or participate in something that you feel goes against your own religious practices?

                  But that’s separate from the appropriation angle, which was honestly my only point, that if an indigenous elder is okay sharing it, then I don’t think it’s up to outsiders to decide if they’re okay with it being shared.* The other problems are separate from that.

                  * – other members of their specific community and culture DO have a stake in it, and can express “you shouldn’t have shared that.” I just am not sure that random Internet commenters should.

            2. Pommette

              Agreed.

              We would be right to talk about appropriation if the OP were planning to replicate a ceremony they didn’t understand, from a cultural and religious tradition they didn’t practice (or to have someone else do so). We would be right to talk about appropriation if the elders preparing the ceremony were somehow coerced into doing so. But this is a different story.

              Elders and communities who open certain ceremonies to people from different cultural backgrounds, or who prepare and host ceremonies for groups like the OP’s, put a lot of thought into what they do. They adapt/modify ceremonies as needed to best communicate what they need to communicate, or to best bring together who they need to bring together, without being disrespectful of, or harmful to, the different living people/ancestors/spirits the ceremonies involve.

              I’m Canadian (as I suspect the OP is), from a settler background. I’ve seen situations where First Nations, Inuit, or Metis ceremonies were blatantly appropriated (a group of settler people doing a generic smudge ceremony before opening a meeting). I’ve also seen ceremonies like the one the OP is hoping to host, and they are a different story. I have to assume that the person leading the ceremony, as an elder in and member of a community for whom that ceremony is meaningful, and a person who actually believes in and understand the cosmology underpinning the ceremony, knows more than I do whether or not it is appropriate to organize it.

              Reply
        2. I used to be Murphy

          The (presumed) Canadian context here really matters in this case. Having these types of ceremonies is both common and encouraged by Canada’s Indigenous peoples, especially in the public sector.

          Reply
          1. Kate

            There is a really interesting article on the CBC that (briefly) delves into some of these issues in the Canadian context. I’ll post the link in another comment.

            Reply
          2. the_scientist

            I also immediately read this as coming from a Canadian writer, and I think the Canadian context is incredibly important here. Alison missed that- I’m not faulting her for it because this is a pretty contextually specific thing here.

            We have a First Nations, Inuit and Metis research group at the healthcare organization where I work. Everything they do is done in partnership with these groups, and cultural competency comes first and foremost- before anything. Given the way that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples have been historically mistreated and continue to be mistreated by the government, working to build cultural competency is absolutely critical to the success of any project. It’s the notion of “nothing about us, without us” that is also used by activists in the disabled community.

            Participating in cultural practices led by elders is an important part of working with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis groups when you have been invited to do so- it is a sign of respect and collaboration. However, I wonder if there’s a middle ground here. Instead of doing a full ceremony, is there a smaller/scaled down ceremony that could be offered (optionally?) It sounds like the pipe ceremony is the one that excludes menstruating women, so maybe only smudging could be doable. And again, I think it’s important to give your employees the option to opt-out if they feel it conflicts with their beliefs, but in general, I think opting out or not doing anything would be in exceptionally poor form. I’m saying this as a public sector employee- because of this history of oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples perpetrated and endorsed by the government, if you are a representative of the government, you have a little bit of a higher obligation there, if that makes sense?

            This was a really thoughtful and well-reasoned letter, so I hope the OP comes back and participates in the comment section, as I’d love to hear them respond!

            Reply
            1. I used to be Murphy

              All of this! As a fellow Canadian public sector employee, this is so very not outside the realm of the normal for me. I may find it uncomfortable (as I’ve stated up-thread), but it isn’t even a little weird that this is being seriously considered. In fact, I’d think it was odd if it wasn’t.

              Reply
            2. Temperance

              I completely support cultural competency and am admittedly not familiar with the Canadian way of handling these issues. I really like the “nothing about us, without us” framing, but I just don’t support asking employees to partake in a religious ceremony. I’m very secular, though, and I’m assuming that Canada handles these issues differently.

              Reply
              1. the_scientist

                It’s not so much that Canada handles these things differently, it’s just, as I mentioned below, that when dealing with First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, you must adopt an attitude of learning and reconciliation because of the historical and current situation in Canada. That makes it a bit of a unique situation. I think the OP is OK with making it opt-in which should satisfy any legal concerns about requiring employees to participating in a religious ceremony, although the issue of whether smudging is a religious or cultural practice or both is still very much legally undecided in Canada.

                Reply
                1. CanCan

                  you must adopt an attitude of learning and reconciliation”

                  I would argue that this depends on who *you* are. If you’re the Prime Minister, or other high-ranking official, it is expected that you would step out of your comfort zone to participate in a possibly religious practice. That’s politics.

                  If you’re a regular employee, however, you can’t be required to participate. If your religious beliefs prohibit you from participating, you must be accommodated by making this optional. Moreover, it would not look good for the government (and may even be illegal) to require employees to participate in an activity that discriminates on the basis of gender, as this most clearly does.

                2. EmmaLou

                  “although the issue of whether smudging is a religious or cultural practice or both is still very much legally undecided in Canada”
                  is a statement which is completely irrelevant for most people’s faiths. Canada’s court system can decide something is “cultural” and not at all “religious” if it chooses. For me, it still won’t matter. It’s actually one of the funniest things to imagine. The court has decided that taking communion is cultural and not religious. Okay… so? So you can be required to take communion at work? See? It’s funny!

                3. Amy The Rev

                  CanCan: I’m not sure if this *does* discriminate based on gender since from what I gather it’s about menstruation, not gender. As many trans or two-spirit folks can tell us, there are many men who menstruate. Though I could be missing something and would gladly welcome correction from someone more familiar with these ceremonies!

                4. CanCan

                  Amy The Rev: Yes, it would discriminate on the basis of gender, as menstruation disproportionately affects women – that is the legal test. Whether it affects all women or even some men is irrelevant.

                  For example, minimum height requirements (other than in circumstances where it is permitted) would be gender discrimination, as women are more likely to be screened out.

                  (I’m not very familiar with the ceremonies, but being a lawyer, I’m somewhat familiar with human rights law.)

                5. Temperance

                  @AmytheRev: if in the US, this could be considered sex discrimination. The Civil Rights Act bars discrimination based on biological sex, not gender or gender identity. There have been some cases that include gender identity, but generally speaking, we aren’t there yet.

            3. CanCan

              (Another Canadian here, and also a public sector employee.)

              The government may have a higher obligation to build a cultural bridge with the Indigenous groups. However, that does not override the employee’s own right to freedom of (and from) religion. While allowing non-Indigenous people who don’t share their beliefs to participate in such a ceremony may be acceptable, and even an honour, from the point of view of the Indigenous culture, one cannot ignore the fact that this is a spiritual practice, and as such, people of other religions (or even atheists or agnostics) may not be comfortable with participating in it.

              It would be much more informative to have a presentation by the elder where this ceremony was explained, including the significance of its various aspects, the reasoning, etc. Then, only for those willing to have an even deeper experience, the opportunity to attend the ceremony may be provided, but it should still be completely optional.

              I’m not of any religion, but I’m pretty sure I would be uncomfortable attending something like this. At least, not without a pretty good understanding of the ceremony in advance.

              Reply
              1. the_scientist

                Right, but it sounds like the OP is completely OK with making this an opt-in thing, so I think we fundamentally agree. I would side-eye it a bit if it was mandatory, but as a voluntary opportunity for learning (with a good education of what to expect as well as the whole moon time thing presented well in advance), it honestly doesn’t bother me at all. Providing there are no negative repercussions for opting out, I think that would meet all the legal standards in Canada?

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  Eh, I think Alison’s point is valid that framing it as an initiation for their new work year will make it feel mandatory even if it’s not. If the OP wants to frame it as “this is something I’d be happy to facilitate if people are interested” that might make it seem more genuinely voluntary, because then it’s purely opt-in and isn’t tied to anything work-specific.

                2. CanCan

                  Agreed. (Provided that it isn’t framed as an opening ceremony for 2017, just as an opt-in, completely optional cultural learning opportunity.)

                  It just dawned on me that the stress here is precisely on 2017. (For the non-Canadians: it’s a celebration year, celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, with a variety of special events planned throughout the year, mostly by the government.) In that case, it’s not a question of how the OP can facilitate an Indigenous ceremony for his employees, but rather, how can the OP include an Indigenous component in the 2017 opening ceremony for his organization (which would completely make sense). To answer the latter, I would suggest some kind of Indigenous activity that is inclusive of all employees, with the optional component of the more spiritual ceremonies that involve participation.

                3. Chinook

                  ” To answer the latter, I would suggest some kind of Indigenous activity that is inclusive of all employees, with the optional component of the more spiritual ceremonies that involve participation.”

                  And it goes without saying that the elder should be presented with this information so he can help plan/form this activity for the benefit of all. If he is presented with the OP’s concerns, they may be able to come up with something that meets both their needs.

            4. Miles

              I think the Canadian context is pretty important as well. I also am working cross-culturally for an indigenous organization and to some extent if you’re going to work in this field, some amount of spiritual activities are required (e.g. you can’t skip or not stand for an opening prayer in a meeting). That being said, my work has never organized a spiritual ceremony and it’d be kind of weird if it did. I have sat in on a lot of cultural events and some of which have spiritual components, but in all cases they’ve been voluntary and most of them have been related to how the group traditionally does business and makes community decisions.

              It’s not clear to me if the OP is planning a healing ceremony that would be the way the group deals with the health problem or a general opening/welcoming ceremony (if not either, it’s definitely not the right ceremony for the occasion!). It might be more appropriate and more comfortable for everyone if the elder instead gives a bit of an explanation of what health and healing and illness mean to their culture and their community. That’s the info OP’s employees really should be familiar with if they’re going to be working in the community.

              Reply
              1. Chinook

                “It’s not clear to me if the OP is planning a healing ceremony that would be the way the group deals with the health problem or a general opening/welcoming ceremony (if not either, it’s definitely not the right ceremony for the occasion!).”

                Is it possible that the “healing ceremony” OP mentions is not about healing individuals but healing the rift between the First Nations group and this particular group or the institution it represents (especially if they are some type of government institution)? In that case, I can definitely see a need to include a spiritual element as part of what was broken in that relationship was a spiritual aspect of the lives of the First Nation’s people.

                In that case, I could see it being opt-in for most of the employees but not for the leadership of the organization as the latter would be representing the organization that needs to witness the healing and ask for forgiveness.

                Reply
              2. DaisyGrrl

                Agreed. I work in the public sector in Canada and I believe elders-in-residence programs are becoming increasingly common in Canadian public institutions that serve indigenous populations. My organization has programs that serve indigenous populations and we have a program that brings in elders from across the country to serve as an elder-in-residence for a period of time.

                My (very limited) understanding of the program is that the purpose is to provide a point of cultural exchange and knowledge for employees of our organization and for the elders to provide cultural and spiritual support to indigenous employees within our organization if they wish to access it. As you and others have said, it is very important for us to have a forum for cultural understanding and reconciliation and this is one of the programs we have to support that mission. As far as I know, any spiritual ceremonies that are held on-site are opt-in for our employees.

                Reply
            5. Sleepheadzzz

              Perfect response and summed up exactly my feelings. I work in a non-profit on the prairies and your description matches perfectly my experiences. I think your suggestion is spot on too.

              Reply
            6. Observer

              And again, I think it’s important to give your employees the option to opt-out if they feel it conflicts with their beliefs, but in general, I think opting out or not doing anything would be in exceptionally poor form

              Which means that people REALLY CANNOT opt out, no matter what the boss says. Which means that people with strong religious beliefs really cannot be comfortable in the field.

              I get the whole “nothing about us without us” thing, I truly do. It’s not just Indigenous peoples and disability activists who feel that way. But there ARE other ways to do this without pushing people into taking part in a religious ceremony.

              Reply
              1. Lissa

                Yeah, it’s hard. I work in a Canadian university as a support provider for students with accommodation needs, and have been put in uncomfortable situations because of this — the conflicts of my role vs being respectful are still being worked out. I don’t know what the answer is overall, but I think the letter writer is being very respectful in the context he’s coming from.

                Reply
              2. Pommette

                I saw this issue dealt with successfully a few years ago. The event was a powwow hosted by people from the First Nation on whose grounds the event was held. Guests included people from from other First Nations, people from the local community, and leaders from different religious groups active in the area). This was not a work-related event, but the way it was handled would (I think) satisfy the needs of such an event.

                Some of the day’s activities were open to anyone, and were unlikely to conflict with anyone’s beliefs (e.g. sharing a meal; listening to speeches about the community’s history; participating in small-group discussions).

                However, some of the activities were religious rituals. I participated in one (a sweat lodge ceremony). The elder who opened the ceremony made it clear that it was a religiously/spiritually meaningful event, and that people should only participate if they were both comfortable doing so (in light of their own beliefs), and able to do so in an appropriate and respectful manner. After this introduction, people could go to participate in the ceremony or they could go to participate in an other, concurrent event (a campfire with stories and tea/hot chocolate).

                I don’t remember the elder’s exact wording, but I remember being impressed with the way she set things up: she made clear what those of us who wanted to participate had to do in order to respect the ceremony itself, and made it clear that, even if we could participate in a respectful way, we should only do so if it didn’t conflict with any of our own beliefs. It turned the situation into one where there was no question of opting in or out, but rather, a question of which of many equally acceptable options one would opt into.

                She specifically addressed menstruation (menstruating women had to take part in a modified ceremony). I don’t recall the exact wording, but it was something along the liens of: “You might feel that menstruation is natural, that it shouldn’t be stigmatized, and that it’s sexist to ask menstruating women to take part in a different ceremony. I respect that. However, we believe that menstruation is a time when women are connected to certain types of power that people don’t normally have access to, and that as a result, they can’t safely participate in this ceremony. Please respect this belief. If you can’t, in good conscience, follow the rules it entails, then please don’t. Abstaining from participation is one of the ways that you can respect our ritual”.

                Reply
            7. One of the Annes

              I disagree that it’s important to focus on the Canadian context and that AAM’s response is somehow lacking for not focusing on a specific cultural context. Her answers to questions like these are great because she’s able to ignore what’s superfluous and get to the essentials of the matter. To me, it’s beside the point that having government (and government-related org) employees participate in sacred religious rituals is widespread in Canada or that it’s done for a Great Social Good. That doesn’t automatically make it OK.

              Reply
              1. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

                I agree with AAM’s answer and even with the comment that the additional context it doesn’t make it automatically OK, but I challenge that many on this thread are also applying their non-Canadian, non-indigenous, and/or personal cultural biases on what is OK. For many cultures, religion is the focal point of the entire culture. To not take the time to learn that facet means you will not truly understand the other facets. This focal point can also mean some are more closed to outsiders as they protect the sacredness of their rituals while others are more open and invite others to experience their beliefs personally as it seems with this elder. I am on the team that agrees having the elder educate on the ceremony and teach about the culture, issues, politics of the indigenous group is fine and performing the ceremony at work is not. But I know this is because of my US and HR bias on what should and should not occur at work.
                A cultural example I keep thinking of is the Japanese tea ceremony. A ritual steeped in tradition and part of their social fabric [sorry for the pun]. I do not believe making tea needs to be ceremonial, but I would not refuse to participate if invited because it is not my culture. If I found the ritual peaceful and meditative and wanted to learn how to do it myself, I would not consider that appropriating their culture. Instead I view these types of things as reaching outside my personal sphere to learn more about the world and others and hopefully improving myself in the process. But I also know that as an HR manager, I’d probably try and talk a manager out of having one at work for visiting clients, even if they were Japanese.
                Other examples I just thought of is that I bow when I enter a dojo because that is what is expected and is respectful, not because I believe there is a spirit or energy that will be mad at me if I don’t. I say Namaste at the end of a yoga session because it is what others do. Most ceremonies/rituals are to celebrate life or a part of it or to bring good luck to the world. I get that not everyone would be comfortable doing them if it is not their deity or religion, but I try to focus on the overall message of peace and goodwill versus the specifics of who is bestowing it. We do a lot of things out of respect for other people’s belief regardless of our own every day and usually without a lot of forethought. I think because there is forethought happening here, there is more time and room for debate.
                There was another great thread on AAM like this one that discussed funeral differences in different, mostly US, regions. That was a great discussion on how and why we do things differently. Learning about and even participating in this pipe ceremony is similar to me. If invited, I would attend for the experience and understanding of a culture different from mine. Just not while I was at work.

                side note: This has been a fascinating thread to read. Way to start off the year AAM!

                Reply
        3. zora

          I agree that education is different from participating in a ceremony.

          Could you instead set up a series of trainings in indigenous culture and cross-cultural communication? I have seen and participated in those over the years, and I’m sure there are Canadian organizations/trainers who do those kinds of trainings who are also actually members of indigenous communities.

          Then it would be more clear that you want to educate your staff in the culture and context that you work on, and I think that is a more appropriate framing for the workplace than a ceremony.

          Reply
    3. LBK

      I don’t think it’s appropriation if it’s being facilitated by an actual member of the tribe. Not that one person speaks for a whole community, but I’m pretty sure that if the rules and traditions forbade people who weren’t part of the tribe from partaking, the elder would be respecting that and wouldn’t agree to perform the ceremony at all.

      And I don’t want to totally get off on a tangent, but I do find it a little ironic to voice concerns about appropriation in the same comment you make kind of a flippant joke about the ritual by comparing it to a comic book storyline rather than treating it like a genuine belief that real people are partaking in.

      Reply
      1. KG, Ph.D.

        THANK YOU. The comment in question read a bit like “I’m really concerned that you’re appropriating this important ritual but can’t we all agree that this SUPER important ritual is like, totally hilarious and worthy of mocking?”

        Reply
        1. Lady Bug

          Agreed, just because you don’t agree or believe in someone else’s beliefs, doesn’t mean you should mock them.

          Reply
      2. MissGirl

        I agree with the flippant joke. The OP is trying to be sensitive to both the peoples they work with and his employees. We don’t need to be mocking of others’ beliefs here.

        Reply
    4. MillersSpring

      I would rather the OP ask the elder to come in as a guest speaker to describe this ceremony and others. Bring additional tribal elders/members, show a video, bring visual aids or ceremony props, address what your team might need to understand about the ceremony, and answer questions.

      Turn it into a class about the tribe and the ceremony. Forcing participation is highly problematic.

      Reply
      1. J. F.

        I was also going to suggest having an elder or group of elders come make a presentation. (Or not-elders who are members of the indigenous group!) For your work, do you really need an understanding of spiritual/religious practices, or of how to accommodate them in a respectful way in your work? Do you need people to have seen them practiced, or to know what a useful response is when they encounter Issue X with a tribal member?

        Reply
        1. Darwinite

          I agree. Is it possible to discuss with the elders what whether there is a more appropriate inclusive ceremony?
          A different context, but in Australia (in gov and educational settings) it is not uncommon to participate in either “acknowledgement of country” or “welcome to country” at the beginning of meetings or formal occasions.

          Reply
    5. Tea Leaves

      “Besides, if I did have my period I would be sure to sit in on this ceremony simply so I can draw all the power away from you and run around like a Marvel super villain and take your job.”

      Are you serious? Even making a joke like this is incredibly disrespectful to the indigenous people. People who agree with this “joke” may think that they’re getting back at OP by ruining the ceremony for him, when in fact you’re ruining it for everyone AND being majorly disrespectful to the culture/religion. It’s like saying you’ll run into a Buddhist temple and slaughter live screaming animals in the middle of the hall during a ceremony to embarrass your boss because you think his meditation retreat is a stupid idea.

      Reply
      1. Robert Columbia

        Regarding the “Besides, if I did have my period I would be sure to sit in on this ceremony simply so I can draw all the power away from you and run around like a Marvel super villain and take your job.”, I think it does emphasize that it’s ok (and even right) to fight against religiously-sponsored discrimination, which is what such an exclusion of menstruating women is, like it or not.

        I have gone through training that specifically indicated that I was NOT allowed to coerce others to conform to my religious beliefs through pressure, disparate treatment, or threats of disfavored official action.

        Like the African-Americans down here who bravely defied social pressure and insisted on sitting in the front of the bus, attending mainstream schools, voting, and not being arbitrarily beaten up by police, what’s wrong with standing up for yourself and saying that you WILL NOT be excluded from a circle for any reason, whether related to one’s “moon cycle”, or not?

        Reply
      2. Robert Columbia

        Also, regarding “being majorly disrespectful to the culture/religion”, I see things literally every day that are disrespectful to my culture and religion. I don’t do anything because I acknowledge that I do not have the right to impose my culture and religion on others. Why is this different?

        Reply
    6. ScarletInTheLibrary

      The museum community is dealing with similar issues with slavery (wait, I’ll get to the connection). To promote better understanding of the hardships that slaves faced in the Antebellum South, some former plantations that have been converted to house/field museums began programming where participatnts (usually it was school children on a preplanned school trip instead of random person who showed up at 10:30). Part of the experience has to be watered down and the participants get to return to their lives after. A few teachers have mentioned that many of the white kids thought it was fun being a slave and want to go it again. Also many have stated that being a slave wasn’t that bad and African-Americans should not be upset about the history of slavery. This is not the intended message, but the overwhelming takeaway for many participants.

      Though I understand the want to better understandable rituals and experiences, a lot of the context will be missing (because one grew up in a different environment and will return to their life). You run the risk of participants thinking they know a situation or reasoning better than they do.

      Reply
  2. human

    I think you might be overestimating the extent to which it matters that you’re male. These wouldn’t be appropriate conversations for female (or other gender) managers to have, either.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      I agree, but I also can see how it would make an already inappropriate topic even more awkward coming from a man.

      Reply
    2. blackcat

      +1
      I don’t want any colleague, whether they menstruate or not, telling me I can’t do something due to my menstrual cycle.

      Reply
    3. Temperance

      While I don’t think it’s appropriate for a woman boss to ask about my period, either, to me, it’s more of a breach to have a man do it. i’m considering that it could also impact my female boss, whereas the dude will always get to partake in the ceremony because he doesn’t menstruate.

      Reply
  3. PK

    Yea, I agree with Alison. I wouldn’t touch the menstruation topic at work AT ALL. Not that I think it’s anything to be ashamed of but I also think it’s pretty private for most women. Personally, I’d be interested in such a ceremony (voluntary or not) but I think the safest bet is to make it opt-in like she suggested. Many people have deep spiritual beliefs that this may clash with and better to avoid the social pressure of work events where people say it’s voluntary but everyone knows it’s anything but. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Sophie

      Attending / witnessing / watching such a ceremony – count me in. Participating in one? Not so sure. But, your employees are familiar with these kinds of things, so maybe talk to them to determine their level of interest? At the very least, make it opt-in.

      Reply
      1. I prefer tea

        Very much agree that witnessing a ceremony would be a unique opportunity, but I’d be hesitant to participate. I’m of a very strong faith, but I’ve always enjoyed the chance to tour a temple or church that may be of a very different faith. It’s a wonderful way to learn about a culture or group I’m not familiar with.

        Reply
      2. Amber T

        Ditto! I’m agnostic/athiest, former sorta Catholic. I find all sorts of spiritual and religious events interesting and I’d love to learn more about everything, but I’d feel super weird about participating.

        How about instead of having everyone perform the ritual, meet with the Elder and allow your staff to ask questions, and/or have the Elder explain the significance of the ritual?

        Reply
    2. CanCan

      Yea, I agree with Alison. I wouldn’t touch the menstruation topic at work AT ALL.

      Agreed, but if the OP does decide to inform his employees of the opportunity, there should be some information provided about this. The best way is probably with a link to a third-party website or a forwarded email from the elder, – anything that isn’t written by the OP himself. (And the OP should refrain from discussing this, directing anybody with questions to refer to the info provided or to the elder.)

      Because even if it is completely voluntary and opt-in, you would want to make sure the women know what to expect and can decide in advance how to deal with it. It would be worse to be ambushed with this information right before this part of the ceremony.

      Reply
      1. Zombeyonce

        I think this needs to be taken a step further and if OP wants to invite team members to a voluntary ceremony, it shouldn’t be this one. There’s no way to warn the female staff members about the menstruation issue without being squicky. Even if he provided a link to info about the ceremony, there will be people that skim it and think “oh, that sounds neat!” and miss the restriction and then show up, get partway through the ceremony surrounded by others and then find out they need to announce their menstruation status by moving outside the circle.

        OP, I think you need to abandon this particular ceremony completely. If you really want to invite people to something like this, find a different one that won’t expose people’s private business to others.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          Exactly. It does not make sense to do this ceremony if a group of people (no matter what group) must be told to leave for (whatever reason). Everyone should have equal access to the learning opportunity. If you can’t offer everyone access then you can’t offer the opportunity.

          Reply
        2. Turtle Candle

          I am imagining this happening, and being told “please leave this circle if you are menstruating,” and sitting there with giant cartoon eyes like “am I spotting a little? Does that count? Oh crap the ceremony is moving on and I AM spotting, does that count? Will it be weird if I leave now? CRAP.”

          I dunno if that’s useful, but it is, at least, likely.

          Reply
          1. Zombeyonce

            I would find myself pretending I didn’t need to leave even if I was menstruating and then feeling guilty because, while it doesn’t make a difference to me to stay there, for the people who practice the religion sincerely it would be disrespectful. And if I wasn’t on my period at that time, I wouldn’t want other people speculating about that in the first place, especially coworkers. And if I were an older woman, I’d come to the unpleasant realization that some people might speculate I’m wasn’t on my period because I had gone/was going through menopause, which is another intimate thing I don’t feel like sharing with people I work with.

            OP, this ceremony is really a no-win for women, no matter what time in their cycle.

            Reply
          2. Kore

            Personally, as someone with a hormonal IUD, my periods are very small and often inconsequential, so I’d be definitely sitting there wondering “wait, does this count? Would I be having a period now if it wasn’t for my IUD, and would THAT count? I’m spotting, but that’s pretty much my period this month, would this count???”

            It’s an incredibly awkward situation for women, and I’d probably just bow out of this ceremony entirely.

            Reply
      2. Tea Leaves

        +1 to this. Make it opt-in and give them a link to the information from a third-party. They can decide for themselves.

        It’s very common for many spiritual or religious ceremonies for this to be considered, for any number of reasons. In Asia, nobody blinks twice when asked or informed about it. Usually it’s done discreetly and no one casts attention even if they know. It’s possible that outside the circle just means just outside the circle, but they can still watch and observe everything that happens. That’s a choice that the women themselves have to make, whether they want to turn up and end up sitting outside the circle, or don’t go at all. And to reiterate, DO NOT go and then sit inside the circle anyway if you’re on your period because you either don’t care, don’t find it a big deal, or want to prove a point. It’s never, ever, just about you. However, this is not OP’s responsibility to ask the women. Just ensure they are given the link/email with the info, so they know what to expect and how to conduct themselves. You’ve already done your part to provide them the information and an opportunity to opt-in to the event. This is why it’s especially important to make it clearly opt-in, rather than opt-out. They can decide after they know what to expect.

        Reply
        1. Tea Leaves

          Also, I would suggest don’t make the sign up list public. e.g. Don’t forward it in a mass email with all the names, and don’t leave the list lying around for everyone to see.

          Reply
    3. Lauren

      Does the type of job matter to not touching the menstruation topic? I worked for aa cultural resource management firm that worked on various Native American sites, and there was definitely an element of the women that worked avoiding certain sites or artifacts if we were on our periods.

      Reply
      1. PK

        Well sure. You’re example is one from the sounds of it. I’d say that most folks in those type of positions would be well aware of how menstruation is viewed though.

        Side note that I found it particularly interesting that it was viewed with such power in this instance. There’s plenty of examples of it being viewed negatively in various cultures but this is the first time I’ve heard of it being viewed with such power (seems almost like reverence). Probably my ignorance on other cultures but I think that’s fascinating in and of itself.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I am impressed by the positive connection between periods and power, myself. I am wondering if the group could learn more just by having a discussion on this aspect. Actually, I think I would learn more about why this is their beliefs in a discussion as opposed to in a ceremony. And wouldn’t that be a real learning point?

          I know I have read a lot of material on how crappy you are supposed to feel when you have your period. And the days before can be more misery. It would be interesting to find out if we are (to some degree) teaching each other to feel lousy.

          Reply
          1. Honeybee

            I would be incredibly uncomfortable having a discussion about the cultural meaning of menstruation with my coworkers at work. Pass.

            Reply
    4. BananaPants

      Frankly, I’d just lie if I found myself in a situation of having to publicly “out” that I had my period by getting up and leaving an event in front of my coworkers. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but I also don’t feel like broadcasting that little detail.

      Something like this happened in New Zealand several years ago, where historians and museum staff were invited on a behind-the-scenes tour of Maori artifacts but under the condition that women who were pregnant or menstruating were excluded. There was a big hullabaloo about it being discriminatory or sexist.

      Reply
      1. Zombeyonce

        I agree that it’s not anything shameful. I also I don’t want my coworkers to ever have any impetus to wonder about what’s happening beneath my clothes, no matter what it’s about.

        And I’d be frustrated to miss out on something cool like an artifacts tour just because it happened to be scheduled during my period, but wouldn’t want to be disrespectful of their customs by lying about it. I might cause a bit of a hullabaloo about it, too.

        Reply
      2. dragonzflame

        That’s right, I remember. I’ve also been to powhiri (greeting ceremonies) where the women all have to sit behind the men. The reasoning is that it’s for protection, both physical and spiritual (because women are the guardians of new life). It is what it is. At least they did give us the choice to hongi (a ritual in which people touch noses and foreheads, symbolising sharing breath) or shake hands.

        This one’s so awkward. I have nothing to add but I’m enjoying reading the replies! I’d love an update on this one.

        Reply
  4. RT

    I can say that I would be really uncomfortable with participating in any kind of ceremony in a work setting. I would feel like I was on stage and in some ways disrespecting the group/culture by sort of going through the motions. I can understand the desire to have a staff that is more knowledgeable and understanding about the particular population you are working with, but for that I would still suggest different means (e.g. reading about the different ceremonies, history, etc.).

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      That’s exactly how it would feel to me, too – like going through the motions. I have my own beliefs, and I fully respect the beliefs of others (well, most others – there are exceptions to every rule!), but having something like this going on at my office would seem so…wrong. So shallow.

      By all means, find ways for your team to learn more about the peoples you work with. but this is not a good way.

      Reply
      1. Bartlet for President

        I regularly accompany a friend to Mass during holidays since she dislikes going alone, and would feel incredibly awkward going through any of the Catholic ceremonies (communion wafers, etc). It is disingenuous for me, as a nonbeliever, to fully participate in rituals or ceremonies that are meant for believers. I sit quietly, bow my head when people pray, and then I leave when it’s over – I’m an observer, and not a participant.

        Reply
        1. Liane

          The Catholic Church does not allow people, even non-Catholic Christians, to partake of Communion. (Some denominations do have an open Communion, for example United Methodists.)

          Reply
          1. Liane

            Disclaimers:
            I am Methodist
            I am also not saying it is wrong to go to Mass (or other religious service/ceremony) if you cannot/ don’t wish to partake. I think that is a very good thing to do. When my kids took the Methodist Confirmation class, our pastor arranged for them to attend not only a Mass but a Jewish Sabbath service (I think it was a Reform synagogue) to learn a little about 2 faith traditions related to theirs.

            Reply
          2. Bartlet for President

            Oh, I’m aware of that rule; but, there is also no one making people say “Shibboleth” before partaking. The church attended by my friend only includes the language “if able to take Communion”. A nonbeliever could get into the line just as easily as a believer.

            Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes—I think it’s exactly that feeling of disrespect/uncomfortability that also makes people feel like it’s cultural appropriation. Even though an elder has signed off on the event, it makes me uncomfortable in the way that kachina dolls and dreamcatchers make me uncomfortable.

      Reply
    3. Gandalf the Nude

      This is exactly why I don’t participate in prayer/grace/anything like it anymore and instead just stand silently. I feel like doing a spiritual ceremony without the spiritual belief devalues it, as if the motions are more important than the substance.

      Side note: Did you know one of the tests for suspected witches during the Salem Trials was successful recitation of the Lord’s Prayer? Omitting any portion of it was considered indication that one was a witch.

      That was all I could think about as I stumbled through the Lord’s Prayer when my first bosses out of college brought their priest to bless the new office. This is the other reason I now stand silently.

      Reply
      1. RT

        I am the same way, I was raised by atheists and am not only not spiritual but completely clueless about most prayers, procedures, etc. (for example I could not have even stumbled through the Lord’s Prayer) – I have found I felt worse by “faking it” then simply being respectfully quiet – I respect those who practice and don’t want to feel like I am lessening their beliefs

        Reply
        1. Simonthegreywarden

          My husband’s parents were raised in different denominations and decided to raise him unchurched and essentially agnostic (as both of his parents are essentially agnostic, though have some vague spiritual feelings that are very private to them). Poor guy married a Catholic with a degree in theology. He likes attending services because he likes the sense of ritual, and he enjoys the music, but he didn’t know the Our Father prior to attending and that was fine. Like you, he will bow his head and be respectfully quiet when my family prays or when at Mass. I don’t expect him to join – I don’t even require him to come to Mass, though I do offer occasionally, but never with pressure – but for him it is basically a whole language he doesn’t know.

          Reply
          1. RT

            That is a great way to describe it – a whole new language. I married a devout Lutheran (like family worked in a religious capacity devout) and it has been very similar to your description.

            Reply
      2. Kathleen Adams

        That’s a great point. Everybody’s different, of course, and what feels wrong to me might seem perfectly fine to this elder. But I don’t think anybody would learn anything substantive about Presbyterianism by going to church with me, and I don’t understand why I would learn anything substantive about this particular culture by watching a ceremony. But then, I don’t even like watching that stuff when it’s being put on specifically for tourists. I guess it’s OK if it’s just a show – but if it’s just a show, nobody’s going to learn anything, at least not anything substantive. And if it’s not a show, if it’s the honest, sincere real deal, then it shouldn’t be put on exhibit as though it were a show. There’s got to be a better way.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          but if it’s just a show, nobody’s going to learn anything, at least not anything substantive. And if it’s not a show, if it’s the honest, sincere real deal, then it shouldn’t be put on exhibit as though it were a show.

          Exactly!

          Reply
      3. Amy The Rev

        That was one of the big discussions in my “Forgiveness, Ritual, and Reconciliation” class in seminary: do we perform the ritual because we feel it, or do we feel it because we perform the ritual? Lots of philosophizing about whether the ‘action’ or the ‘substance’ of the ritual can even be separated in the first place, metaphysically, especially for a believer. Even if one of the participants *isnt* a believer, if the rest of them are, does their belief mean that they still think the ritual is doing whatever they believe it’s meant to do (such as infant baptism, where clearly the infant doesnt have any religious feeling yet, and isnt ‘participating’ in the ritual in that way, but is still considered baptized in the metaphysical sense)

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          Baptism of Desire. Many people clung to this theory because they were so devastated that their deceased baby was not baptized. Very relevant if your church teaches you that unbaptized babies burn in eternity. Well, they had to dial that back so they said limbo. Then after a bit they realized this was still devastating to people so they had to step back from this one also.
          However, I do know quite a few old timers who quit the Catholic Church because they were told their baby was in hell or limbo. So somewhere along the lines the rebuttal became Baptism of Desire. If you want your baby baptized that badly, then the baby is considered baptized. I don’t think this helped some people that much as people were totally devastated that their child was not baptized before death.

          Reply
      4. Pommette

        Same thing here. I’m an atheist, but I was raised Catholic. I remember the priest who prepared us for our First Communion explaining how sacred some parts of the ritual were, and explaining that no matter what we ended up believing in as we grew up, we should only participate in these parts of the ritual if we sincerely believed in them.

        I occasionally go to masses (to accompany friends; to participate in loved ones’ religious rites of passage). I sit, stand, and kneel along with everyone else, but I don’t say the words to the prayers, and I don’t partake of the host. Appropriately or not, I take the same approach to other traditions’ religious and spiritual ceremonies: I’ll be there (with permission from a member and believer, if they think it’s appropriate) and I’ll be respectful, but there are things that I won’t do.

        Which is to say that I find it pretty disturbing that workplaces should ask employees to participate in any kind of ceremony (blessing, smudge, or other) without clearly discussing what parts of the ritual, according to the particular religious/spiritual tradition involved, a non-believer can and cannot participate in, and without offering a clear and acceptable way for people who would rather not participate at all to respectfully bow out!

        Salem digression: it sounds like the accused were people who had recited the prayer correctly multiple times a day from early childhood on. Once accused, they weren’t just tripping up on a sentence or two or forgetting a line: they would break out into all-out echolalia, or become mute. I have no idea what psychological mechanisms are behind that, but it must have been a terrifying thing for believers to experience.

        Reply
    4. EB

      As someone who is uncomfortable participating in religious practices, I had an indigenous ceremony sprung on me at a work conference. At the opening session organizers had an indigenous leader come in to help open the ceremony, and he did a prayer song and then asked for the audience to join in at some point. I was so uncomfortable being roped into a religious practice, and at that point I was stuck in the hall and anyone getting up would be noticed.

      I know that the organizers wanted to be inclusive of some of the group member’s indigenous roots, but they failed to think through the idea that what they were doing was equivalent to having the conference open with a prayer by a Christian minister. I was definitely not expecting to have to participate in a religious ceremony (this kind of thing had never happened at any other large field related conference I had attended).

      Anytime someone springs a religious ceremony on me in a business setting (has happened once in a while) I end up feeling trapped and very uncomfortable, because I am in a business setting where I do not expect others to target me with their religious practices and removing myself from the ceremony without damaging business relationships is difficult.

      The thing is, I have had new-age religious stuff, or indigenous religious stuff sprung on me more than Christian prayers. Organizers who would never dream of opening their meeting with a prayer to Jesus think nothing of having participants meditating chanting these syllabus that happen to be the name of a religious deity or send positive thoughts to the earth. I actually think in some ways, it’s disrespectful to the other beliefs because it’s not recognizing them as religious practices or as equivalents to dominant religions in the US.

      I want to state that I do not think the OP is disrespecting the indigenous religion he is talking about, because his letter clearly states he is aware of these issues. My point was to relay experiences where I have had (in the US) religious stuff sprung on me in business setting where I wasn’t expecting it and it was very uncomfortable.

      Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        You know, I never thought of it that way, but I think you’re right, EB, that it sometimes does seem as though people think if it isn’t a dominant religion, it’s just a “neat experience.”

        Well, you know what? If it’s a religious ritual that is sincerely practiced by actual people, it should not be treated as a “neat experience.” I am sure it isn’t intended to be exploitative, and it’s very clear that the OP (much less the elder) don’t have any such intention, but I don’t see how it can possibly have the effect he wants, which is for the employees to gain a better understanding of the culture. They aren’t going to feel “understanding”; what they are going to feel is awkwardness, embarrassment or perhaps a tourist-like interest. How will this help them understand anybody better?

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          I agree with this!

          If it’s a religious ritual that is sincerely practiced by actual people, it should not be treated as a “neat experience.”

          Reply
        2. Honeybee

          You’ve put your finger on exactly what’s been bothering me about this (and the conversation upthread). I don’t like the idea of this being treated as just a cool cultural experience for people to “learn more” about the culture. It’s a religious experience for people’s deeply held spiritual beliefs. I don’t see how this is going to be more helpful in terms of learning about the culture than something else that’s more directly educational, and it has the sting of feeling icky, too.

          Reply
      2. blackcat

        ” I actually think in some ways, it’s disrespectful to the other beliefs because it’s not recognizing them as religious practices or as equivalents to dominant religions in the US.”

        Yes, definitely. I think springing indigenous religious practices on people–and discounting that some may be uncomfortable–can actually come out of a place of lack of respect for the indigenous religion. By positioning such practices as “just spiritual” or “just ceremonial” and not a religious practice that some participants might be uncomfortable with because of *their* religion, organizers can devalue the indigenous religion. I get that there *are* significant differences between many indigenous belief systems and the big monotheistic religions (in the sense that “worship” is often the wrong word to describe indigenous practices), but they are still belief systems that may be at odds with someone’s religious practice.

        I think you’re right that some people recognize that a Jew or atheist might be uncomfortable being encourage to say, recite some catholic prayer or sign a Christian hymn, yet think an indigenous religious song is a great opportunity for a sing along. Such an attitude could reflect a belief that Christianity is an official Real Religion and indigenous belief systems are less than.

        Me, I will sign along to anyone’s religious songs so long as they are okay with it. But I’m also very respectful of people who won’t do that.

        Reply
        1. Amy The Rev

          Also I could see that being uncomfortable given how Christianity-as-an-institution has been the perpetrator of tragically large amounts of anti-Semitic actions across history, and whose theology can be (and often is) easily twisted to support anti-Semitic ideas, whereas the Yoruba religion, for example, hasn’t.

          Reply
          1. SebbyGrrl

            I know this may be splitting hairs a bit too finely – but “sending positive thoughts to mother earth” because it was coming from a indigenous or native perspective?

            Or, if it had been contextualized as “let’s set the attitude and energy for this conference to one of positive thoughts for all involved and take a moment to ponder that…” would that still feel like an aspect of spirituality as opposed to comradery?

            Reply
            1. EB

              I used “sending positive thoughts to mother earth” as an example because it is advocating a religious belief of some kind (mother earth is often used when you characterize the earth as a deity of some sort, or with animism). I don’t know if it’s an indigenous religious belief, I would associated it as an animistic belief that is held by a lot of different religious practitioners.

              Positive thoughts and energy for the conference, while touchy feeley and new agey, are less religious for me (though I still get uncomfortable with touchy feely and new agey in a business setting) because it doesn’t involve any kind of imbuing an object with force/soul/power or reference some supernatural power organizing the universe (though sending out positive energy does skirt really close to animistic beliefs that power can imbue objects).

              Reply
          2. Ann O.

            Yes, in a US context, I feel that Christianity is different than other religions, not because it is a Real Religion but because it is in the power position in hegemony. As a member of a minority faith in the US, I have felt my rights infringed upon/threatened by Christianity in a way that I haven’t by other religions. This makes implicitly coerced participation in Christianity more threatening to me than implicitly coerced participation in other religious traditions. I also don’t know if it’s because the facilitator had the awareness of being a non-minority tradition, but the times where I have been required to participate in other non-Christian spiritual traditions in the US, I was also explicitly given the okay to frame the participation in a non-religious way and provided alternate framings. This was not the case with the Christian equivalents.

            Reply
      3. Temperance

        One of the most uncomfortable experiences of my adult life, and the reason why I hate Jim Caviezel and always will, was sitting through a graduation speech where Caviezel led us all in a chorus of the Our Father and then made us sing “happy birthday” to “our papa”, meaning the pope. I’m an atheist, he’s not my papa, and I never felt so othered as when I had to sit through a ceremony where they all assumed that we knew the motions because we all belonged to the in-group.

        I would have been triply mortified if this was at work. i would honestly reconsider my employment or membership with that org.

        Reply
      4. Pommette

        Agreed on all counts.

        And as a Canadian, I have definitely seen people bring indigenous ceremonies into work or education spaces in ways that were meant to be respectful, but ultimately were really disrespectful. “Hey! This is clearly not a real religious/spiritual thing! So we don’t have to be careful like we would if it was real, i.e. Christian, tradition!”. Part of being respectful of minority spiritual/religious traditions is recognizing that they are as powerful and complex as majority ones, and need to be treated with as much caution.

        I’m not all-out against the use of religious ceremonies in workplaces, if they are relevant (as may well be the case for the OP), and are presented in a way that legitimately allows employees to choose whether or not to participate. But that requires a lot of fore-warning and of information about what the ritual means and entails, and it means offering a range of acceptable options for people who don’t wish to attend, or who wish to attend but not participate.

        Reply
    5. zora

      I said this above, but can you have a series of trainings about indigenous culture and history and cross-cultural communication for the staff instead? I have attended many that were extremely useful and enlightening in the past, and I’m sure there are people doing that kind of thing in Canada who are actually members of indigenous communities, and that they have trainings that are specifically designed for workplaces that work adjacent to indigenous peoples/issues.

      Reply
  5. Jessie

    My 2 cents is that you are very much over-valuing the importance of the specific spiritual practices and rituals of the community you serve. What your staff needs is an understanding of social issues, economic issues, particular barriers the groups face, the resources available to them, medical and heath information, how their religious beliefs and practices affect their daily lives and values, etc – but you do not need to participate in an actual ceremony to get any of that understanding. In fact, I’d argue that unless there is some compelling work function that specifically involves the ceremonies themselves, your service to these communities will not in any way be enhanced by participating.

    Reply
    1. Dawn

      +1000!

      “What your staff needs is an understanding of social issues, economic issues, particular barriers the groups face, the resources available to them, medical and heath information, how their religious beliefs and practices affect their daily lives and values, etc.” -> absolutely. This is what the focus for 2017 should be.

      Reply
    2. Nerdling

      I agree completely. Observing a ceremony may be helpful, but participating in one is just going to wind up making a lot of folks uncomfortable, most likely, without accomplishing what you want to accomplish.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        But I think you could argue that observing the ceremony is even worse than participating; it’s not a performance meant for an audience, it’s part of their belief system. It would be like going to a church to observe a mass in order to learn about the culture. It’s a place of faith, not a zoo.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          Huh, I have no problem with people visiting my church and coming to Mass as a way to help them learn about my religion (although I’d definitely explain that and why they can’t receive Communion).

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Would you expect them to be following along in the Bible/hymnal/prayer book, sitting/standing/kneeling, etc.? Or literally just sitting in the corner watching and not doing any participation? I guess I just think the latter would be extremely weird, and that’s how I’m imagining watching a ceremony like this. It would be treating it like a play.

            Reply
            1. Emi.

              I guess I’d expect (like anticipate, not demand) that they’d read along in the missal so they could follow it better. If they were coming with me, I’d also expect that they’d either sit and stand or just sit, but not kneel (when we kneel, it’s because Whoa, God is literally right here and if you don’t believe that, you should totally sit out). But your comment about treating it like a play makes me feel like it would actually be weirder than I originally thought. Now that I think about it, my archetypal church-visiting scenario is of the “I’m thinking about joining your religion, can I come with?” variety. So maybe it is too weird. Although I think it’s less weird when the culture and religion are more distinctly tied to each other.

              Reply
              1. LBK

                Huh, 15+ years in the Christian church and I never knew that’s why we knelt. Learn something new every day!

                The closest parallel I can think of is when I would go to a friend’s bar mitzvah. Someone Jewish please correct me if needed as I haven’t been to one in 15 years, but my recollection is that I was expected to participate in call/response and other elements of the ceremony, but obviously not the more sacred ones meant just for members of the religion. It would’ve been really rude to be asked to come to the ceremony and then just sat there silently watching.

                The context obviously isn’t the same here, but I’m ambivalent about whether it’s more respectful to participate as long as it’s sanctioned by someone who’s part of the faith or to just watch. I don’t know if we can categorically say one is more respectful than the other.

                Reply
                1. Emi.

                  Well, that’s why we kneel in the Catholic Church. I’m not sure which other Christians believe that the Eucharist is literally God and which others believe it’s a symbol.

                  I agree that there isn’t a categorical more respectful option for this, though.

                2. LBK

                  I was Catholic until I was 14 or so, so I definitely should’ve heard of it :) And IIRC Episcopalians (where I went after) knelt during the Eucharist as well, although they don’t believe in transubstantiation.

                3. Temperance

                  I attended a Catholic service last year and went along with the kneeling/bending etc. so I didn’t stand out, but I didn’t take communion because I don’t believe. I think certain parts are more important/meaningful than others.

                4. LBK

                  Yeah, I don’t take communion anymore either on the rare occasion that I attend a Christian mass.

                5. CanCan

                  I also attended a Catholic service last year (funeral for a coworker’s father). I stood and sat when others did, but I didn’t kneel, read from the Bible, or say Amen. Needless, to say, no communion for me either. A good number of others also sat for the kneeling and skipped communion. Since it was a funeral, it was “open” to the non-Catholics, so standing out was not an issue.

                  However, last month I went to a Chrismas service (for the pageant, with my toddler) – to a United church. I sang and said Amen when others did. In that case, it would not have been appropriate to stand out, because it would have been expected that those attending a Chrismas service would be Christians.

                1. Delta Delta

                  I grew up Catholic and CCD was always after the first Sunday morning mass. We always called it “catechism, coffee, and donuts” because there were always coffee and donuts in the church hall after that mass. It occurs to me that I have no idea what CCD actually stands for now.

                2. Emi.

                  It originally stands for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,” which is an association that does religious ed, but I don’t think it still runs most of the programs referred to as “CCD.”

              2. Elise

                I’ve been to exactly one Catholic mass (as an ethnic Jew/atheist), but it was for a wedding so obviously I had a reason to be there. Still, I felt very strange being there (and just sitting there while everyone else went through the calisthenics). It was interesting to see what a mass actually involves, but in no way would I ever consider joining it or any church so I did feel like an interloper. In the situation the OP describes, I would feel very uncomfortable. I even feel weird saying prayers with family at Passover/other occasions, since I do not believe. It does seem like a strange position to be put in at work, but I am not familiar with the community which this letter writer and his staff work with.

                Reply
            2. Newby

              My church encourages people to come observe the mass. They usually sit in a pew and may or may not follow along with the hymnal. They usually don’t stand or kneel.

              Reply
            3. ancolie

              Interesting. I’m an atheist but was raised Catholic (K-12 Catholic schools, my maternal grandma and her sisters were all named after Mary and her brothers were all named after popes, etc.) and still feel culturally Catholic. And reading your post, I would truly and honestly say I’d be (and would have been) absolutely fine with either scenario. I don’t think it would be weird at all to not participate and just observe.

              Now, obviously I’m assuming the observer is respectfully observing. If they’re repeatedly whispering, or pointing, or joking/giggling, that’s incredibly rude and just not on. But sitting in a corner, observing, in itself? Totally fine.

              Reply
        2. TL -

          I’ve sat in a lot of religious ceremonies (of widely varied faiths) and as long as I’m sitting quietly in the back, I don’t think it’s ever bothered anyone. And it’s been a range of invited for celebration, invited for convenience, or invited for the specific purpose of learning.

          Even in church, if I’m there for curiosity, I’m sitting in the back so I don’t disturb anyone. It’s an open ceremony and all are invited – I wouldn’t ask to observe a closed ceremony or something that’s people of the faith only but most religions have inclusive ceremonies and rituals and I don’t feel weird about taking advantage of that.

          Reply
        3. Amy The Rev

          At least in the US, many tribes will invite non-natives to come watch at a Pow-Wow (there’s an annual one in my hometown and the flyers always stress that all are welcome), it probably depends on the actual ceremony/ritual itself, and the theology surrounding the ritual.

          Reply
          1. Chinook

            But a pow-wow is so much more than a spiritual ceremony – it is a gathering of the tribe to celebrate which includes spiritual aspects because such spirituality is woven through their lives (or at least that is my understanding of it from the Cree perspective). You could definitely participate in a pow-wow if the greater community is invited because it is more like a giant family reunion (which would be important in a nomadic culture).

            Reply
        4. Nerdling

          I have a hard time getting behind the idea of respectful observance being more disrespectful or performance-driven than participation without belief or understanding, honestly. Most of the churches and religious institutions I’ve been familiar with welcome the former but mostly discourage the latter, both of their own members and of members of other faiths or atheists/agnostics. My (Catholic) church growing up had weekends each year where it participated in swaps with other churches in the area – we went to a predominantly African-American Baptist church one year – while all of the mosques I’ve visited over the years have welcomed outsiders, particularly students, to attend jumaa, provided all the normal rules were followed. I’ve found them to be very moving experiences, but I’ve never felt that my observation during salat was more offensive than trying to say the prayers with an insincere heart.

          Reply
        5. Turtle Candle

          I was raised Presbyterian, and would not have looked askance at someone who attended and followed along but didn’t sing/pray/kneel/etc.–and when I visited a Catholic church with a Catholic friend, I did some things (sing hymns, pray) and not others (take communion). And my husband is Jewish, and I’ve gone to synagogue with him a few times for holidays like Yom Kippur, and nobody looked at me funny for going and sitting in respectful quiet.

          I mean, if I’d sat there in my pith helmet taking shorthand notes, then probably there would have been a deal. But I think many religions (not all, obviously) are kind of okay with ‘observers,’ whether they’re potential converts or relatives/friends or what.

          Reply
    3. PlainJane

      This. What’s needed is education, which the indigenous communities you work with might be willing to help provide. That’s much different from asking staff to participate in a spiritual ceremony which may conflict with their religious beliefs (a fact they shouldn’t have to disclose) and which (as a commenter noted above) sounds a bit like cultural appropriation.

      Reply
    4. AnotherAlison

      Agreed.

      It also seems unusual that the OP brought this up with the indigenous elder. It almost has a feel of requesting them to put on a show for the OP’s organization, which I realize it is not, I wonder if the indigenous group feels it is a welcome opportunity to educate, or if they feel this is exploitative.

      Reply
      1. GS

        Consulting with and involving elders is very, very common for this type of thing and is how you do things in a good way.

        There’s a possibility of tokenizing, if this is all an organization does to decolonize and learn cultural competency, but it’s far from inherently tokenizing or exploitative.

        Reply
        1. I used to be Murphy

          Agreed. While I may not love having to participate in these ceremonies at work, working with an elder is the only way to do this respectfully.

          Reply
        2. Temperance

          I think involving community elders for EDUCATION is one thing. To put on a sacred ceremony for nonbelievers … no so much. That seems exploitative and wrong.

          Reply
          1. Cat

            Depends on the ceremony and the culture, surely. If the actual practitioners are okay with it, I feel like it’s condescending of non-believers to second guess.

            Reply
            1. sunny-dee

              Yeah, at least the stomps and other religious ceremonies in my area of Oklahoma were completely open to the public; they even put up fliers in gas stations. Those were more animistic and less, um, Orthodox? (I can’t think of the right word) than a lot of other traditional religions. Then again, a stomp really isn’t at the level of the pipe ceremony that the OP is describing.

              Reply
              1. Temperance

                I’ve attended a few Native American ceremonies that were open to the public, and thought it a very valuable experience. You’re totally right.

                Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        My experience is that a group/elder will decline to do an event if they believe it’s tokenizing or exploitative. But the trouble is that there’s two groups that worry about exploitation in this equation: the elder who’s determining whether to participate, and the staff who’re trying to determine whether they’re perpetuating inequality/tokenization.

        It’s also common, and perhaps the only meaningfully respectful way to engage an indigenous group, to confer with an elder or with reps from the group. It’s much, much worse to try to design a program without input from the impacted community.

        Reply
    5. Manders

      Yes, this. Your staff would be better served by spending that time learning about the unique challenges the community they’re working with faces. Maybe that elder could come in to speak about the issues his community has seen with accessing healthcare, talking with police, dealing with local schools, etc.

      There are just so many potential landmines when it comes to talking with employees about menstruation, especially when religion gets involved. What about women who don’t menstruate or who are on birth control that causes menstruation to stop? Are they going to feel insulted by the implication that they’re less pure or powerful? What if you later find out that a woman who was on her period lied because she wanted to participate in the ceremony or because she just didn’t want to tell you about it? Is that going to be an insult to the community you’re trying to serve? What if an employee is a member of a different religion with different restrictions for menstruating women? What if every woman in your office hears about these restrictions and decides to skip out collectively? There’s just so much here that could go so badly wrong.

      Reply
      1. JMegan

        Some trans men menstruate as well, which could be a whole other can of worms, especially if if you have a trans man who isn’t “out” at the office.

        Reply
        1. Manders

          Definitely! And along similar lines, it’s going to be majorly awkward for any employee who isn’t cisgender, and even many who are, to participate in a religious ceremony that involves treating people from one gender or sex differently.

          Reply
        2. Relly

          I was wondering about this too — what if a manager only tells his female-presenting employees, and a transman on the team doesn’t know that he needs to sit out?

          Reply
      2. Grr

        Not to mention that I suspect if women skipped on principle, the backlash would be something along the lines of “But I don’t understand, why, why aren’t you enlightened enough to let this nice indigenous culture discriminate against you?!”

        Reply
      3. Spartan

        How do you know the team aren’t anthropologists? They may be working on studying the history of the culture.

        Reply
      4. Relly

        I have an IUD, and for the first few months, it caused semi-continuous spotting.*

        If someone had asked me about my “moon time” I wouldn’t have the least idea if that counted, and I certainly wouldn’t want to explain the logistics of my IUD (or even that I have one) at work. Cue awkwardness.

        *very light. Do not let this discourage you, fellow contraception-seekers — IUDs own. A+ would shove in uterus again.

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          My (unsuccessful) fertility treatments caused intermittent spotting, sometimes for weeks at a time. I would have no idea if that counted, and would feel hideously uncomfortable asking even my very understanding manager. :/

          Reply
    6. Sherry

      I totally agree. I’d suggest your staff might get more value out of an educational session with an elder.

      I think it’s very thoughtful of you, though, to want to offer your staff a sweat lodge ceremony. But since it can be a very personal experience, maybe it is better to let them sign up on their own, if they’re interested.

      Reply
    7. LBK

      Hmm, I don’t think we have anywhere near enough info in the letter to determine that the OP is organizing the ceremony instead of all those things rather than in addition to them. I don’t at all get the sense that the OP thinks this will be a one-and-done event to magically create cultural awareness and suddenly his employees will be amazingly culturally sensitive. Rather, it sounds like part of ongoing efforts to ensure his employees feel connected to and understand the culture of the people they’re supporting.

      I’m worried that a lot of these comments are going to end up attacking the OP for what sound like the right ways to actually go about creating cultural understanding and bridging gaps. I’d hate for him to be put off from the whole thing because of this one questionable event, which it sounds like he’s already done several times himself so I can see why he’d see no issue doing it again.

      Reply
      1. Lissa

        I think a lot of people are coming at this from an American perspective, and making comparisons that aren’t necessarily true here. It’s a little frustrating for me to read, though I expected it from the question — I’m not the person to explain everything, but this sort of thing is not uncommon and in many cases, encouraged and desired by elders of a community.

        It very likely is part of an ongoing effort, not a fun one-off retreat, and while there are certainly potential issues that can arise here (I’ve been involved in some of them) I highly doubt that someone who works in the context LW does is unaware of the importance of education about social issues etc.

        Reply
        1. Honeybee

          Um, the United States has lots of indigenous peoples, and many people have already shared examples of living near indigenous tribes. I myself have observed pow-wows and visited reservations and participated in educational events with tribes as part of my work (which involved understanding how health and indigenous culture intersected). A lot of people have already said that observing ceremonies and participating in certain kinds of events is okay and even welcomed, but it’s having a separate spiritual ceremony put on specifically at work (not even actually participating in a special spiritual event with the entire tribe) that feels weird.

          I think a lot of people simply genuinely disagree that this is a “right” way to create cultural understanding and bridge gaps.

          Reply
          1. Honeybee

            And to be clear, I’m not saying that I think the Canadian and American perspective on First Nations tribes is similar – they’re very, very different, and non-indigenous Canadians have a different relationship with First Nations folks than non-indigenous Americans have with Native Americans.

            Reply
          2. Lissa

            It’s the accusations of appropriation and accusing the LW of being super out of line that I disagree with, because I am getting the impression from reading the comments that that might be true in the States, but less true in Canada.

            I definitely think it’s reasonable to talk about whether or not this is a good thing to do, and personally am not sure that it is. But, a lot of what’s being thrown repeatedly at the OP doesn’t seem to take into consideration that this not likely to be just his harebrained idea.

            Reply
    8. Bonky

      Exactly what I was coming here to say. Why the emphasis on spiritual practice? What about religious practice makes it special in your eyes, and more important to participate in with your group than other socio-cultural practices?

      Reply
    9. thunderbird

      I would like to respectfully disagree. In my professional experience in working with Indigenous communities, it can be immensely valuable to gain perspective and understanding through experiencing Indigenous teachings in traditional ways. The Indigenous ways of knowing is quite different from what many are accustomed to and, in my experience, one can learn far more from traditional practices and teachings on these matters than through text and policy.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        Yup, yup, yup. I agree thunderbird (which is an ironic name, considering the topic). Experiencing traditional practices is very different than reading about them.

        Reply
    10. paul

      Yep.

      I’m not going “appropriation!” here (I don’t think it is), but it’s certainly not something I view as particularly helpful either, and the awkwardness and potential for insulting various people outweighs the pros.

      Reply
  6. Dawn

    “Even though there is some cultural understanding of indigenous practices and ceremonies, my team is largely not exposed to such things.”

    If you work with indigenous communities, why does your team not have more than just “some” understanding of practices? Are you building in enough professional development for your team so that they are getting an education of indigenous practices, preferably straight from books or workshops written or led by indigenous people?

    Also, why are you starting off 2017 with an indigenous sacred ceremony? Why this year and no year before this one? Is this really about “grounding in indigenous practices and creating cultural awareness and understanding” or is it about “hey we’re so cool we had this awesome sacred ceremony to kick off the new year”? Why are you doing a sacred ceremony and not having a series of workshops led by local tribe leaders to increase your team’s education? Why have you not been doing this kind of education all along?

    I am hoping that there are good answers to all of the above, but the original letter smacks very hard of cultural appropriation without caring about context or historical/religious significance and I’m having a hard time not giving this whole thing a very strong side eye.

    Reply
    1. Ayla K

      My brain basically went “!!!!” after reading this letter, but I really love your suggestions. If the issue is a lack of exposure to indigenous culture, then the team should learn about the culture – the history, issues/concerns, beliefs. You can do that without directly participating in the ceremonies.

      Reply
    2. LK

      Yeah, I’m with you. There’s a difference between gaining respect and understanding through the equivalent of a social studies/anthropology class on certain cultures or spiritualities and then…. adopting that culture or spirituality yourself.

      In my city there is a big push to acknowledge we are on non-ceded first nations territories before events, and that is supported by the tribes (and often recited by an elder) as a way to say “Hey, those before us screwed up but here we are acknowledging the need for conversation about history and culture” (I am GREATLY simplifying….. like a lot… but that’s part of the gist…) and all of this is done without “becoming” part of their culture, but rather confirming its existence and relevance and importance and validity. Is there not a similar practice here? Professional development is needed, not spirituality.

      Reply
    3. sunny-dee

      I’m originally from Oklahoma, which (as the name even says) has dozens of Indian (indigenous) tribes. I myself am a small part Choctaw.

      I’m not hearing “cultural appropriation” in what he says, and I don’t think that’s a fair judgment. It sounds to me like he is trying to push his team to immerse themselves in the culture to better connect with the communities they serve … which is an admirable desire, but this is the wrong way to do it.

      My guess is that the reason they’re not exposed to things like this isn’t a lack of development opportunities but more a lack of interest or necessity. I could have attended a stomp (a religious ceremony, but not as sacred as something like the Sundance, which is pretty infrequent) pretty much any month I wanted. I just had zero interest and I found it in conflict with my own religious beliefs, and it made no difference to anything that I did at school or socially. So why go?

      The workshop idea is a really good one, and I think closer to the actual goal that the OP has — to expose his team more to the underlying culture to foster understanding, compassion, and creativity. It’s possible to do that without requiring any attendance at a religious ceremony.

      Reply
      1. sunny-dee

        BTW, I don’t mean “not fair” as in the OP is right. I just don’t want to be harsh in judging him, because I think he’s trying to do something from a good intent. It’s just the wrong method.

        Reply
    4. Snarkus Aurelius

      I’m also curious as to why this group doesn’t hire individuals from this indigenous population to work on this project? That would be the most ideal solution, but I also know that’s another topic altogether.

      Reply
      1. sunny-dee

        I am assuming this is an Indian reservation, and those are communities that have, historically, not been well served by, well, anything. Depending on the nature of service they provide, it can be really difficult to find enough people with the right qualifications from within that community.

        Reply
      2. Chinookwind

        They may be working to hire locals but educational standards and licensing requirements still need to be met. You serve no one in the long run if you give substandard access. Instead, you can work with community to “grow their own” while modelling what type of service they should expect (which should absolutely meet the standard of an average community). This type of growth takes time.

        Reply
      3. Not So NewReader

        THIS. Hire indigenous people to work with your people, OP. If you want something to be well thought out having the group of regular employees attend a few events is not going to get you there. What will help you to get there is to have people from the focus group doing the work itself. It’s that steady stream of daily inputs that will make a difference.

        Reply
    5. LBK

      Why are you assuming he isn’t doing all of those things? I don’t understand where in the letter you’re getting the impression that this is the single thing he’s ever done to help his team connect with the local tribes.

      Reply
    6. Jesmlet

      I’m not understanding all the cultural appropriation accusations here. If he were leading the ceremony himself I could see that but this seems more like a well-intentioned (albeit possibly misguided) attempt to bring an understanding of and respect for one aspect of the culture they serve to other employees. It’s not like they’re going to half-ass this in their office. Still not the best idea, but not getting the appropriation bit.

      Reply
      1. Honeybee

        I’m not sure if this is appropriation, but I do want to say that people who are well-intentioned and want to understand can still engage in cultural appropriation.

        Reply
    7. Cece

      As mentioned in comments above, if OP is in Canada, 2017 is an incredibly significant year (especially with regards to indigenous culture).

      Reply
    8. Chinook

      Why 2017 and not another year? If it is a Canadian context, there is a huge reason – it is our 150th anniversary of Confederation when, among other things, we took over responsibility of the treaties written by the British Crown or, as Queen Victoria was known to many of these tribes, “the Great Mother.”.

      Reply
  7. orchidsandtea

    I’m with Alison. In any other circumstance it’d be wildly inappropriate as a work activity because of appropriation and the boundaries between personal/spiritual and professional realms. (Menstruation issue aside.)

    I think it’s beautiful as a non-work activity if A) everyone behaves respectfully, B) you are invited by the First Nations organizers putting this on, C) it is lead and driven by the First Nations folks and not by any sense of your non-First Nations employees being entitled to attend. I’m willing to believe that A B and C are true for you all! But it still puts it in a more delicate “here is a beautiful opportunity we are invited to, contact the organizers to learn more” sort of sphere. Not a “here is the thing we’re organizing for ourselves” sort of sphere.

    Reply
    1. Emi.

      I agree! Also, could you ask the elder if it would be possible for people on your team to sit in and observe a ceremony they’re having anyway? That dodges the moon time issue, doesn’t conflict with people’s own beliefs (at least, not as much–some people probably still couldn’t go), and will probably teach your team more.

      Reply
    2. Friday

      And it’d be VERY GOOD to give a general head’s up that you’ll have to reveal your menstruation status should you choose to opt in. Don’t risk anyone being blindsided by that and don’t be offended if all the women skip out.

      Reply
    3. Alton

      I agree with this. I think it’s great if the local community is inviting them to attend things like this, but it’s probably best to have it be a wholly extracurricular thing and not something officially organized through work.

      Reply
    4. Code Monkey, the SQL

      I’m going to park my general agreement here.

      I would be beyond excited to be invited by organizers within the tribe to attend an event like this. It would be a great opportunity to learn something, especially if I were working every day with people from that group.

      It would be far less effective if I was told I had, or even was just strongly encouraged, to attend a religious ceremony that my office was throwing with the assistance of a First Nations tribe. I would react the same way commenters here are reacting, with a feeling of unease, worries about appropriation, concerns about my beliefs conflicting with theirs, etc.

      So please, OP, make it opt-in, and that way, when people contact you to sign up, you can supply all relevant information about behaving respectfully, which includes the caveat about menstrual status.

      Reply
  8. all aboard the anon train

    To be honest, I’d be uncomfortable even if a female manager brought this up.

    That said, I’m agreeing with Alison’s comment about avoiding doing spiritual ceremonies all together. It’s similar to a manager at work saying that because one of our clients is a church, we should attend a Christian ceremony to have a better understanding of their culture and foster a better relationship. Even if it was voluntary, I’d still be very, very uncomfortable.

    I enjoy learning about people’s religions, but I would be so unbelievably uncomfortable to participate in them, especially if that event was work related. Work events that are “voluntary” often make people feel like they need to attend. I think it’d be different if someone from the organization emailed your department and said they were hosting a spiritual ceremony and would love for people to attend, and did so without any prompting from you (and it seems from your letter that you asked them if you could participate, not the other way around, which is…troubling). Adding your involvement in there makes it work related and that’s not going to be okay for a lot of people.

    Reply
    1. Grits McGee

      Yeah, I’m imagining an alt-universe OP inviting a Catholic priest in to give Mass and bless everyone with holy water. It’s not… ill-intentioned, but it sure feels like a trivialization of the religion in question, it really doesn’t give any insight into the lives and needs of Catholics, and I know it’d make me uncomfortable as all get-up.

      Reply
      1. Emi.

        As a Catholic in your alt-universe, I’d be super stressed that someone would receive Communion who shouldn’t, or try to take it home as a souvenir, or any number of totally well-intentioned but nevertheless terrible things that could happen when people don’t know what’s going on, even if a priest greenlights the project. So even if the elder in the real universe thinks it’s great, I’d worry that other members don’t.

        Reply
      2. EB

        In some ways its like learning about Mexican-American culture by going to a Spanish Catholic service or about Korean-Americans by going to a Korean shamanism ceremony. Sure, there is a lot of religious residue in the cultures from these religions, but many people are surprised to find that many Mexican-Americans are protestants (and there is a huge evangelical presence) or many Korean-Americans are actually practicing Catholics. The same religious diversity will be true for many tribal peoples.

        Reply
  9. GS

    Is there a way to do the opening ceremony without incorporating this specific spiritual practice?

    My organization works heavily with Indigenous people, and works both on-reserve and in treaty territories. Incorporating some Indigenous practices or knowledge into opening events and meetings is pretty common in general around here, for everything from community grassroots to government.

    I’ve never experienced an opening ceremony where women who are menstruating have to identify themselves or participate in a different way. (This requirement also gets complex, as it doesn’t really acknowledge trans and two-spirit people who menstruate.)

    I would be surprised if there was no way to change the opening ceremony to something without this requirement, while also keeping it focused on Indigenous cultural practices. Around here, land acknowledgements, drumming and singing, dancing, and smudging are common ways to open events.

    If that’s not workable, what about doing a land acknowledgement and then have a Indigenous speaker or do an activity that focuses on decolonization?

    Reply
    1. GS

      Also, assuming you’re Canadian, if you want to work on decolonizing and cultural competency with your staff, I would suggest reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report as a group: http://trcreadingchallenge.com/

      If you want cultural competency, you really have to invest some time in it, and prioritize it.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        If you want cultural competency, you really have to invest some time in it, and prioritize it.

        +100!

        Reply
      2. I used to be Murphy

        This is great advice.

        Around here, land acknowledgements, drumming and singing, dancing, and smudging are common ways to open events.
        Second the land acknowledgement (heck, we don’t start any public meeting without one) and would also add asking for a blessing from the elder and gifting ceremonial tobacco.

        Reply
      3. Snork Maiden

        I agree. As a Canadian I think this is required reading for decolonization (although hypocritically I have not read it yet.)

        Reply
        1. GS

          It’s long and it’s very emotionally heavy. We’ve been doing it at our workplace, but we’re covering it over several months.

          I hope at some point you have the time and energy to read it. :)

          Reply
      4. wealhtheow

        +1000

        The issues raised and the stories told in the TRC report are necessary (though not sufficient) to ground your collective understanding of the present realities of First Nations communities. It’s hard-as-shit reading for us settler-culture folks, but incredibly necessary.

        Reply
  10. grumpy

    Oh boy. Disclaimer, I work with indigenous people, closely and constantly and what you’re describing is more of a religious ceremony than a fun bucket list activity and it has no place at work as a mandated group activity.
    ALso I would literally pay money to watch any male manager ask the women I work with if they’re flowing. It would go viral.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      In fairness to the OP, though, he agrees that it shouldn’t be mandatory and that he will back out of the activity altogether if there’s no way around the period thing.

      Reply
      1. Ann

        We do these with staff where I work in Indigenous Canada too, and the menstration info is presented neutrally (almost identical wording to what the OP quotes in his letter) when the event is first noted as an opt in activity. Finding a way to accept that has been a major part of developing my cultural understanding and competency

        Reply
        1. grumpy

          Good points, I missed the “optional” part when I read the question, my fault.
          Hmm. Maybe they’re just having fun with the OP, watching him squirm. The guys I work with would absolutely do that.

          Reply
            1. GS

              And culture and history that the Canadian government systematically tried to wipe out. I’ve never met an Indigenous person who would treat this like a joke.

              Reply
        2. Taravala

          “Finding a way to accept that has been a major part of developing my cultural understanding and competency.”

          This assumes all your staff is white, European, and Christian.

          Cultural competency isn’t just about white people learning about First Nations. It’s about everyone learning to respect each other.

          There are times where there are direct conflicts between what one non-dominant group practices and another non-dominant group practices.

          I’m American of mixed race and have a tribal membership card. I would never, ever recommend doing something like this guy is suggesting b/c my tribe’s view of sex, gender, bodily functions is very, very “open.” But I also have friends who are Orthodox, Muslim, Quaker, etc. They could never reconcile their own deeply held religious beliefs with any of our basic ceremonies. I would not put them in a position to do so.

          They can develop cultural understanding without participation.

          “Finding a way to accept that”

          This is the issue. But they don’t have to participate it to “accept” it. Particularly if “accepting” it requires them to participate and compromise their own values.

          Reply
          1. Chinook

            Actually, as a Canadian, I am NOT assuming that all of OP’so staff are white, but I am assuming they are not First Nations. Whether or not they raised last week or 200 years ago, they are still settlers who have to realize what went into the country we have today. The idea us that, if you want the benefit of a modern Canada, you have to accept bearing the cost it took to get there.

            And I speak as someone whose family spent the last 150 years helping First Nations people not be erased. If I can take on the burden of something my family had no part of because it is the right thing to do, why can’t an immigrant. After all, we have all benefitted from the results

            Reply
            1. Cath in Canada

              “they are still settlers who have to realize what went into the country we have today. The idea us that, if you want the benefit of a modern Canada, you have to accept bearing the cost it took to get there.”

              This is how I see it, as a relatively recent immigrant (although an admittedly privileged one – I’m British, genetically Anglo-Scots-Irish, and moved here for a job. I might feel somewhat differently if I’d arrived as a refugee fleeing persecution, or if I didn’t have the protection of the “oh, I didn’t mean immigrants like you” attitude I unfortunately encounter from time to time). I arrived in 2002 and got citizenship in 2009; none of my ancestors were involved in the atrocities experienced by FNMI people in Canada, but I personally have benefited enormously from the way the county is currently set up. That makes reconciliation efforts as relevant to me as to any other non-indigenous Canadian, regardless of when we or our ancestors first arrived here.

              Reply
    2. Sas

      Have the elder attend the school and give a presentation or message, as others have suggested. That person should bring a sign-in sheet in addition to asking women to check yes or no for currently menstruating. Problem solved.

      “Sas is sitting outside of the tent.” “She’s in a bitchy mood.” “She’s always in a bitchy mood.” “Damn straight, these cramps HURT!” “Hey!”

      Reply
  11. Anonymous Poster

    I’m religious, and even with an opt-in, unless it’s really obvious to me in that environment that it has no professional impact, I’d feel pressured to participate in something that may compromise my religious beliefs. But I also acknowledge that I have no understanding on the culture of your office, maybe that’s all true and I’d be the one out of line, but it would make me really nervous about where I go professionally in a place where my religious beliefs would preclude me from participating in something I think may advance my career.

    Is there something else you can do instead that would raise awareness that steers clear of participating in spiritual events? I think that would be a better option, though I understand just what an opportunity you could have right now with this ceremony. Maybe watching one (and not participating directly) instead?

    Good luck – you sound like you really care about managing well, and I salute you for that. Never lose sight of that!

    Reply
  12. Snarkus Aurelius

    You’ve got some good intentions, but they’re a bit clumsy. I won’t add to what AAM said, but she’s absolutely right that you need to stay away from this idea altogether. Here’s why…

    When historically disenfranchised populations talk about racism, cultural insensitivity, etc., they’re not asking everyone to directly experience their culture. They’re asking for understanding and intellectual curiosity into something that’s unfamiliar. For example, Native American groups aren’t asking Redskin fans to come on a reservation and participate in tribal rituals; those groups are asking Redskin fans and the NFL to question where that term came from, why its origins are so awful, why it’s pejorative to Native American populations, and convey that white people cannot unilaterally change the definition as a way to make everything okay.

    Think about anthropologists. They study indigenous cultures worldwide. Sure, some of them (think Crocodile Dundee) participate in such a way that doesn’t distract or offend anyone in the community in question, but not all of those anthropologists do that. That doesn’t make those anthropologists any less of expert or less intelligent because they don’t.

    If it helps, think of you and your employees as anthropologists into this culture. There are lots of ways to learn and understand cultures and customs that don’t require direct participation: lectures, guest speakers, documentaries, etc.

    Reply
    1. Cat

      Sure, some of them (think Crocodile Dundee) participate in such a way that doesn’t distract or offend anyone in the community in question, but not all of those anthropologists do that. That doesn’t make those anthropologists any less of expert or less intelligent because they don’t.

      That’s not really true. The core of modern anthropology is participant observation, which includes participation with the informed consent of the community. That’s not a bad thing just because someone doing it without informed consent would be culturally appropriating. And the OP here is looking for a respectful way to participate with informed consent — that is the anthropological way of doing it.

      Reply
      1. Grits McGee

        I’m a little uncomfortable with that- from what I can gather from the letter, this isn’t OP and his staff joining in or observing a community event, it’s pulling a specific spiritual practice out of it’s intended context and re-contextualizing it as a non-indigenous office event. It becomes less participant observation, more… show-and-tell.

        Reply
        1. TL -

          I know a lot of religious services I’ve been to have been led by religious leaders thrilled to play show-and-tell. They genuinely want to showcase their beliefs and help outsiders develop understanding and they have the discretion to know when it’s okay to invite people in and when it’s not okay. Most people love sharing things that are important to them and that they feel deeply about, especially if they feel it’s badly understood by others!

          I think it’s fair to ascribe these same intentions to the elders in question: They have the discretion to know when it’s appropriate to invite outsiders and they do want to help other people understand and appreciation their religion/culture. Part of the way they do that is by showcasing a ceremony, ect… that they themselves appreciate.

          I think on that grounds, this is a great opt-in experience and a terrible opt-out experience, but not for reasons of cultural appropriation.

          Reply
          1. Rachael

            I agree. I subscribe to the “let them decide what is comfortable for them” – instead of a bunch of people determining it for them.

            Reply
      2. Consuela Schlepkiss

        As an anthropologist who works with an indigenous group whose ceremonial practices are widely idealized and coopted by outsiders, my suggestion is to table this idea. It needs to come from the community – specifically the practitioners – not from the outsider. If no invitation has been issued to date, perhaps there is a reason.

        Reply
        1. Lynxa

          We don’t know who came up with the idea, though. OP may have approached the Elder saying, “I’d like to do something to commemorate the opening of the year!” and the Elder said, “How about this? Here’s what it entails!”

          Reply
      3. Honeybee

        Ethnography and participant observation is way more complex than that, and the important thing is that anthropologists who do engage in participant observation spend months to years establishing bonds and ties in the community first before they participate. An anthropologist is unlikely to ask someone to conduct a special ceremony just for them so they could learn more about a culture.

        Reply
      4. Pommette

        Participant observation is an important anthropological method, but its meaning/role/implications have all been seriously re-evaluated over the past thirty years, and it doesn’t occupy the methodological pride of place that it once did.

        Participant observation is not really a good analogy for what the OP is hoping to achieve here. Like Honeybee says: it can take a long time for someone to to build the trust and community bonds necessary for participant observation. Even then, the immersion is gradual, and it’s perfectly normal for an anthropologist to never get to the point where they participate in some activities (like religious ceremonies).

        And for an anthropologist who didn’t grow up as part of the community they are studying (something that comes with its own set of challenges!), it’s important to acknowledge that reality, which no amount of participant observation can overcome. This is particularly true when someone who is working with communities that have been racialized and face multiple forms of structural exclusion, as is the case with indigenous communities in Canada. Sometimes other methods – interviews, focus group discussions, semi-participant observation – work better than PO, because they allow you to explicitly recognize those differences, and to better foreground the voices of the people whose experiences you are trying to understand.

        All of which is to say: the OP has great intentions, and has done good work (e.g. finding an elder who is interested in leading the ceremony). There are two things that a ceremony like this could accomplish: help the OP’s staff build a better understanding of the communities whose health their research serves, or help build better ties between the OP’s staff and the communities whose health their research serves (which might ultimately give community members more power over that research). Whether in addition to, or instead of, the ceremony, there are lots of other good ways of working towards those goals.

        Reply
    2. Bartlet for President

      Thank you for articulating this so well! I sometimes struggle verbalizing some of the things you touch on, and your language here is a huge help in that area.

      Reply
      1. Rebooting

        And -fictional-.

        Unless Snarkus Aurelius was thinking of Steve Irwin, who was also not an anthropologist, but a crocodile appreciator.

        Reply
      2. Mela

        I think it was a reference to his relationship with his aboriginal friend, but I think there might have been some misunderstanding in that white Australians and aboriginals co-exist more out in the bush and it’s just everyday life and not a formal attempt to get back to nature or whatever.

        Reply
  13. Cassandra

    Previous comments have been excellent. Here’s a not-mentioned-yet thing that’s throwing me: why was your staff not involved in or even informed of any of this until after the agreement with the elder?

    Seems a heckuva thing to just spring on people!

    Reply
    1. my two cents

      my best guess would be that OP wouldn’t have even considered the ceremony if the elder wasn’t up for it, which 100% makes sense.

      Reply
    2. Jesmlet

      Yes, this should have been, “I’m thinking of doing ____, would any of you be interested in participating? Here’s more information…” and send info including the menstruation bit and you’d probably have your answer right there with how few opted in. Or maybe they’d have surprised us and all been willing to do it. Who knows…?

      Reply
    3. Artemesia

      I don’t know. Maybe it is became I came up in the 60s and 70s but this seems pretty innocuous to me (not the menstrual quiz of course) — If someone has religious objections of course, then they shouldn’t do it and so making it optional is reasonable — but even that seems to be pushing it. Jews manage to sing ‘The Messiah’ in choirs every holiday season without quailing. If one is working with indigenous groups then participation in ceremonies seems useful.

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Some Jews do. Some Jews (my husband included) make a deliberate point of not singing Christmas songs, even those far less religiously loaded than the Hallelujah Chorus.

        I would have no particular problem performing the ceremony as described, but I cannot imagine trying to explain to my observant Muslim coworker that it was expected of her to participate in a spiritual ceremony that was contrary to her beliefs. She would feel at best deeply alienated and I think not inappropriately so.

        Reply
  14. misplacedmidwesterner

    I’m a white woman who works in and around various indigenous cultures. And in fact married an indigenous man. Don’t do this ceremony. There are lots of other ways to build cultural competence. Are there celebrations that might be okay to be optional join ins as Alison suggested? Also talk to the elder, I bet he has a canned “how to work with our cultural group for greater understanding speech” that he gives to outsiders (or someone in his cultural group does). Or a group field trip to visit some traditional places and see things. Or a storyteller who can describe the practices.

    I know you found an elder who is willing to do this ceremony for you. But go back to him. Don’t ask if he’s willing to do the ceremony, ask what he thinks the best way for your team to understand his people during this new project is. Then go with that advice. (In the groups I am working around, it is usually a combination of listening panels, storytellers, and visiting cultural places to which we are invited.)

    Also for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable because I am or am not menstruating (though I would be very uncomfortable talking about it). I would be uncomfortable because of my own spiritual beliefs and the seriousness with which I take my rituals/ceremonies would make me not want to participate in others in less than 100% belief.

    Reply
    1. PlainJane

      “Ask what he thinks the best way for your team to understand his people during this new project is”–THIS. Put communities you serve in the driver’s seat here.

      Reply
    2. Venus Supreme

      I agree with this. My first thought after reading OP’s letter is, instead of attending the sacred tradition, inviting the elder to speak with all the employees on a more neutral ground. I think having an open conversation is a good starting point. Maybe he can bring other members of his community. I really like asking the elder what HE thinks is the best way for the team to fully understand him/his people/his culture.

      Reply
    3. Pommette

      Yes!

      Also, if you can: Talk to other elders, and to elders from other communities. Talk to leaders from other communities. Ask the question misplacedmidwesterner outlined, and build on those answers. You have good intentions, and some awesome collaborations could ultimately come out of these efforts!

      (I fully acknowledge that this is scary and difficult work, and that some of the coolest options might take time, money, and other resources that you don’t have).

      Reply
  15. MuseumChick

    I think your heart is in the right place but you’ve ended up way off the mark. There are just way to many things that could go wrong here from the as mentioned women on their “moon cycle” being made to feel awkward to this ceremony being misconstrued by some in the indigenous population as you misappropriating their culture (even if that is 100% incorrect if it is perceived that way it would be giant headache).

    Reply
      1. MuseumChick

        Yes! The OP does sound open to feedback. Honestly, the cultural misappropriation part of this is the biggest problem for me. Again, I certainly don’t think that is the OP’s intention but that is how it will mostly likely come off.

        Reply
  16. Trout 'Waver

    Would a tribal elder be willing to come and offer a blessing on the project, or give a short speech about their culture and traditions? Surely there are ways to give your team more perspective on this culture without making it a religious practice?

    Reply
    1. Merida May

      + 1 I was just coming here to suggest that. If an elder would be comfortable speaking about it in a conference style setting that might give OP’s employees the information without having to figure out how to make participation feasible.

      Reply
      1. MuseumChick

        I really like this idea! You could even ask for some other representatives in the community to come and give a talk.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          Or a panel! Panels are great for this, IMO, because with one speaker you only get one perspective, and then there’s a risk of people learning that his perspective What Such And Such Group Thinks. But with a panel, people have different angles and, in my experience, talk a bit about how their own background has shaped that.

          Reply
          1. MuseumChick

            Yes to all of this! The OP could work with representatives of the community to put together a panel on understand their culture but more focused, maybe relating to health care/issues within the community? Something that would make it very relevant to the work they do.

            Reply
            1. Overeducated

              In a lot of indigenous traditions, spiritual beliefs and practices DO relate to health, though, and it can be disrespectful to ask them to translate it into western public health terminology as though that is the only valid form of knowledge. I think the health implications of native spirituality are being left out of this discussion, and they probably are relevant to the OP’S work.

              Reply
    2. Parenthetically

      Yes, came here to say this. I agree with OP that it matters for folks to have contact with actual indigenous people and not just the Theory of Indigenous Policy Stuff rattling around their heads, but surely something more like a blessing (and yes, possibly with a speech — great idea!) is more apt.

      Reply
  17. KimberlyR

    I don’t understand why your team needs to attend religious ceremonies to understand the indigenous peoples you serve. Why can’t you ask a variety of indigenous peoples to speak with your team and provide information that gives all the information and context they need? Can there be work they can do alongside the community they’re serving that can help expose them to all the things they need to know and be sensitive to? Any sort of religious ceremony would make me feel weird and like a fraud, but I would hate to opt out of a work event for fear of being shut out of something. As an employee, I would happily learn about the religious customs of the indigenous peoples I serve, but I would not feel comfortable participating in a ceremony.

    Reply
  18. seejay

    I read the subject line and my innards did the squicky dance without even having to read the rest of it.

    I grew up next to native reservations and was close friends with a lot of the native children when in grade school. My religious leanings are more towards the natural spiritual path/paganism/shamanistic stuff and I’m all about nature and earthy things (if it was the 70s, I’d probably be a barefoot hippie but it’s the 2000s and I like my cities). But I’m a white as hell European descendant and I won’t go near a native American ceremony unless I was invited to be a guest with a friend who was actually of native ancestry and I’d probably only watch and barely participate (or participate as much as they’d tell me to) because there’s no way in hell I’d be appropriating their religious ceremonies like that. I respect and admire the hell out of them way too much and its theirs. Just… no, please don’t.

    I agree with Allison, offer it up as a total opt-in with the options for people to join up with the ceremonies being held by the native elders so they can experience it and learn about it, but don’t arrange and hold it yourself as a workplace event. It’s seriously crossing cultural *and* religious lines.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      As others have written, since the whole thing has been approved of by a native elder, and the ceremony would be done by the same elder, it isn’t cultural appropriation.

      Reply
      1. Honeybee

        This is a very simplistic view of cultural appropriation. It also assumes that one person of a culture is allowed to speak for and give consent for everyone within a culture (although this elder may be empowered to do that for this tribe – I don’t know, it’s not clear from the post). Again, I’m not saying that it is cultural appropriation for sure. I don’t think we have enough details to determine that. But I also don’t think it’s possible to say it absolutely isn’t, either.

        Reply
        1. Oh no, not again

          It would be condescending to tell the elder that the group can’t do it because it would be cultural appropriation. I would trust that an elder is more than knowledgeable about their people and culture and can determine what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for people who are not a part of the culture. It’s great to be aware of the issue of appropriation, but bowing out of participation because of making assumptions and declarations that it is appropriation to someone who is actually a part of the culture would be paternalistic.

          Reply
  19. Aisling

    I also think there’s a better way to provide cultural understanding for your team. Spiritual practices, even without taking menstruation into account, are generally very private and are not usually brought up at work, unless you work with a religious organization. Since you don’t, I think it would be best to find other ways to introduce your team to the culture they will be helping. Since you work in an university system, the librarians on campus would be able to help you find appropriate materials.

    I do applaud your writing in for advice on this. I understand why you would like to have your team take part in this, but since your goal is to provide cultural understanding, not specifically understanding of their spiritual beliefs (though I realize that is part of their culture), there are better ways to attain that goal.

    Reply
  20. Security SemiPro

    Don’t do it. Don’t do the ceremony, don’t talk to your staff about their periods.

    Its disrespectful and inappropriate to ask your staff to sit out a work event because they are on their period.

    It is *also* disrespectful and inappropriate to ask an indigenous elder to modify their spiritual practice to make it more palatable as a work event.

    Facilitating some opt in (actually opt in) opportunities and bringing in some educational discussions that aren’t performing spiritually significant ceremonies sounds like a much more supportive direction to go in than what you’re currently planning and I beg you to rethink your plans.

    Reply
    1. Bend & Snap

      THIS THIS THIS.

      And it’s a lot better than what I posted that has apparently gone to moderation because of language after my head exploded.

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yeah; agreed—please don’t ask the elder to modify the ceremony. I would either cancel the full-on ceremony or invite him as a guest speaker, instead.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Yeah, that’s the one part of this that rubs me the wrong way. Having him adjust the ceremony to meet more Western ideals seems to totally defeat the purpose, IMO.

        Reply
      2. Tea Leaves

        Agreed. Invite the elder as a guest speaker and he can leave his contact details for anyone interested to find out more information about ceremonies and anything they want to know. If anyone has strong interest, they will know where to turn to now, such as how OP independently approached him. This will make this a clearly individual and personal decision, rather than a work event. After reading the other comments, the last thing we want is someone to sign up out of curiosity because there’s a convenient sign-up sheet, and then not taking any of it seriously. Or they feel pressured to go with their coworkers because some of their friends are going. This applies even if there is no question of moon time or everyone is male.

        Reply
  21. Nanani

    Don’t do it at all.
    It’s not your place, as an outside group that works WITH indigenous communities, to set up this sort of thing.
    Let the communities you work with take the lead, IF they choose to include your group.
    Do not force it.

    You are not part of the indigenous community, and it is best for you to recognize that and let -them- choose when and whether to share their practices with you and your staff.

    Maximum respect is to not do it.

    Reply
  22. Katie the Fed

    My only recommendation is to not do this. You could organize seminars or discussions about some of the indigenous practices without participating in them.

    You could also have the indigenous elders be the ones to issue the invitation and then people could decide to go independently of work. That way you’re not involved at all.

    Reply
  23. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, I admire where your heart is and your efforts to integrate cultural practice into your work. I think there are ways you can still achieve that without pursuing this specific event.

    I did a lot of interfaith work in college (at the university staff level, including with the health services program!), including deep cultural competency work with respect to indigenous communities. Based on those experiences, I would strongly encourage you not to integrate a formal ceremony or religious practice/rite as part of employment activities. It runs at least three risks: (1) It can be alienating to employees who have a religious practice that forbids them from participating in the practices of another religion; (2) it can have the effect of being tokenizing instead of honoring the practice of a specific indigenous community; and (3) without accurate and thorough prep/debriefing/explanation, it also can inadvertently create the impression that there’s a single indigenous practice or identity, which effectively reduces all nations/tribes into one monolithic Native stereotype. A cultural ceremony that is not religious is generally a safer bet, although it’s not much safer if participation is limited on the basis of a person’s identity or health status.

    Instead, I would encourage you to make opportunities available to your staff outside of the formal work environment. For example, sometimes campuses will have indigenous-community-led events during the day, right after work, and during lunch. These can run the gamut and include things like guest speakers and panels, book readings, movies/documentaries, festivals, pow wows, cultural performances, etc. And oftentimes those events will offer guidance on the proper role of non-indigenous folks, so those folks don’t run the risk of horribly offending someone. I have a lot of coworkers who have been excited to check these opportunities, and they’re usually more eager to participate if it’s non-mandatory and not a work requirement.

    Because becoming a strong ally requires ongoing effort and training, I would really focus on your broader program and plan for strengthening staff cultural competency for this specific community (which you may be doing, and if so, hooray!). Events and ceremonies, without a strong framework and broader program, are unfortunately not enough to build knowledge and strong allyship. But there are amazing resources regarding integration of cultural competency in health services, and I think there are probably options that are a little less loaded.

    Good luck, and please let us know what you decide to do!

    Reply
  24. Joseph

    It’s a religious/spiritual ceremony. Maybe I’m missing something, but I would see that as no different than asking your employees to take communion or attend bar mitzvah or read the Koran. Even if you want someone to be informed about your population’s culture (a very admirable goal!), there are far better ways to do this than bringing religion/spirituality into the workplace.
    Also, as a side note, the first phrase of “I’m in a university setting” really makes me wonder. Most universities are very, very strict on anything that even vaguely smells like ‘forcing religious beliefs on people’ unless it’s explicitly part of their mission (a’la BYU or Liberty).

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      This is a really good point. And, it’s not just religious people. As an atheist I would feel very, very, very uncomfortable about being part of any kind of religious ceremony. I don’t discuss religion at work so I would be in a weird position of basically being forced to out myself as an atheist or be part of something that would make me extremely uncomfortable.

      Reply
      1. all aboard the anon train

        This.

        As an atheist, I have no problem watching a religious ceremony, but I’m uncomfortable participating in it. I’ll go to a wedding in a church and while being in the church makes me wary, I’m there to support the people I care about. I just don’t participate in any of the religious things associated with it.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes, and it’s honestly an even worse feeling if you’re a person who identifies as religious and progressive/liberal. My religious tradition doesn’t let me participate in the practices of other faiths, full stop. But I also believe strongly in solidarity and allyship and inclusion. If my boss made me pick between those two situations, I would feel resentful and frustrated.

      You don’t have to participate in a religious ceremony to develop sensitivity for a community’s history and needs. But you do have to listen and be open to hearing their story, their concerns, and their challenges, and you have to be willing to subordinate your ego to support their liberation efforts.

      Reply
      1. Parenthetically

        This nails my discomfort exactly, PCBH. Solidarity and allyship are so important to me and I am very vocal about tolerance and religious freedom (just ask my very conservative parents, ha), but I still cannot participate in the rituals and practices of other religions.

        Reply
    3. JMegan

      I was thinking this as well. If your clients were predominantly Christian, and your staff were not, would it be necessary for your them to go to church to learn more about the clients? Probably not.

      And in fact, you would probably get better information about “Christianity 101” through a series of workshops or something planned with your community in mind, than you would from a single service. Even the basics of “the life of Christ” takes about six months worth of regular churchgoing, from Advent through Easter. And then there’s a lot more to Christianity than that, especially if you’re considering the cultural and social aspects of living as a Christian in a non-Christian environment. If you just randomly show up a service one Sunday in July, without any other context or background, it might be interesting, and even informative, but it wouldn’t likely give you the information you need to understand your clients.

      Reply
      1. Cat

        Yes, but that’s because the Staff lives in a majority Christian environment and knows tons about it. If Christianity was a marginalized religion that your staff had never been exposed to, going to church would be a pretty good idea as part of their work. That doesn’t mean prayer or communion, necessarily, but it does mean being open to learning what an important part of the community’s spiritual lifew as life. It’s not the only way – as you point out, other things are also going to be useful – but it’s not a bad way even if it’s an incomplete one.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          Why not ask if you could attend a ceremony they’re having, instead of asking them to come put one on for you? That seems more respectful. And please, OP, don’t ask them to change their rules about the circle, just like you can’t ask Christians to change their rules about Communion.

          Reply
        2. paul

          To observe, but not participate. That’s a pretty crucial difference (and yes I know some religions have ceremonies outsiders aren’t welcome to participate in).

          Reply
    4. A.N.Mous

      I just wanted to jump in to give what I believe may be context.

      It very much sounds like he is Canadian, and in that case, it is very different than asking employees to take part in other religious activities. I’m not suggesting that he should proceed with the ritual described, but the relationship between “secular” institutions and FNMI groups are often complex with a heavy reconciliation undertone.

      Without attempting to go into detail for this rational, I will say that I work in an administrative setting at a large research university in Canada which is built on Treaty land. It is common to include acknowledgment of this in your email signature and the university even has a specific acknowledgment they read at every event/ceremony. Elders also often come to do blessings as well.

      Moreover, the relationship between cultural ceremonies and “religious” ceremonies can also blur easily in certain communities and is honestly acceptable in many “secular” areas working with FNMI populations. With that said, some rituals do cause discomfort for some, and there is usually some sort of heads up beforehand (though it’s often opt-out not opt-in).

      I’m not trying to say that the ceremony OP described should get the greenlight, but I wanted to give some context on what may appear to others as completely inappropriate is based upon pretty common practices when working with indigenous communities in Canada (although this particular one is inappropriate for work).

      Reply
      1. GS

        +10000

        I’m troubled by a lot of comparisons to other religious practices that have been made in the comments, particularly comparisons to Christianity. They are totally lacking in context with regards to colonization, genocide and reconciliation, and power dynamics (Christianity is the dominant religion in both Canada and the US.)

        Incorporating Indigenous practices into work is really not comparable to any of the comparisons that have been brought up. Non-Indigenous people are settlers, and a large part of colonization was divorcing people from their culture, religion and language, violently imposing European Christian culture, religion and language on Indigenous people. Indigenous practices in the workplace are different from other examples, because the context is so, so different. It’s so important to not lose sight of that in discussions about what is and isn’t appropriate. Indegenity, colonization and reconciliation are essential parts of the conversation.

        Reply
        1. paul

          That difference doesn’t automatically make the use of any and all native ceremonies appropriate in a work context though.

          In this case I’m hard pressed to figure out how/why it’d be appropriate or useful to use such a ceremony in a professional environment.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I hear you and agree that the comparison to Christianity is not quite right, and I also agree that it’s sometimes impossible or inappropriate to divorce religious practice from cultural practice. But even if you compare indigenous religious practices to the practices of other minority faiths (including faith traditions that have survived colonialism, etc.—not purely analogous, but closer than Christianity/Islam), it would still be inappropriate to enlist employees at a secular institution in a religious ceremony as part of their employment—unless they were aware at hiring that such participation is a requirement of the position.

          It could be that this is a Canada v. United States difference, but I’m struggling to understand why forcing a religious ceremony on your employees in the name of diversity training is a good idea.

          Reply
          1. Kate

            As someone noted elsewhere in the thread, we force other cultures to submit to the dominant cultures’ practices all the time. The default when someone is uncomfortable should not necessarily be the status quo, because the status quo favours the dominant group, which in this case spent hundreds of years systemically trying to wipe out the non-dominant groups’ culture.

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              That’s certainly true, but I’m not convinced it should apply in the context of religious practice.

              Reply
              1. Z

                But for many groups (generally and specifically in this context) there’s not as firm line between religious and cultural practices. Insisting on one can be seen as recolonizing.

                I agree that there’s probably better ceremonies or ways for the OP to handle this. But I don’t think it being religious is inherently bad either.

                Reply
                1. Lissa

                  Yup. I think this is a problem because we keep trying to make comparisons to other religions, and I get why, but it’s…very different, which doesn’t mean this should be mandatory or people should do something they have discomfort with, but I am honestly finding all the comparisons to Christianity etc. just as “squicky” and “gross” as some people find the overall idea…

                2. Turtle Candle

                  Genuine question: if you had an employee similar to my Muslim coworker, for whom participating in other religious practices is genuinely taboo, what would you recommend? I get that it’s not culturally the same as, say, communion or Christmas carols, but pragmatically it still requires her to visibly mark herself as Other in a culture that already others her, or else to participate in a practice against the tenets of her religion.

                  As a white lapsed Christian I have no dog in this hunt, but I can’t stop wondering about what would happen with my friend and colleagues.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I totally hear you and agree that there’s often not a firm line between religious v. cultural practices and that trying to impose that structure has a neocolonial/ re-colonizing/ invisibilizing/ invalidating effect.

                  I know it sounds like I’m hung up on the religious aspect, but I think what I’m really trying to ask is: Can the Canadian commenters help me understand why it’s preferred to host an overtly religious indigenous ceremony that requires employees to “out” themselves or risk censure/side-eye if there are alternative, “less religious” (for lack of a better description) ceremonies that may allow for greater employee inclusion.

                  I’m asking that genuinely and not to be stubborn or adversarial. But I also understand that this might not be the right forum for addressing my own ignorance, so I’ll try not to belabor the point.

                4. Z

                  @Turtle Candle I think this is where the Canadian-specific context matters a great deal. I Am Not A Canadian, but for various reasons, I know a decent amount about this issue and Canada (and also discussed this thread extensively with a friend who works for the government in Ottawa to get her thoughts). While not pretending that Canada is free of racism or perfectly multicultural, I think there’s a fundamental difference in how multiculturalism is approached.

                  In the ideal Canadian version, a Muslim would be able to opt out without drama because that’s recognizing her cultural practice and understanding her approach to the world. Obviously the ideal doesn’t always happen, but the sense of being “other” or how to fit into Canadian society as “other” is just different. To be really, really reductive Canada has a more innate sense of the “salad bowl” or “cultural mosaic” version of society as opposed to the “melting pot” that we Americans tend to have. People are encouraged to keep their distinct cultural identities and part of that is recognizing cultures won’t/don’t always agree.

                  Or to be put it in a different context–disability activism grapples a lot with accessibility and sometimes accessibility conflicts (for example, a Deaf person who needs eye contact for lip reading and an autistic person who experiences discomfort making eye contact). Neither side is right or wrong and coming together to find a solution is part of the process and part of what fosters understanding.

                  Also that sort of thing is why I agree that this particular ceremony is not a good idea! It’s just that some of the alternatives suggested–just smudgings, powwows, etc–are also religious in nature and that part was being dismissed. Where people draw the line for them varies and I think there are better options, or ways to have less participation to be more inclusive.

                  @PCBH Again, IANAC so I defer to anyone else here, but I think other commenters have provided some useful context (2017 is the sesquicentennial and if this office is acknowledging that, including indigenous participation in their preferred way for those ceremonies is key). I think part of your answer is the difference is approaches to multiculturalism, where “outing” wouldn’t necessarily be the same there as it would in many US spaces.

                  I think “less religious” alternatives are a good idea, I only think it’s important to acknowledge that they are still religious and reducing them to “just cultural” does a disservice to those groups culture.

                  Also the LW updated below and I think this quote from him encapsulates some of why a religious ceremony is more ok:

                  “The lands that we are working from and living on have been de-contextualized by erasure of Indigenous histories and dispossession of lands through colonial practices. To actually have this ceremony in the workplace is a powerful symbol of ‘re-contextualizing’ the lands that we are working and living on; to truly recognize the indigeneity of the land and indigenous presence that was here before European settlers came here, and the thefts of lands and breaking treaties.”

                  To incorporate this sort of ceremony is to recognize that non-native Canadians are visitors and guests (to put the best spin on it) of indigenous land. It’s about recognizing that in/on that land, cultural norms are different from ours and no less important. I think you commented below about visiting a majority Muslim country and essentially, imo, it’s that idea. If a community would normally start certain events/meetings/celebrations with a specific type of religious practice, incorporating that is a way of recognizing that you’re a guest of said community, visiting their “country”.

                  Before this gets longer, I don’t think that was the case here, but I think that’s the general idea behind why these types of ceremonies are seen as ok.

                5. Turtle Candle

                  @Z: Hm, so you seem to be saying that a Muslim woman would both be less “other” in Canada than in the USA (so wouldn’t have as many issues with exacerbating a sense of ‘difference’), and that she wouldn’t experience the kind of social censure for refusing this kind of ceremony that a Christian or ‘generically nondenominational’ white woman would?

                  I’m very experienced with negotiations around accessibility in the USA (in my specific case, person who requires guide dog and person with severe allergies/asthma who can’t be around a dog for any nontrivial length of time), but that’s somewhat eased by the fact that it’s clearly not a choice for either person (the blind person didn’t choose to be blind, the allergic person didn’t choose to have her throat close up in the presence of dogs). As we’ve seen in this thread, things get a lot more complex when it comes to things like religious observance, because it often turns into a question of “can’t you just pretend to be okay with this for an afternoon?” (Because nobody is going to walk into a wall or have their throat close up; it isn’t a literal physical need.) And in that context, I can; my Muslim coworker cannot. Or rather, feels strongly that she should not have to, in a way that I would find it very difficult to argue with.

                  If there’s genuinely no backlash or repercussion to saying “no, my religious faith prohibits me from doing that,” then that’s a different thing entirely; I’m responding in part to the word from various Canadians in this thread that you technically are legally able to do that, but you shouldn’t because it will end badly for you.

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Z, thank you! Your explanation, especially the very last part, has helped me make a necessary brain/paradigm shift. In light of that shift, all the Canadian commentary makes a lot more sense to me because I was clearly operating from a very different context re: reconciliation practices, and it was keeping me from being able to “get” how that difference operates in this context.

                  Thank you for taking the time to be so thoughtful and thorough and patient with me!

        3. Taravala

          But you are assuming two things that may be false:

          (1) All the people this is being imposed upon are white/European themselves.
          (2) Indigenous practices are uniform enough that indigenous co-workers will not be offended if asked to participate.

          If someone tried to ask me to do a ceremony from the tribe that raped and pillaged my ancestor’s prior to white man’s arrival, it would be a hard pass.

          If there were only white people v. indigenous and all indigenous practices were compatible, then fine.

          Reply
          1. Mela

            But is #2 and your theory of inter-tribal tensions real? I’m genuinely asking because I’ve never heard of anything like that, and I’ve worked in areas with several tribes very near to one another.

            Reply
            1. Chinook

              Inter-tribal tensions are real. Not only is there a history of warfare among some tribes, there are very real territorial disputes that affect current treaty negotiations. I was told be one BC tribal representative that there is currently territorial claims for over 110% of British Columbia.

              Reply
              1. Mela

                Oh I’m sure tensions exist, but do they exist to the point of offense at being invited to participate or attend a ceremony from another tribe? And while these tensions may be based on real historic occurrences (war-fare prior to settlers’ arrival) is that history what’s really going through most people’s mind if they meet someone from another tribe? And since Taravala is saying that for them personally, yes, would they object to attending or observing but not participating? While I totally understand that perspective and am not arguing with it on its face, if it’s your job to serve tribe A and you’re from tribe B, and the tensions are to the point of not wanting to observe a ceremony, then why are you in that job? My understanding was that most indigenous services serve a huge variety of tribes, so in that position you can’t really let feelings like that get in the way of doing your job (not saying participation in the ceremony is part of that job).

                Reply
      2. BethRA

        Thanks for this post. Given that the OP specifically mentions that it’s common practice to “incorporate indigenous ceremonies and cultural activities when possible” in their area and field, and that I think for most of us this kind of activity would be very much outside the norm, I was hoping that they’d chime in with a little more context.

        Reply
      3. I used to be Murphy

        Thank you for stating more clearly what I tried to do: that the Canadian context here completely changes the nature of the ceremony and the public sector involvement with it.

        Reply
      4. Student

        “it is very different than asking employees to take part in other religious activities”

        No, it’s asking employees to participate in religious activities. Full stop.

        The motivation isn’t conversion or plain old lack of awareness that people might not all have the same religion as the boss, that’s obvious, but the motivation in many other work contexts isn’t necessarily conversion either. The motivation – the ends, in other words – does not justify the means. Ever. It’s work for a secular job, a job that hasn’t previously required participation in this ceremony, and it doesn’t now require participation in this ceremony.

        Reply
        1. ThursdaysGeek

          And you realize that work being separated from religion is in itself an aspect of the dominant culture? Why is that culture the one that the indigenous people should adhere to? In other words, it’s not that cut and dried.

          Reply
          1. Student

            The OP is asking people to participate in a religious ceremony for a religion they do not believe in. I believe religious liberty is important – a fundamental human right – and it means that individuals should not be coerced by their employers to do religious things that are against their religious belief by anyone. They shouldn’t be coerced by their employers, by their government, or by their neighbors. It devalues the religion at issue, the person being compelled, and the person doing the compelling.

            No matter what the OP intends or how he couches the request, the OP is in a position of privilege and some people will always assume that when a boss requests you do something voluntarily he is actually giving an order and may punish you for not complying with it. He should be conscious of this privilege inherent in his position, and figure out some other way to accomplish his overall objective without the coerced religious activity.

            Reply
            1. Tea Leaves

              Yes… It includes way too much work politics. No matter how fair the work place, employees will feel nervous that they will be seen differently by their boss for not participating. Or they might sign up just to suck up to you.

              Reply
              1. Mela

                But why is coercion and subsequent sucking up to your boss worse than the constant coercion and sucking up indigenous people have to do literally every second of their lives? I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just pointing out why these things need to be considered.

                Reply
      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think there’s a difference between recognizing that you are on treaty land (or occupied land) and enlisting people in a religious ceremony. I work at a department that makes a similar announcement at every public event (and sometimes includes information on occupation in syllabi), but I’m still confused about jumping from reconciliation to participation in religious ceremonies as part of your employment.

        Does Canada have an exemption to religious freedom norms in which non-FNMI folks working in “general purpose” jobs (i.e., jobs that serve FNMI groups but that are not designed for the exclusive or purposeful outreach/service of those groups) actively participate in FNMI religious ceremonies as part of their employment?

        Reply
        1. Chinook

          I could absolutely see a white band manager being required to participate in community spiritual events. And any political leaders who balked at it would never be re-elected.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            That seems to weigh in favor of not having the event though, doesn’t it? If your coworkers view non-participation as either a sign that you’re a bigot or that you’re menstruating, that means that “opting out” isn’t actually an option at all.

            Reply
    5. LA

      This is what I was coming here to say. You don’t need to hold a seder to understand the oppression of Jewish people or be able to help their community. You don’t have to ask everyone to fast during Ramadan to understand why the Quran is important to people of the Islamic faith. You don’t have to get a priest to rub ashes on people’s foreheads to understand why it’s a bad idea to serve meat to Catholics during Lent.

      Even if people of those faiths are totally cool with/enthusiastic about participation from people who don’t share their beliefs, you just don’t need to. Not to understand how to serve them, not to understand the specifics of a particular rite or ceremony, and definitely NOT as a work event. The suggestions from others about having members of the community being served take a more active role in explaining needs/practices, *that’s* a good idea.

      Reply
    6. LBK

      Well, you can’t take communion unless you’ve been baptized and in some denominations not until you’ve had your First Communion or been confirmed, but anyone’s welcome to participate in mass and receive a blessing during the communion. And bar/bat mitzvahs generally are inclusive events regardless of your religion – I grew up in a town with a large Jewish population and went to plenty of them in middle school. So I’m not really sure drawing that parallel is making the point you think it is.

      Reply
    7. Sleepheadzzz

      To add another layer to the university setting piece, my former university now requires graduates to get an Indigenous Studies course credit to graduate. It’s a very positive step. In many (probably most) Canadian universities, this is not unusual at all. Indigineous ceremonies are very common where I attended. You can also get a degree in Indigenous Studies.

      Reply
  25. insert pun here

    It sounds like what your team needs is more akin to Indigenity 101, and you’re offering them a graduate level class. Maybe start with… a reading list or something? Talk to the elder in question and ask him what he wishes your team knew or understood about his community?

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, it sounds a bit disorganized. “Let’s put some random events together and hope people catch on.” Okay, what are they catching on to?

      Reply
  26. slackr

    Indigenous or not, you are a University, I will assume it’s publicly funded; so you are considering using public funds to pay employees to attend a religious ceremony? Sounds iffy…

    Reply
      1. FDCA In Canada

        The vast, vast majority of universities in Canada are publicly funded, and it’s a pretty reasonable assumption the LW is Canadian based on their letter and some of their wording. The only private Canadian universites are tiny, faith-based institutions.

        Reply
    1. A.N.Mous

      I commented elsewhere that it sounds like OP lives in Canada. I work at a large Canadian research university (that is publically funded) and there is a lot of leeway given to FNMI ceremonies and blessings as the distinction between cultural and spiritual is not always clearly delineated in indigenous communities. This is also due to the horrendous history we, unfortunately, have in Canada in regards to FNMI communities.

      Reply
  27. Abax

    I work in healthcare/medical research, in a university setting. This activity, as presented, is inappropriate in both business and research settings. Furthermore, you should loop in your principal investigator, as researchers participating in religious activities alongside research subjects could open a whole ‘nother can of worms from the potential bias standpoint.

    Reply
  28. Lora

    Add another Nope to the pile for me.

    I’ve observed several indigenous rituals which were either presented as a sort of living history demonstration (by the actual indigenous people themselves, and they volunteered it as part of a gallery exhibition of their own artwork) or included as part of social events that they had organized themselves. It was fine. It was educational, I learned lots. There are all kinds of not-ceremonial dances and whatnot that people just watch or can join in if they want regardless of menstrual status. There’s social events and craft fairs and things like that where non-Native Americans are expected. You can learn all kinds of useful things. There is no need to have an actual religious ceremony.

    Turn it around: if you want to learn about, say, British culture, do you need to go to a CofE service to become deeply involved in the culture? The church of England is very significant to their culture, but you can also learn plenty from loads of other sources and get a good notion of what is relevant to your interests.

    Reply
    1. FiveWheels

      This is a genius post because the Church of England isn’t British, it’s English. And while it’s officially established, under 2% of the population actually attend. And it’s been s running joke for many years that the best job for an intelligent atheist with a good family background is Church of England bishop.

      The Church of England is a pretty good example of how participating in one specific religious ceremony doesn’t tell anyone very much about the underlying culture.

      Reply
  29. Temperance

    LW, there are many resources for cultural competency education out there. I think you mean well, but it’s not a good idea for a dude to be asking his women reports about their periods. Ever.

    I’d like to add one additional piece of information about why this isn’t okay. This seems to be some sort of a religious ceremony. You might have staff members who are unable to participate in other faith’s ceremonies, or who choose not to partake in any religious ceremonies, who might feel prejudiced by their inability to participate. It’s the difference between listening to someone talk about their beliefs vs. bringing someone to a full church service with communion.

    Reply
    1. FiveWheels

      I’ll be another one in the choir saying I wouldn’t want a female manager asking about my periods either.

      Actually if my current male boss asked if I was menstruating I wouldn’t mind too much and would probably respond by asking if he was… But our professional boundaries are not in line with AAM!

      (I’m a stereotypical Repressed Brit. I’ve had two conversations about my period with anyone, ever. One was with my mother. As far at I’m concerned it was two too many!)

      Reply
  30. blushingflower

    (I kind of love that framing of menstruation, but that’s not the point)

    I think it’s great that you want to help your staff better understand the communities you work with. But there are ways to do that that aren’t having religious rituals in the office. Maybe you can arrange for invitations to see ceremonies or dances in person. Maybe you could arrange for classes in traditional cooking or crafting. Maybe you could have a storyteller come in. Maybe, since you work on health research, you could have a traditional healer come in and discuss various healing rituals. There are ways to explore and appreciate indigenous cultures that are respectful and appreciative without crossing the line into appropriation and without crossing workplace boundaries.

    Reply
    1. anonderella

      yeah I can definitely see myself snapping at the SO during my next cycle “but it’s my gatdanged Moon Time!” both seriously and not-seriously.

      Reply
  31. Jules

    To place this into context, let’s say you work with a religions affiliated charitable organization and you thought, ‘Hey, would it be cool to have a New Year’s prayer session for the team?’ Would you answer yes? I am spiritual and even the thought about team spiritual ceremony makes me cringe. Not because I wouldn’t dig it. I would. But I have a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim and an agnostic on my team. Depending on their faith, their reaction could vary from, cool, all the way to, they are tainting me!!! Don’t go there. Just don’t.

    Not even touching the whole menstrual part with a 10 ft pole.

    Reply
    1. Cat

      I think it’s a different thing when it’s a marginalized community with a faith that you won’t be exposed to in day-to-day life though. In that case, having a chance to participate in that community’s spiritual life–in way that is respectful to them and conducted by them–can give you a different perspective that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. I agree with AAM that it should be opt-in, but I don’t think it’s the same as saying “you, Muslim co-worker, participate in a Christian prayer ceremony in our majority Christian culture.”

      Reply
      1. James

        I disagree. Such an attitude treats the religious beliefs of the marginalized population as not real–or at least, it can very easily come across that way. OBSERVING such a ceremony would be different–that doesn’t imply any sort of evaluation other than “This is something I am, for some reason, interested in”. I’ve observed a lot of things, many because I wanted to be able to provide arguments against them. PARTICIPATION, on the other hand, either implies that you accept the beliefs of the group or, if you don’t, that you consider it nothing but play-acting.

        Of course, this is all from the perspective of Jewish/Christian/Islamic religious views. Other cultures may view participation as fundamentally irrelevant, or may have means of participating such that accepting or sanctioning the belief is irrelevant. My point remains the same, however: This sort of thing is very easily construed as treating indigenous religions as no better than, say, Civil War re-enactment.

        Reply
        1. paul

          Yep. The difference between observing and participating is pretty significant to me.

          I can respect that someone has a cultural belief or practice without being OK participating in it. I’ll observe a Pentacostal revival if I see a valid reason for doing so (say I’m working with rural Appalachia people) but I’m not going to participate in it.

          Reply
      2. Temperance

        Speaking as an atheist, the impact on me would be exactly the same. I would not be okay with being asked to participate in a religious ceremony in any form, nor do I feel it appropriate to ask me to do so.

        Reply
        1. Charlie

          And beyond that, it’s not appropriate to ask them to facilitate the ceremony for you. There’s centuries of history there that make that a very big and thorny ask, and doing so would be very likely to cause grievous offense.

          Reply
      3. Jules

        Work add a different context I think because in order to fit in, people do things they could possibly not want to be involved in. Living and working a conservative midwest area helps me see the perspective a little better. We have a lot of minorities in our organization which could be of different faith and while they are not Christian, they would attend say… a Christian choir performance which praises Jesus for 45 minutes because everyone goes. You don’t want to stick out or not be part of the ‘family’.

        Reply
      1. Jules

        I’m thinking more of say a law firm/accounting firm which specialize in religious charities work vs. a religious charity themselves.

        Reply
        1. Browser

          If they specialize in religious charities, then it would be incredibly unusual for them to not be religiously-affiliated themselves.

          Reply
  32. hiptobesquare

    Hello OP! I totally understand how you have gone down the rabbit hole on this, thinking it might be helpful/interesting to your team, but I don’t see any way to do this without causing an issue. It is highly likely the elder will say no way on the menstruation bit, and this will all be moot, but it just screams awkward and inappropriate.

    This (loosely) reminds me of the letter writer who had “optional” monthly meditation with her co-workers (http://www.askamanager.org/2016/06/my-team-is-super-into-tarot-cards-the-secret-and-sharing-our-personal-visions.html), and where I know your intention would to be helpful, you wouldn’t want to make anyone feel ostracized.

    Reply
  33. Tee

    A few of my friends work with indigenous communities. ALL of them participate if invited to the communities they work with, but do not have ceremonies just because or as a work event or learning exercise. This is a bizarre and there are other, better ways to promote understanding of traditional Indigenous practices and cultural competency.

    Reply
  34. Harmonic Penguin

    I now live in the US, but I’m Australian, and one aspect of reconciliation and acknowledgment of Indigenous people and culture back home is the “Welcome to Country” acknowledgment at the beginning of events. Depending on the effort put into it, it ranges from a real discussion and interaction with elders in community to a rushed quick naming of indigenous groups on whose traditional lands the event is taking place. At its best, it is a recognition of traditional ownership, an introduction to Indigenous elders and community, and a way into discussion about Indigenous culture and practice.

    Sometimes it involves elements of ceremony (like burning leaves to create cleansing smoke), music and/or dance. Other times it is simply a speech given by an elder. Most importantly, it is a request from the organisation to the elder/community, and they decide the content and extent of what will be involved.

    Rather than have your staff participate in a spiritual ceremony that won’t necessarily give them context or a real way to engage with community and issues, why not ask the Elder to welcome in the new year /project and give them a cultural context for the work they will do? There could be elements of ceremony if that’s something the community thinks is important, but instead of presenting it as a spiritual experience, your staff would be getting to know their constituents, and understanding cultural context.

    And maybe further down the track there is the opportunity to have workshops run by local communities to increase and deepen knowledge and understanding. Engagement with community, and with the issues facing communities is always better with context. Your heart is in the right place OP, but just providing a spiritual experience won’t actually help your staff interact better with the First Nations People you’re working with.

    Reply
    1. Ruby

      Fellow Aussie here and I pretty much agree. I will say that not having a “Welcome to Country” acknowledgment or having a half-donkeyed one would pretty much mean I didn’t attend events by that organisation or group again.

      Reply
  35. Is it Friday Yet?

    I do not feel as strongly against this as other commenters do. I agree that it should be completely voluntary. However, as long as this ceremony is presented as an educational opportunity, I think it is fine. I would explain the “moon time” issue ahead of the ceremony and give women on the team the option to ignore the direction to sit outside of the circle.

    Reply
    1. Emi.

      Noooooo, you can’t bring people to participate in someone else’s religious or spiritual ceremony and tell them they can disregard the rules that come along with it. That makes your “participation” seem pretty fake, and more importantly, it’s super disrespectful to the ceremony, the religion/spirituality, and the people whose ceremony it is.

      Reply
        1. Wendy

          But let’s be real, a lot of people would be silent when no one would ever know, rather than out themselves on a personal topic like menstruation, right? I can definitely see myself thinking what an elder doesn’t know won’t hurt him and staying in the circle rather than talking about my period in the workplace. I fully admit I would be in the wrong, but it’s the truth… It would be awfully tempting to tell a white lie of omission, especially in a situation where I do not myself believe in this particular religious practice. Which, OP, I think is another argument for choosing some alternate type of ritual.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I am chuckling/shaking my head. Weird stuff happens. I think that if I lied something would happen and it would end with everyone staring at me because I lied.

            I have been involved in things that are not familiar to me and I have found that the people who ARE familiar with the process have ways of knowing or figuring out if someone is lying or insincere.

            OP, I can almost promise you that someone will lie and say they are not having their period. The next thing that will happen is one of the practitioners will inform you that they have figured out someone is lying. Because this is how these stories go. Don’t believe me? Ask the elder what happens if someone lies about not having their period.

            My rule of thumb has become when I am in unfamiliar areas, I need to be extremely candid when asked any questions. It won’t go well, if I do less than that.

            Reply
            1. Ann

              Typically the people who work in these jobs have a greater respect for indigenous culture than is being shown here and it would be unconscionable to lie, I’m grateful that my colleagues in similar situations are respectful because the things I’m reading here are pretty horrible especially in a scenario where people are genuinely trying to bridge a cultural gap to improve health in a community

              Reply
              1. Raven

                I’m genuinely curious — what harm do you feel could be caused by lying, if no one finds out the truth? If you don’t believe in “spiritual power,” and no person involved in the ceremony knows that you are menstruating, who is harmed, and how?

                Reply
          2. BananaPants

            Honestly I’d probably lie if it was sprung on me with no warning, and if I knew about it ahead of time I would decline to participate regardless of what point of my menstrual cycle I was in. It’s not my religious practice and I would just be going along with the motions anyways.

            So yeah, OP, I think that’s a strong sign to consider an alternative.

            Reply
      1. MuseumChick

        Totally agree. I am an atheist (who does not disclose this in the work place) I would NEVER disrespect someone else’s religious belief like this. It would be rude and unprofessional.

        Reply
      2. Grits McGee

        Yeah- you wouldn’t tell someone who isn’t a member of the Catholic church to go ahead and take communion because tasting the host would be “educational”. It’s wildly disrespectful, and completely counter-intuitive to the OP’s goals of having the ceremony in the first place.

        Reply
        1. Cass

          Second the Catholic communion example. It’s very sacred to the religion and it would be against their beliefs for an observer to take it upon themselves to receive.

          Reply
          1. Amy The Rev

            Exactly! While Protestant Christianity is considered an “open” religion, Catholicism is “closed”, meaning that only folks who have been initiated (converted/baptized/confirmed/etc) are allowed to participate in certain sacraments (catholic marriage, communion, baptism, etc). It’s similar to the Yoruba religion, or other “closed” cultures, in that regard.

            Reply
            1. CanCan

              The hard part is that as ousiders, we may not always know what’s open and what’s closed. It seems obvious that it’s not ok for a non-Catholic to participate in communion or confession. But is it ok for a non-Catholic to go to mass (if one does it out of curiosity only, not contemplating to become a Catholic)? If it is, is it ok to not kneel, etc.? How is that different in a Protestant church? What’s ok in a mosque, synagogue, Buddhist temple? How would these answers be different for different services? (religious festival, coming of age ritual, wedding/funeral)

              In the same way, what is a non-Indigenous person permitted to participate in, and what aspects can they, or should they, sit out if they they do choose to participate? An outsider should find out the answers to questions such as these before participating in a ceremony that is potentially spiritual/religious.

              Reply
              1. Amy the Rev

                Absolutely, that’s why I think it’s crucial to have the guidance of the elder- presumably they would be familiar with where participation lines are drawn, what counts as observing and what counts as participating.

                Reply
      3. Katie the Fed

        So I had a really awkward situation with a guide in Delhi. We went to a Jain temple and after we were inside he was telling me all about it the religion and mentioned that menstruating women weren’t allowed in. Well, I was. And we were already in and I wasn’t really comfortable telling this complete stranger where I was in my cycle, so…. yeah. I did recommend in my written feedback to the company that this is something they alert people about ahead of time so they’re not in that awkward situation.

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          Yeah.

          Personally, I wouldn’t deliberately defy this kind of stricture but I might spend so much time waffling (is it my period or is it spotting or breakthrough bleeding oh dammit the obvious place to ask has passed what do I dooooo…. and now it’s over, CRAP) that I accidentally broke the rule anyway.

          Reply
      4. LW

        yes, that’s why it’s important to be transparent with the team and the Elders involved. Disregarding the protocols or modifying the ceremony would be undermining the entire process.

        Reply
    2. Leatherwings

      Yeah, silently telling women to ignore cultural directives because they deem them not important isn’t the way to go here. OPs heart is in the right place – he wants to educate his staff on the indigenous culture they work with. Doing a *wink wink nudge nudge* on the cultural requirements is disrespectful and the opposite of what OP is trying to accomplish.

      Reply
    3. Jesmlet

      I don’t understand this… so you’re trying to foster more respect and understanding for this culture and then telling them to feel free to ignore an aspect of their culture that isn’t convenient? I’m probably not as big of a NOPE as others here but this is not the message you want to be sending.

      Reply
    4. Student

      This is pretty much exactly the opposite of the kind of values the OP wants to instill in his team. It’s an excellent example of why compelling people to participate int he ceremony can backfire against his objective, actually. OP – this is a real possibility that some of your employees may engage in if you push them into this.

      He wants them to genuinely respect the indigenous community and understand the things they care about. Not pretend to care while silently flouting rules that are important to them and thinking what they care about is stupid. It’s much better to not participate in the ceremony than to secretly undermine its core tenants because you can get away with it and you personally disagree with it. It’s much better to respect that other people care about things you don’t care about, and be honest and kind and understanding about areas you don’t see eye-to-eye on and who BOTH parties really are, than to base the relationship in condescension and lies.

      Reply
  36. James

    Perhaps you could have the tribal elder present the opportunity–schedule a meeting with him and the staff, and have him invite them to the ceremony. That would make it even more clear that this is an invitation, not an obligation (if the elder presents it that way, anyway). It essentially relegates you to the role of facilitator, which is good in this case.

    As for menstruation, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, in our culture it’s taboo, and we need to respect that. On the other hand, their ceremony, their rules. Imagine if instead of an indigenous religious ceremony this was a Roman Catholic Mass, and one of your employees was Muslim–to the Roman Catholics a Muslim receiving the Eucharist would be a MAJOR violation of protocol! By not following the tribe’s rules for the ceremony you run the very real risk of insulting the tribe.

    A way around this would be for the tribal elders to coordinate a few dates for the ceremony, and to explain their beliefs. It’s squicky and taboo in our culture, but again, they get to set the rules for their ceremonies. Maybe have a female elder give the presentation, or at least this part?

    All of that said, as Temperance said, this is a fairly bad idea because it is inherently religious in nature and would alienate those who’s faiths forbid them from participating (or those who’s lack of faith makes it onerous). I get the intent, but this is risky. A pot-luck meal may serve better: people have in all cultures used food to get to know one another. I mean, I get why you’d want to do it–it would bond your group with the indigenous group, which establishes a level of trust not otherwise available, for one thing (something most here haven’t addressed). But ignoring the culture isn’t a good way to do it, and ignoring OUR culture may get you hit with a sexual harassment charge, so this is bad option.

    Reply
  37. HardwoodFloors

    The solution would be to have ALL OF THE optional office attendees sit outside the ceremonial ring so they optionally observe but are all treated equally.

    Reply
    1. Honeybee

      I don’t think that would work based on the wording of the letter – LW says this tribe believes that men must participate because they don’t have a purification cycle, so they have to be manually purified.

      Reply
      1. Emi.

        But is it important to the tribe that the men who work for the OP be purified, or just the men of their own tribe?

        Reply
      2. Turtle Candle

        Ooh, I hope it isn’t actually that men have to participate, because it should absolutely be the right of people to decline to participate in a sacred ritual or tradition. As a woman, I’d actually be more upset by “men have to participate” than “menstruating women can’t participate”–I have at least one team member for whom this would be “I’ll quit rather than betray my religious beliefs” level of seriousness. And since there tends to be an assumption that someone who says that is probably of the dominant religion and has a problem with not being treated as “the default:” the person I’m thinking of is a member of a minority religion in my country, and not at all privileged by it.

        (Like Emi, I read it as that men of the tribe are required to participate, not that all men at this workplace are required to participate. If it’s the latter, that seems to me to be much, much more problematic.)

        Reply
  38. Rachel Green

    I don’t think you should go through with this ceremony at all. You say that your research group is focused on “one specific health problem” and I don’t see how participating in a religious ceremony would be relevant to that. But I wouldn’t know that for sure without having all the facts. If you had one particular employee who was researching a direct link between the health issue and religion, then I would let them know when a ceremony like this might be taking place so they have an opportunity to observe. But, this type of thing should be observed, not participated in.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      This has been eating at me as I read along here. OP, I know you said for us to trust your judgement on relevance but I must ask, will they learn enough to make all this hassle worth it? (By hassle I mean, religious questions, menstrual questions, social questions, all the questions we have seen here.)

      Do your employees even have the time to attend? Are they going to be sitting there looking a their watches/phones and sighing? Is this the best use of their time?

      Reply
      1. Ann

        I think you’re way off here, this is a lot of work for the manager, the elder, and the community. Groups who do this in Canada do it in good faith, this is not a game or waste of time. It’s people’s way of life and a group of workers (researchers) who are working in partnership with a community from a different culture.

        Reply
  39. sarah

    I love the idea of having your staff get more involved in learning about indigenous culture, but it seems like there must be a way to accomplish this without involving a religious ceremony. For example, is it possible to attend some other event or celebration organized by the elder or his community that does not have such a strong religious element? Or start a speaker series to hear from indigenous folks themselves about what they think is important for your organization to know?

    Reply
  40. No with a capital N

    When and if I menstruate is no one else’s business but mine (and my healthcare provider). It is not the business of my manager or anyone else that I work with. Nor is it anyone’s prerogative to tell me what I can or cannot do when I am menstruating.

    I am religious but I keep my faith private at work. If someone wishes to participate in a religious ceremony, whether it is from their own or another faith (through an interfaith group or an invitation) they can do that on their own time. Sending people to participate in a religious ceremony, even saying it is voluntary, crosses a number of boundaries and could be precieved as unlawful. Voluntary things at work are tricky because of the power dynamics involved and the relationship between boss and employee. I don’t believe it is OP’s intention to pressure anyone, but often times employees feel pressure to participate anyway. If you want to educate the people you supervise there are other ways to do so without infringing on anyone’s rights.

    Reply
  41. TheCupcakeCounter

    Instead of a participating in the ceremony could your group attend as observers only? That would fix the problem while still giving your group exposure to the ceremony and introducing them to the community you work with.

    Reply
    1. Sophie Winston

      This. Big difference between observing and participating. There ought to be some sort of ceremony where observers would be appropriate, or even setting up a “table top” session for the elder to educate about common ceremonies without actually holding one.

      Reply
  42. Apollo Warbucks

    I’ve not read the comments yet so hopefull no one else has asked this but I wondering how the indigenous people feel about sharing their cultural practices with other people not from the same background as them.

    OP I’m sure you know the elder well but I do hope they don’t feel pressured into having your employees attending, even inadvertently.

    Reply
    1. rubyrose

      Great question, and my guess is that if asked there could be a wide variety of opinions.

      Back in the 1990s I attended a class offered to the public by a regionally known tribal elder. He was of the opinion that it was time for the native peoples to share and include others in native spiritual practices. Saturday was a five hour educational lecture. Sunday, for those who wanted, was attending a sweat lodge. This lodge was set up in the back yard of a native woman.

      After the sweat, while we were eating, some of us became aware that the woman really did not want us there. Her belief was that whites were trying to inappropriately adopt her culture. She felt forced by the elder to agree to the sweat.

      Reply
  43. Statler von Waldorf

    If my boss asked me to attend even a vaguely religious ceremony as part of my job, I’d have my resume polished up and would start job hunting immediately. You can say it’s opt-in, you can say it’s optional, you can say that no one will penalize you for not attending, but I’ve seen all of those statements play out as lies before, and I just don’t believe them anymore.

    You see, as a member of a minority religion who has been discriminated against in the past, there’s just too much risk in taking your word that refusing to participate won’t have negative repercussions in the future. It’s both easier and safer for me to move on while I have control, instead of waiting to see if I get fired for “not being a team player,” and having to deal with courts and lawyers.

    In short, just don’t.

    Reply
  44. A.N.Mous

    Hey Alison, I’m usually just a lurker around here but is it possible to ask the Letter Writer to confirm where he is from? To me, it reads as he’s Canadian at a Canadian university which seems important here given the complex relationship between indigenous groups and “secular” Canada. This is not to say that the described ceremony is appropriate (it’s probably not) but it would give some context on why LW is interested in having some sort of ceremony at all since this is VERY common here and considered part of the large issue of reconciliation.

    Reply
    1. Lissa

      Yeah, I am seeing a lot of horrified reactions that seem to be coming from Americans and it’s making me a bit sad because I feel like it means the actual question isn’t really getting answered, but rather a lot of “this isn’t OK!” comments when in fact, this type of thing *is* seen as OK and not appropriation when led by an elder.

      I think there is a lot of room for discussion about this particular issue, I myself have run up against a similar one at work, and just assuming that the whole thing is bad because it would be in many contexts is kinda disrespectful IMO…. especially to keep repeating the same concerns that have been brought up and addressed earlier in the thread.

      Reply
      1. Sleepyheadzzz

        It is a really interesting comment thread though. I’ve been reading AAM for a few years and something this close to home hasn’t come up before.

        Reply
        1. Kate

          I’m Canadian and I feel like I have learned a lot from this thread! Mainly because I didn’t realize there would be such a split between the US and Canadian commenters- this type of activity is very common in Canada now and I honestly didn’t expect this reaction.

          Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      I think that’s a little harsh. I don’t think OP is clueless, just a little misguided on this issue. If we as a commentariat all sit around and call people clueless I think we risk discouraging people from writing in at all. OP should be praised for seeking advice on what is obviously a delicate subject.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, this, and it’s not very kind or helpful to tell him he’s clueless. I think he’s aware that something’s not quite right, which is why he sought advice. Ideally we’re creating a space where people can ask sensitive questions, which is hard to do if you’re concerned people will write you off or label you unfairly. Even in letters where the OP is way off base, we try not to name call.

        Reply
    2. LBK

      He’s obviously not clueless if he realized this was something worth asking about. A clueless person would’ve just done it without a second thought.

      Reply
      1. JLaw

        @LBK. I agree. While reading the letter, I thought it was commendable of the OP to understand some of the issues at play (and to write in for advice in addressing other potential issues). Clueless people tend not to think about that. I don’t think the OP is clueless.

        Reply
    3. Apollo Warbucks

      Clueless enough to realise there’s a possible problem and seek advice????

      Seems like the OPs doing ok to me.

      Reply
    4. I used to be Murphy

      Except he’s not. This is super, super common in Canada (where a lot of us suspect the LW is from) and it’s not even close to outside the norm to engage in these types of ceremonies. I’ve done more than one and I work in a public service role (not saying I am not uncomfortable with them, but that in this case the context – Canada’s history of colonization and attempts to engage in real and meaningful reconciliation – change the dynamics here quite significantly.

      Reply
  45. Jesmlet

    Slightly off topic but it’s so interesting to me to see how different my views on religion are from most everyone else. I have a specific religion that I casually practice but if invited, I would absolutely be interested in seeing aspects of other religious ceremonies if only for the learning opportunity that books just can’t fully provide.

    This is not to say that this is a good idea to do at work (it’s not), but if my boss suggested it, I’d be one of the few that wouldn’t be offended or looking to beef up my resume.

    Reply
    1. Lily Rowan

      There’s a difference between seeing and participating, though. If your boss invited you to a Catholic Mass, sitting in the pew is very different from getting up and taking communion.

      Reply
      1. Jesmlet

        Eh idk…. if I’d have spoken with the priest beforehand and gotten an okay about receiving communion I think I would.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          Rules vary by denomination but generally speaking, a random person who’s not Christian can’t receive communion, and there’s more to it than just having it OK’d by the priest. In Catholicism, for instance, your First Communion is a whole ceremony and there’s classes you have to take leading up to it to learn about the meaning, and you’re not allowed to receive communion until you’ve done that.

          Reply
          1. Jesmlet

            Well then it doesn’t sound like it’s an exact parallel to this situation right? If the elder thinks it’s perfectly fine to have them participating, I have to assume that’s the general view on the exclusivity of this particular ceremony.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              Sorry, I should have clarified – I agree with you that if the priest/elder/other religious authority says it’s okay, that means it’s probably okay. Since in your example, the priest would say no to allowing you to receive communion, that would be a parallel to if the elder had said no to the OP. But he said yes, so I think it’s probably better to take his word for it than the commenters here.

              Reply
        2. seejay

          No proper Christian priest/pastor worth his salt would give a non-christian the ok to receive communion. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a sacrament and it requires being part of the actual religion and ceremonies to go through before you’re indoctrinated to actually receive it… not just an “ok”. At *best*, you might be able to get a non-blessed one to try out but that wouldn’t ever be in the context of a mass or communion. That’s not how it works ™.

          Reply
          1. TotesMaGoats

            It’s not the point of this question but your response is specific to Catholic and only some Protestant denominations. Other protestant denoms have both open and closed communion and partaking is entirely up to the person, not the pastor. Your “are you a Christian” card isn’t asked for the plate is passed.

            Reply
            1. seejay

              Well I know they don’t ask for the “Christian card” upon walking up for it so anyone who wants to can actually do so, but I didn’t know that there was both open and closed types of communion across the various christian faiths. Learned something new today, thought communion was always limited to just actual “identified” christians. O_o

              Reply
            2. Chinook

              As a Catholic who passed the plate, I may not ask if you are Catholic but, if you don’t look like you know what you are doing, I won’t give you the host (or I will ask if you had First Communion ). I have politely chased someone who didn’t consume it on one occasion. This isn’t meant to be rude but I firmly believe I just gave you the Body of Jesus and don’t want you to disrespect It by using It as a bookmark (has been done) or stealing It for a black mass.

              Reply
          2. Ann A. Mouse

            Some Christian denominations practice more open Communion rituals in which anyone who would like to participate may do so, regardless of the point on the believer spectrum on which they lie.

            Reply
          3. Myrin

            Although if you’re a non-Christian and for whatever reason hell-bent on actually receiving communion once, you can just walk up with all the others during the ceremony and receive it anyway; it’s not like the priest checks whether you’re really truly part of that faith.

            Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I very much agree with Lily.

        But I would also say that I think there’s a different dynamic between the “outsider” asking the elder about participating when you’re a non-indigenous person in a country that has committed genocide and engaged in settler colonialism. That’s not quite the same dynamic as asking a priest what the protocol is for a non-Catholic attending Mass (but I agree with your larger point that one should probably rely on members of a community for guidance about what’s appropriate vis-a-vis their religious practice, not the AAM commentariat :) ).

        Reply
    1. Dee

      Exactly. And out loud. “Nooooooo.”

      That said, there’s been a lot of interesting context provided by both the letter-writer and other commenters, and I can understand that my knee-jerk response is overly simplistic in this case.

      BUT. Even if it’s okay and accepted from the perspective of the indigenous elder, I don’t think it’s fair to require it from your employees. There are too many people who could have too many reasons why they’re not comfortable with it.

      Reply
  46. Not the OA

    I don’t have a relevant opinion as to whether this is a good or bad idea overall. I just want to say that you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought, and your deep concern for your team members sensitivities is very apparent. To my mind, whether you go ahead with a form of the ceremony or not, your team are fortunate to have a manager capable of such nuanced self-questioning – and willing to act on advice given.

    Reply
  47. Happy Cynic

    So I’m sorry, are we at the point where a longtime reader is planning some religious ceremony for a workplace as a Cultural Activity that is going to ASK SOMEONE WHETHER THEY’RE ON THEIR PERIOD? Did I read this right?

    OP: Ya know how when you go to the zoo and you go in the monkey house and it smells bad, but then you get used to it, and then someone else walks in and goes “GOOD LORD THE MONKEY POO UGH”?

    You’re the person whose head is so far up the monkey house you don’t realize what this smells like to everyone else. Shut it down.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      No, you didn’t read this right.

      OP explained pretty clearly that he also didn’t think this was an appropriate conversation, and was asking for guidance given that fact. This is comment is really unnecessary.

      Reply
    2. Ann

      Wow. I really disagree with this and the similar comments in this thread. There is nothing culturally or otherwise wrong with what the OP is planning and is a super normal part of working for universities, museums, and government agencies. The reaction overall to this piece shows how much the general public could benefit from understanding indigenous culture, and in this particular case Canadian culture (almost certainly)

      Reply
      1. the_scientist

        Yeah, assuming the letter writer is Canadian, I think the non- Canadian commentariat here needs to take a seat. This is a really contextually-specific question, and most non-Canadians don’t have enough of an understanding to weigh in on this. Heck, most Canadians actually don’t have enough of an understanding to weigh in on it.

        I also want to say that as a public sector employee in Canada, I would not bat an eye at this, assuming it was presented on an opt-in basis.

        Reply
        1. Jesmlet

          Yeah knowing for sure where OP is would help but since this seems familiar to a lot of Canadians here I think it’s best to defer to their judgment.

          Reply
        2. GS

          Yes for sure.

          *Maybe* people other colonized countries where reconciliation is being worked on would have some cultural context for understanding this, but maybe not – I’m sure reconciliation happens in many different ways.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Yeah, I think this is something that’s very alien to our largely-US commentariat, because there’s basically no cultural standard for reconciliation here. It’s ad hoc at best, but generally it’s non-existent.

            Reply
        3. StudentPilot

          I agree completely. I’ve worked for a few Canadian federal government departments, and each department has hosted voluntary smudging ceremonies.

          Reply
        4. I used to be Murphy

          I’m just going to follow you around and agree with pretty much everything you’ve said on this post. As a Canadian public servant this didn’t even make me go “huh, weird” when I read it.

          Reply
        5. Statler von Waldorf

          As another Canadian, I disagree strongly with the above statement. As a Canadian, I have the legal right to religious accommodation in the workplace, and freedom of religion in Canada has been ruled by the courts to include freedom from religion. On those grounds alone, this would fall flat if someone complained to their provincial human rights commission. (Which I would if this was presented to me as part of my job.)

          I have strong opinions about the First Nations and reconciliation. I’m not sharing them because none are appropriate for this venue. Neither is telling other everyone else they shouldn’t comment.

          Reply
          1. Ann

            If you worked at this OPs office you would 100% be able to exercise your rights, he was clear about that in the letter. I’ve worked with Indigenous cultures in all of the provinces Ontario west and I’ve never once seen a First Nation, Metis, or Inuit event violate the rights of people who do not belong to those cultures. You might find that books like The Imaginary Indian, or The Inconvient Indian, or the many Indiginous authored biographies and novels that came out of the civil rights era are helpful if you’re interested

            Reply
            1. Statler von Waldorf

              Yeah, I’ve heard that line before. I don’t believe it. I believe the letter writer means it, I’m not accusing him of lying. The fact remains that every time I have refused to participate in something due to my religious beliefs, I have been branded as that “non-team player” for the rest of my days with that company. I was even fired once for it. Yes, that was illegal. Yes, that still happens.

              Reply
        6. Katie the Fed

          It would have been really, really helpful for the OP to mention the Canadian context. This is clearly the rare letter where the cultural context makes all the difference. Because as a fairly open-minded American, my mouth was hanging open trying to figure out what the OP was even thinking.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            And several of those Aussies have also noted that this would raise a red flag for them, as well. I don’t think this is as clear cut as the Canadian commentariat think it is, but I also understand that there may be fundamental cultural differences/norms for this specific context vis-a-vis the U.S. workplace.

            Reply
        7. Honeybee

          Not even all the Canadians in the comments are agreeing on this, and I’ve yet to see a Canadian commenter who has said that they themselves are indigenous and shared their perspective. So I’m sort of skeptical.

          Reply
      2. No with a capital N

        In Canada it is illegal to make your employees, or strongly suggest that your employees participate in a religious ceremony or event. Observing one, learning about one or listening to an Indigenous person speak about one is different and it’s fine to help people understand, but no one should be made to participate in such a ceremony. Especially through work where there are all sorts of power dynamics at play.

        Reply
        1. the_scientist

          So is this a religious ceremony, or is it a spiritual ceremony (how is that different from a religious ceremony) or is it a cultural practice? There are actually cases about smudging before the courts in Canada right now, so I don’t claim to know the legal answer, and you should not claim to either-see the link to the CBC story about smudging in schools above.

          Reply
          1. No with a capital N

            I am Canadian, I live near where the court case you are talking about originated and through my siblings and cousins (whom I grew up with in the same home) I have Indigenous relatives and Indigenous in-laws from four different nations. I am well aware of what the ceremony entails. I have respect for Indigenous people and my family members, but I given that I am part of a different culture and religion I would not participate in the ceremony OP is talking about. I have observed one and would do so again, but I would not participate.

            Reply
            1. the_scientist

              Sorry, I was pretty short with you in my earlier comment! I wonder if part of the difficulty is drawing a line between “religious practice” and “cultural practice”? For example, as a white person, I might view drumming or a feast as being strictly a cultural practice, but someone actually of that culture could argue that there is a spiritual/religious element to those activities that can’t be separated from the cultural tradition.

              Reply
              1. CanCan

                That’s why there’s no objective answer to whether a ceremony is spiritual/religious or just cultural. From the point of view of the culture whose ceremony it is: it is they alone who can decide which it is, whether the participation of outsiders is appropriate and to what extent. As an outsider participating in someone else’s practice, it should be me who decides whether aspects of that practice go against my religion (or lack thereof).

                For example, almost 40 years ago, my dad almost got in trouble for trying on a tubeteika (type of head covering) in Uzbekistan. They were sold at the market, so he though it was ok. The locals were not amused, as for them, it had religious significance. Thirty years later, we were at a Jewish event, and my dad was very cautious about putting on a kippah. But he was informed that it was completely fine, even expected, and that nobody would be offended even though he isn’t Jewish.

                Reply
              2. A Plain-Dealing Villain

                This leads to another really good question: is a certain attitude required for respectful participation? Because if so, I’d argue that maybe it shouldn’t happen, since by obligating people to go, you are potentially obligating them to be disrespectful.

                Reply
          2. Statler von Waldorf

            Well, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms that is financing the court case in Port Alberni seems to feel that it crosses the line and is a religious practice.

            My personal feelings are that if they only had the children observe the ceremony, that would be educational and I’d be OK with it. By requiring them to participate, I feel they are endorsing religious activity. I feel strongly enough about it that I donated to the JCCF last year when I first became aware of the case.

            Reply
            1. I used to be Murphy

              Where I work the last time there was a smudging ceremony I was welcome to not participate by crossing my arms over my chest when the bowl went around the circle. Two of us chose that option while the others participated. There was a clear “out” that I found helpful (sometimes you just hear “you don’t have to participate” but there’s no clear way for me to not participate) and so I didn’t participate in the actual smudging, but was present for the rest of the cultural dialogue. Would something like that make you more comfortable, or is that still too close to “participation?”

              Reply
              1. Statler von Waldorf

                No, that wouldn’t make me any more comfortable. I have and would still refuse to participate, even by standing in the circle. If any of my children were forced to participate even to that extent in this, I would bring legal action against the school, just like the mom in Port Alberni did.

                The one time this came up for me in a professional setting, me and my boss mutually agreed I’d get a paid sick day that day and simply not attend. It’s a good thing I’m damn good at my job, because despite everyone saying of course I was free to not participate, I absolutely got a huge amount of **** for not participating. Lesson learned.

                Reply
        2. Ann

          This is also being worked out in private businesses in addition to ththe courts – like risk assesment and insurance, to what extent are cultural practices permitted even if they “violate” other practices (ie annual ceremonial pipe smoking is not the same as being an addicted cigarette smoker)

          Reply
      3. MuseumChick

        I have to disagree. As someone who works in the museum world, knows people working in museums dedicated to Native American Culture/History, and started my career by volunteering at such as museum this is most certainly NOT normal. In fact, your reputation as a museum would fall pretty fast if other in the field found out you were having your (mostly/all) non-native staff have a culturally specific religious ceremony at work.

        When I was first starting out I was invited to several native culturally specific events (think pow-wows) but would we ever have thought to have at mostly non-native staff have a pow-wow at the museum? Never. It would be completely inappropriate.

        Reply
    3. thunderbird

      It is not a religious ceremony, though some may interpret it that way. It is actually common to participate in a smudging and other traditional practices without belonging to an Indigenous culture.

      Especially for individuals working closely with Indigenous communities, this is not an outlandish idea. It actually happens quite frequently. It is simply something you are unfamiliar with and unaccustomed to.

      Reply
  48. squids

    Hi, so I’m Canadian, white, work for a university, and have taken part in a variety of region-specific cultural competency training and cultural education with indigenous elders. Personally, I view being asked to not participate while on my moon time in the same way as being asked to dress in a particular way: not in line with my usual sensibilities but neither is it a hardship, especially as I’m participating in a spirit of learning and reconciliation.

    But if you think the level of understanding among your team is such that this would cause upset, then I’d suggest along with other commenters that you work with the elder to scale back the event to something more accessible to your team. If we’re in a similar context, it’s not about it being “religious” versus “cultural,” but about building cultural competence progressively so when those protocols do come up in future they won’t cause upset or misunderstanding.

    Reply
    1. the_scientist

      Yes, this is really important. This has to be viewed through a lens of reconciliation, which I think a lot of non-Canadian commentors are missing, and that Alison missed in her response. I would view the language about “moon time” as being asked to cover my shoulders in a church in Rome, to give an example. Not in line with my usual sensibilities, but not a hardship or something to take offense to.

      Reply
      1. Canadian reader

        If you choose to go to a church in Rome it would only be right to respect that place and cover yours shoulders.

        If it is a work activity, even a voluntary one (I’m sure most readers have heard of people being pressured or forced into going to work events that are supposed to be voluntary) than sitting out because of your moon time or covering your shoulders is no longer a choice and if it’s not a choice than it could be offensive. I personally know a government worker who asked to opt out of one of these voluntary ceremonies and was discouraged from opting out and ended up going at the direction of their boss. While I am sure that is rare it does happen.

        Reply
        1. Mela

          But I think you’re forgetting the spirit of the entire process, which is to help everyone understand that indigenous cultures have/had *no choice* in the cultural/religious practices they were/are *actually* forced to participate in.

          Reply
    2. Rocky

      Hi Squids, I agree with you completely. I think the moon time/ dress code analogy is perfect. In NZ we have plenty of Maori ceremonies in our government workplaces. For many (not all) tribes women are not supposed to sit at the front of the hall. I sit at the back for the same reason I wear a jacket to a job interview. Alternatively I can not attend (and no-one will think any less of me). A real and important part of reconciliation is to make a space for the oppressed culture’s practices.

      Reply
  49. I'm Not Phyllis

    Though I generally come down firmly as a “no” on this kind of thing, I think this sounds amazing. Really, I would love to be on your team and have this kind of opportunity. The university I went to had an indigenous studies program (at the time “native studies”) and this sounds like the kind of educational opportunity that would have been happily attended by students and faculty. On the other hand, I do realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    I think that your suggestion to speak with the elder, and to back out if you can’t reach an agreement on that one issue, is reasonable. It’s not a discussion that has a place in the workplace for any reason. And I like that you’re making it voluntary.

    Reply
  50. Charlie

    I’m gonna take it a step further: I’ve done research in a university setting, I’ve done cultural resources protection work in partnerships with Tribes, and I’ve worked with tribes as a Federal agency official. And NO WAY is this an appropriate thing to expect your employees to participate in, whether or not they’re on their period, whether you choose to present it on an opt-out or opt-in basis.

    There is simply no way this is a work-appropriate thing to do, even if these are cultures you work with regularly and wish to engage with more fully. A festival, powwow, or similar activity that’s open to the public? Maybe. Watching, with an invitation, a ceremony which the Tribe is comfortable presenting for outsiders? Maybe. Expecting their active and wholehearted participation in that ceremony? OH GOD NO. Even if they didn’t feel it conflicted with their personal religious beliefs or lack thereof, even if they felt comfortable participating fully in another culture’s ritual – and they won’t be – they’re liable to be extremely uncomfortable with the idea of doing that as part of their work duties, even before you bring up the periods. Don’t do it.

    But above and beyond that, I would never, never DARE to presume that I could drag all my direct reports to a Native American religious ceremony. Even if I could find someone willing to lead the ceremony, that is an insult to the culture and the beliefs. It’s so unbelievably presumptuous to presume that participating in and appropriating the culture is essential to working with that culture that I’m getting worked up, and it’s not even my culture. Maybe if I had a letter from the Tribal executive or a prominent religious leader proactively inviting me to do so, I would cautiously and humbly accept. Maybe. On my own behalf, not that of my staff.

    If my boss presented this as a requirement or even strongly suggested that I should participate, I’d be looking for a job elsewhere.

    Reply
    1. Charlie

      And just to expand a little: There’s centuries of history between the American and Canadian governments and Tribes/Natives that make this a very big and thorny ask, and doing so would be very likely to cause grievous offense. It appears that you have not caused such offense, but even so, even if this very bad idea is implemented, I would humbly ask for and receive the buy-in of the Tribal executive or major religious leader before doing so.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        Charlie, it is also important to note that the American and Canadian experiences with our First Nations is hugely different and based on different government policies from the beginning. Basically, there is a reason Sitting Bull and his people sought refuge in Canada.

        Reply
        1. Taravala

          As someone related to him, please don’t say it’s because Canada treated him well and it was sunshine and roses. If you think that, then you are really, really misinformed on what actually happened.

          I hear this a lot out of Canadians. Never from any member of his own Nation or any of the tribal allies of his people.

          There’s a reason for that.

          Your comment is deeply, deeply offensive to me and my people.

          Reply
    2. Ann

      This might be a difference between American and Canadian culture, our experience in Canada is different than yours (even the words in your post are different than we would use) and what the OP is proposing is totally appropriate and the way he is working to ensure everyone on both sides of the culture divide are comfortable is exactly what the elders have asked for generally, and in this case he’s doing a wonderfully sensitive job of planning the program

      Reply
      1. Charlie

        I would have to know a lot more about the particulars to take you on your word, here. I am extremely skeptical that this is culturally appropriate, and I’m completely convinced that this is not professionally appropriate.

        Reply
        1. the_scientist

          I am agreeing with Anna on this one. I’m guessing by the language you use in your initial post, that you’re coming from an American perspective here. The Canadian context is very different and unique, and as a public sector employee in Canada, I would not call this professionally inappropriate. I would call opting out of cultural traditions and ceremonies when explicitly invited to participate culturally inappropriate, though.

          Reply
          1. Charlie

            I’m not following. You’re saying this is professionally appropriate, and not doing so would be culturally inappropriate?

            Reply
            1. A.N.Mous

              Excluding LW’s ceremony (and a few others), yes, it would probably be looked down upon to refuse to take part in FNMI ceremonies that your workplace has been invited to participate in here in Canada. As others have noted, even refusing to take part in those that are sometimes deemed more “controversial” such as smudging might end with you get a side-eye from some.

              Reply
              1. Canadian reader

                I know someone who worked for the Federal government in Canada who asked to opt out and not participate in a smudging ceremony. It was supposed to be voluntary but their boss discouraged them and in the end strong-armed them into going. I worked for the government on a contract basis and my office never had one, but from what I heard from others who worked for the government there would be side eyeing and comments of someone opted out even if it was supposed to be voluntary.

                Reply
                1. Ann

                  Federal government workers have a particular obligation to participate, if only because they administer programs that directly impact indigenous people multiple times on a daily basis. Indigenous people in Canada have endured centuries of colonial impact and these are very small ceremonial ways of bridging the cultural gap and looking for reconciliation

                2. Canadian reader

                  It was an administrative office that supports other offices and does not deal with the public or outside vendors. Telling workers an event is voluntary and there is no pressure to participate, and then forcing them to participate anyway using strong-arm tactics and comments about their job security is problematic and a major violation of a worker’s rights. This person ended up transferring to get away from their manager.

                3. Taravala

                  As a tribal member in the USA, I would never, ever participate in another tribe’s practices without knowing more about the purpose and meaning.

                  One thing that irritates me about everyone who is so gung-ho about this is the presumption that all the employees are white and Xtian themselves.

                  As a “white girl” who is also a tribal member, just no.

                4. Turtle Candle

                  @Taravala, yeah, I think one of the things that’s making me wince is that a lot of the “it may not be technically legal to require it but you’d better do it because of respect” stuff seems to be assuming that everyone who objects is white and either Christian, culturally but non-practicing Christian, or agnostic. And from that POV I can sort of see a “you get to be the unmarked default all the time, so for once you can suck it up”–people of other religions have to deal with ‘you have to pretend to be one of us or be the Weird Other’ all the time, and there’s kind of a sense of turnabout being fair play.

                  But the thing is, the people on my team who I’d worry most about are not white Christians/lapsed Christians/agnostics. They’re a Muslim woman and a Buddhist man, neither of them white, neither of whom is ever considered ‘the default’ in this country. And I know for sure that the woman feels deeply that she can’t participate in spiritual or religious practices other than her own, and I suspect (but am not sure, because we’ve never talked about it directly) that the same is true of the man, based on comments he’s made. And my husband is Jewish (and identifies as white, although I know that not all Jews do), and even though he isn’t terribly observant of a lot of the “rules,” he does also feel strongly that he belongs to a particular people, and that it is not right for him to actively participate in the religious rituals/traditions of other people (though he will quietly and respectfully observe when it’s appropriate).

                  Speaking for myself, apart from the awkwardness of the “so…. I’m undergoing fertility treatments, which means that I spot a lot and sometimes unpredictably, so uh, does that count, or what?” I wouldn’t have a big problem with this. But I know that at least one, and probably at least two, of my teammates would have a big problem with this, as would my husband–and the thing is, they’re people who are already constantly othered by society, people who already have to be continually marked as ‘not belonging.’ I would feel pretty dreadful bringing that ‘not belonging’ sense onto my team even if opting out was totally cost-free to them–and it sounds like, from other comments here, that opting out may be very much not cost-free in this context. (I think my husband would feel fewer qualms about refusing and taking the hit, because as he is a white man whose family has been in the USA for well over a hundred years, he doesn’t feel the ‘not belonging’ sense nearly as strongly. Or to put it another way: he can risk more than my Muslim woman friend or my Buddhist immigrant coworker reliant on a visa, because his position is fundamentally less precarious.)

                  I will grant that I’m not Canadian, and perhaps this is less of an issue there–perhaps a Muslim woman with family from Iran or a Buddhist man who was an immigrant from China would not have that sense of being constantly marked as ‘not belonging’ in Canada, and so this would not be an issue. Perhaps there is no actual danger to them, merely awkwardness. But it’s them, and their religious traditions, and the damage to their reputation if they had to ‘opt out’ for religious reasons, that I would be worried about–not my own as a white lapsed Christian.

            2. the_scientist

              I’m saying that given the context in Canada right now, and the reconciliation efforts underway nationally, that any groups working with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples need to approach their work through a lens of learning, reconciliation and building cultural competence. think of the mantra “nothing about us, without us”. In that context, opting out entirely from engaging in cultural practices of the group that you are meant to be working in partnership is not exactly setting a positive precedent. In my view, as a public sector employee in Canada, a voluntary smudging ceremony is 100% professionally appropriate, and as other Canadians have commented, pretty common, if not routine, in the federal government.

              Reply
              1. Charlie

                Fascinating. Really, that’s very different from what we deal with here.

                That said, is it the prerogative of the government to reach out and schedule these things, or is it on a by-invitation basis?

                Reply
                1. the_scientist

                  Well, it would be rude and invasive to demand to be invited to and participate in traditionally sacred ceremonies, so it’s 100% done by invitation by the Indigenous groups you happen to be working with. Reconciliation is happening nationally, and there’s a framework in place for that, but individual research groups (or service groups) that work with Indigenous Canadians typically have their own guidelines in place to build cultural competence and support reconciliation on a smaller, more localized scale.

                  That’s how I read the OP’s letter- that this is something that the elder has invited the group to participate in, and that they are offering this as a sign of respect, collaboration and friendship. In that spirit, you can kind of see why not participating would be rude, although there’s room to respect everyone’s beliefs.

                2. I used to be Murphy

                  Ditto for provincial governments. Really routine. Heck, we had one smudging ceremony in September and we have another coming up in February as part of our ongoing cultural awareness and reconciliation efforts.

                  From my perspective, we have relationships with elders and we often reach out to ask them to come and help us set the tone of a meeting (give us a blessing) or to help us in our journey to understand the Indigenous world views we encounter in our policy-making, so it’s not uncommon for government to reach out to community for something like this.

          2. BananaPants

            This is fascinating to me, since as an American private sector worker this sort of thing would make me run screaming to polish up my resume.

            Reply
        2. GS

          Incorporating Indigenous practices into Canadian institutions and workplaces (including government and universities) is very, very common and normal. Exactly what that looks like varies a lot, but it’s a part of reconciliation, and often involves things that may straddle the line between religious and cultural practice, like smudging. The US context is very different.

          Reply
          1. James

            You bring up a very relevant point, GS: Differentiating between religion and culture is a pretty recent and predominantly European thing, as far as I can tell. In a lot of cultures, religion and culture are inseparable in a way that people in the USA just don’t understand (I say this as a person in the USA). You’d need to know a lot about the culture to know what’s sensitive and what isn’t. That gives the whole issue a bit of leeway, in as much as you can argue it’s in a gray area. Still, though, I find it hard to believe that Canada would consider participation without following the rules to be appropriate.

            Reply
  51. hbc

    I think the more caveats and explanations and reassurances you have to give, the more it’s a sign that it’s a bad idea. You might have fallen in the common trap of starting with an idea (“It would be great if our staff could get better at X”), making a logical step from there, and another, and another, until you’re at something that bears no resemblance to your original intention (“I’m organizing an event that could make a ton of people uncomfortable if not handled juuuuust right and maybe there isn’t even a right way.”)

    Go back to your original goal and figure out a better way to make it happen. Kick off your 2017 with some free food and announce any big news for the year, including your cultural initiatives. Do you want everyone to attend at least two events of their choice during the year? Are you planning on having guest speakers every two months? Will you be working as a team to learn the basic pleasantries in the languages of the people you support? Do you want them to brainstorm on the things they feel they’d most benefit from?

    Note: this is pretty far from my area of expertise and I don’t know your staff, so my ideas may very well be terrible.

    Reply
    1. Charlie

      I’m liking your thinking. Is there a festival they could opt into attending? Is there, perhaps, a way they could all travel to the Tribe’s reservation? Could they meet with the Tribal government? Could they learn some basic phrases and greetings? There’s just SO MANY better alternatives.

      Reply
  52. Stellaaaaa

    OP, are you indigenous yourself? Do you have any reason to be sure that your coworkers haven’t researched this stuff on their own time and already made decisions about it? The idea that it’s up to you to expose people to something like this, as if no one else is enlightened in ways that matter to them, doesn’t sit well with me.

    Personally, I’m not interested in protecting or venerating aspects of cultures that exclude or mistreat women. The ceremony you’re considering should be challenged and updated. If you told any woman or medical professional this weird view of menstruation…just no. I can’t get behind a ceremony that excludes women for reasons that are so beyond the scope of validity.

    For the record, I challenge all cultures (including my own) that give women the short end of the stick. I’m so tired of misogyny hiding behind the language of cultural differences.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m putting this up here so that people see it before replying: The letter writer and I both asked that we not derail the question with this, so I’m asking that we not continue this line of discussion. Thank you.

      Reply
    2. Charlie

      They can challenge and update it themselves. It’s not the responsibility of representatives of the majority culture and religion that appropriated their lands and caused the near-genocide of their people and extinction of their culture do to so, any more than it is appropriate for those people to ask to partake of the surviving vestiges of that people and culture for superficial professional reasons.

      That said, I think you’ve wildly misread the motivation behind the exclusion of menstruating women from this ceremony.

      Reply
      1. James

        The thing is, this isn’t the issue. If you believe that, that’s fine–but the practitioners of this religion believe something different. Participating in their religious ceremony without honoring the religious ceremony’s rules is a contradiction. I believe that the Eucharist is nothing more than stale bread (been that way in every church I’ve been in), but I’m not going to go into a Catholic mass and participate in the ceremony, because doing so would be flagrantly insulting and openly hostile. I don’t practice the religion, I don’t obey the rules, in fact I violate specific ones, and therefore I don’t get to take part in it. (Observing, on the other hand, is NOT hostile.)

        I agree that they’re wrong. But it’s their ceremony and it’s their right to dictate how it’s conducted. To demand it be done according to your views is to deny them their own culture and their right to practice it.

        Reply
        1. paul

          I read that as more her not being willing to participate in that aspect of their culture myself. Which I think is utterly appropriate. Not her saying she was going to go and do it anyway.

          Reply
      2. Observer

        Well said.

        There is one issue that Stellaaaa does (inadvertently) make, though, that’s relevant. I’m sure that her reaction is not unique, Canadian or not. That’s not going to make for a good start to developing cultural competence.

        Reply
    3. Leatherwings

      Eh, if the OP and his employees work with indigenous people, cultural competency likely falls under a “professional development” umbrella and it IS his job to ensure his people are knowledgeable on the subject. I also think that it’s fair to trust the OP that his staff needs exposure to indigenous culture in some way or another.

      OP and AAM also asked us not to comment/debate on the merits of this particular tradition, so I think we ought to refrain from that discussion.

      Reply
          1. Stellaaaaa

            I didn’t see the note from Alison, as it’s in a tiny un-highlighted font at the very end of a large wall of text. I admit to not finishing the OP’s email as the excuses started ramping up.

            Reply
    4. Student

      Normally I respect AAM’s requests on issues like this, but this time I respectfully ask her to reconsider it. This is a perspective that is valuable for the OP to contemplate in this situation.

      Many people do find gender-based, especially menstruation-focused, exclusions of any kind deeply offensive. The OP has no realistic way of knowing that no woman on his team feels this way and just won’t tell him so because they don’t believe they’ll be taken seriously about it. A manager saying something is “voluntary” does not get to sidestep the spirit of this concern and the mistrust it can sow between him and his team, even if means he adheres to the letter of all rules and laws.

      Reply
  53. NW Mossy

    Others have covered the religious/spiritual ground much better than I can, so I’m looking at this through the lens of a boss who’s representing an organization. It appears that the stated purpose here is largely around professional development and helping your employees perform more effectively by deepening their connection to the community they serve. That’s a totally reasonable aim, but it doesn’t seem like you have any clear way to assess whether or not this ceremony is the best vehicle to do that, or if you proceed, how you’ll determine if it was successful in achieving the goal or not.

    For your organization, that matters a lot. You’re taking people out of their day-to-day of serving the community on this health issue and putting time, energy, and likely money into developing their cultural competence. That’s a big investment, and it’s on you as the manager to make sure that what you’re recommending has a reasonable chance at success and is a good use of the resources you apply to it. It’s also important to consider whether or not a one-shot ceremony is going to be effective at producing lasting results for your team.

    From that point of view, the decision is less about “do we do this ceremony or not?” but rather to think about the larger question of “What’s the best way to help my staff be more effective at serving the community?” The answer to that question might be pretty far removed from cultural competency, because it could be that low cultural competency is obscuring a broader issue. Stepping back and making sure that your fundamentals (like strong communication skills, listening for understanding, and relationship-building) are in order might lead you to realize that investment in those areas will actually go a long way to helping your community feel valued, appreciated, and heard.

    Reply
  54. Ann O'Nemity

    I worked with native populations in a university setting and continual cultural competency was a priority for all of us. That came FIRST, before working directly with the populations or participating in their ceremonies. So when we were invited to something, we were already familiar with the practices. When we were invited to a sweatlodge, for example, we all already knew that menstruating women should opt out. It wasn’t something that our PI had to bring up.

    In sum, I think the OP should take a couple steps back and find ways to incorporate more cultural competency training before organizing native ceremonies.

    Reply
  55. KAM

    Yes, please nix this completely. Even if it’s a voluntary, opt-in activity, at some point it’s still going to be pointed out that women who are menstruating have to sit out for the sit-out part. And that risks huge embarrassment, discomfort, and the discussion of one’s personal cycles in front of colleagues.

    No.

    Reply
  56. TotesMaGoats

    So, I didn’t see the OP chime in yet but I agree that if we can confirm that he is Canadian (which I agree with), this does change the context of the situation, somewhat. I think the OP deserves some majors kudos on a lot of levels.

    Kudos for wanting your team to have more than book knowledge about the populations you are supporting.
    Kudos for having the forethought to ask for help on a really sticky issue.
    Kudos for having built a relationship with a tribal elder such that he would offer this for your team.

    Strangely enough, I’ve actually taken part in my fair share of smudging ceremonies. I see it as a lovely expression of someone’s faith traditions and cultural history. And I love learning, so there is that as well.

    I think Alison is right in her advice. I would offer that planning some intense in-service sessions for your team with people who can teach it as relates to your population would be a good first step. Then an opt-in for the ceremony.

    Reply
  57. Miles

    I also am working outside my own culture with indigenous groups, with a group that is very strongly placed within the pertinent groups’ culture (e.g. part of my early orientation from my boss included how to tell if I was being targetted by a witch and what to do if that were the case) and I can’t imagine our organization hosting a spiritual ceremony. It would be very out of step with our role as a professional organization.

    That said, I have been invited to and taken part in other cultural events that *are* related to what we do. These have included culturally-appropriate openings for meetings, feasts, and other components of how business is done in the communities I serve. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d get out of a spiritual ceremony, but I have found it immensely helpful to see how decisions are made and work done since that gives me a better idea of what the people I work with are expecting to see from me. Unless you’re serving a spiritual role with these communities, I don’t think you’ll get that from a spiritual ceremony. Maybe you need to look for ways to show your staff how professionals in the communities you serve do their business.

    Reply
  58. Passing Through

    Would it be possible to arrange for your staff to observe a ceremony of some kind without having to participate? I might be uncomfortable participating in a spiritual ceremony outside my own beliefs, but I would appreciate the opportunity to respectfully observe as a way to learn about another culture.

    Reply
  59. Sleepheadzzz

    As another Canadian, this comment section is incredibly interesting and the advice is also really interesting. A rare time I disagree with AAM.

    My guess was also that this LW is Canadian, and possibly even from my city (I’m on the Prairies, one of the largest Aboriginal populations in the country in my city). This type of thing at the Universities and in the not-for-profit field are incredibly normal and encouraged. Reconciliation is a huge and “we are all treaty people” is everywhere. The LW isn’t totally clear about exactly what the ceremony is, but it could be as simple as a cleansing ceremony before a presentation. Many workshops I’ve attended put on by Aboriginal/First Nations groups will do a smudging prior to beginning.

    To me it sounds like the LW’s plan is totally appropriate. And I would add if they still want to go ahead with some sort of ceremony, if the LW is indeed from one of the area’s I’m thinking of, no doubt another elder or presenter would be happy to attend in a different capacity.

    Reply
  60. Zip Silver

    This whole idea of a ceremony reminds me of Hillary Clinton and “Pokemon… Go to the polls”

    Or my 50-something boss having us dab for a Christmas party picture because his teenage daughters taught him what it is and most of us are in our 20’s.

    Basically, trying to relate, but being a little tryhard.

    Reply
  61. M

    I get this workplace is in an area with indigenous people, but I just can’t get past the part where a manager would be asking women who are menstruating not to take part. This is so insulting on so many levels, in spite of it being part of a religious custom. Women are not unclean or to be held in a lower regard because of menstration. It’s a bodily function that should not be used to subordinate women.

    Reply
    1. Ann

      I agree with you, and that’s not at all what the elder said about the ceremony, and in this case it’s probably very important for health research staff in particular to understand the culture. Even if you don’t attend the ceremony, learning about it from the invitation and from any colleagues who attend and share appropriately afterwards is a legitimate way to learn cultural sensitivity

      Reply
  62. Roz

    One more Canadian here – and when I saw this title I was cringing that the discussion was going to be so awful that I avoided reading it until now. Thank you to the poster and the commenters and AAM for handling this topic with such grace and thoughtfulness.

    Often I see discussions like this turn in nasty or unhelpful ways and it is so nice to see all the points being made without piling onto the OP but while also skillfully pointing out all the errors in the implementation of activities to enhance cultural sensitivity.

    I agree – do not do this. There are many great options noted above in the comments to achieve your goal while also respecting the culture and traditions of the people you are working with.

    Reply
    1. Roz

      To add – from Ontario, the norm in my field (Social Work and Health Care) has been to work with the community/group to identify an appropriate way to honour the culture (regardless of whether it’s an Indigenous Peoples or other group of people).

      If it is the case that this is what the Elder you are working with has identified as most appropriate, then I understand your predicament a bit better, but I would urge you to see if there are other ways that may work better. In my experience, recognising the land you are on, conducting a smudging ceremony and a discussion about that specific Nation’s history in that area may be a good fit for your situation. But of course I would work with the Elder and the group to determine this.

      Reply
    2. MuseumChick

      Roz, thank you so much for this post. Aside from a couple of comments (dealt with very quickly by Allison) on this post I agree people have been really respectful and helpful.

      Reply
  63. Last visit

    As interesting as it’s been to hear from Americans on this issue, as a Canadian I’d like to step in and say that obviously there’s nothing wrong with the ceremony itself, assuming the elder is okay with women being involved. The OP knows this.

    I also can’t take people’s opinion on appropriation seriously unless they’re in a culture. I remember a woman from India complaining that her white bridesmaids were being harassed on Instagram because, as the bride requested, they were wearing traditional attire for her wedding.

    Finally, this is my last visit to AskAManager. I’ve been a reader for years and even had a few questions answered. I’ll miss it, but the commenters have driven me away. Even though the OP specifically requested otherwise, comments revolve around sexism and accusations of appropriation, despite this being a common Canadian occurrence. If I keep visiting AMA, I’ll feel guilty by association of bullying and harassment.

    Thank you for everything, Alison. You’re great. I wish more of your commenters were as open-minded as you.

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      The OP didn’t state that this was a Canadian context, so I don’t think it’s really fair to blame the commenters for having a non-Canadian perspective on it.

      I also don’t know where you’re seeing bullying/harassment – the very few comments I’ve seen that would fit those descriptions have been roundly shut down by AAM or other commenters.

      Reply
      1. Aurion

        But the OP did dedicate an entire paragraph asking us not to debate the merit or lack thereof of this particular ceremony, and Alison echoed that request. OP only asked whether this ceremony can be done in the proposed manner or if he should axe it altogether. People who say “no, the intersection of this ceremony’s requirements and good work practices is a bad idea, don’t do it” are staying on topic. People who jumped straight to appropriation are…not.

        Reply
        1. Taravala

          “People who jumped straight to appropriation are…not.”

          That’s not exactly what he asked to avoid though. And it cannot be avoided in the discussion.

          We NEED to have discussions on these issues.

          This issue is a lot more complex than some of the white Canadians here are making it out to be. As a US-based tribal member myself, I would cringe at the way this guy is attempting to go about this.

          There’s also this underlying presumption by many, many commentators that the only two groups involved in this are indigenous persons and the descendants of white colonizers.

          The implications of this ceremony isn’t just about indigenous values v. white values. It’s a lot more complex than that.

          Reply
      2. Rocky

        This is so interesting though – the fact that the commentariats’ default assumption is “the letter-writer must be in the US”. I’m outside the US (NZ in fact but of Australian heritage) and I don’t find the letters or answers lose anything by me allowing they could be from anywhere in the world.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s a primarily U.S. blog though (as far as the author and the majority of the readership), so that’s usually the default assumption unless a letter writer states otherwise.

          Reply
        2. Katie the Fed

          I don’t think anyone assumes the letter writer is in the US. It’s that it’s not really a fair criticism that people are bringing a non-Canadian perspective to bear. When the majority of commentators are American, that’s probably going to happen.

          I think this came up in another letter – a New Zealander actually. Someone wanted to bring a community leader to an interview and most of the commentators were like “whaaaaaa?” and then a Kiwi explained that it was a specific accommodation for Maori communities.

          Reply
      3. Jenbug

        Exactly this. Allison is always very clear to point out that she answers questions from a US perspective (at least with regards to legality issues).

        Reply
    2. Observer

      as a Canadian I’d like to step in and say that obviously there’s nothing wrong with the ceremony itself, assuming the elder is okay with women being involved. The OP knows this.

      Are you saying that in Canada it’s OK to create explicitly religious events in the workplace that people are expected to participate (even though they can technically opt out)? That it’s ok to have events in the workplace that effectively explicitly touch on the phase of a woman’s cycle (even though that’s not the point)? That it’s ok to set up a ceremony in the workplace that has a high chance of feeling sexist to many of the employees? (Again the point is not whether it is sexist, or whether it should be changed or “challenged”, but that many of the women are likely to be uncomfortable with this explicitly sex based requirement.) Or that it’s ok to ask an Elder to change his religion’s practices to accommodate a group of people who don’t really believe in the religion behind the practice?

      Reply
      1. Jennie

        Not to speak for the author you’re replying to, but yes in my experience it is not only OK but actually a good sign that the needed inter-community relationships and communication are developing appropriately, so yes at our universities, government (including health orgs), and cultural institutions we are expected to have these ceremonies and relationships

        Reply
        1. Observer

          So, Canada has limited freedom of religion, then. And, some real limits on gender equality in secular workplaces.

          Good to know.

          Reply
          1. Zip Silver

            That is actually surprisingly common outside of the United States. We expect everybody to have the same rights we do, but most countries don’t. In other western countries there are legal limits on freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the press, etc etc etc.

            There’s nothing wrong with that. Different cultures and countries value different things. The American colonies violently rejected everything British in the 18th century, and our constitution reflects that. The Canadian colonies didn’t achieve home rule until the 20th, peacefully, and still maintain the British Queen as their head of state. Different priorities.

            Reply
          2. Kate

            I would say that we do take a different perspective on religious freedom. We weren’t founded by a people escaping religious persecution, religious freedom isn’t part of our national “creation myth”. It is one important piece of the puzzle of competing freedoms. I would say that it competes for space (for lack of a better term) with gender equality, multiculturalism, and reconciliation, rather than getting a trump card.

            Reply
          3. thunderbird

            I think many people are trying to place traditional ceremonies and practices into a neat little box called religion and tie a bow on it. Linear comparison cannot be made to what most people understand religion to be. Upthread it was noted that the line between religious, spiritual, and cultural can be very grey in this context. Please consider that there can be other perspectives and ways of knowing.

            Reply
          4. Pommette

            Canada and the United States have completely different legal frameworks for articulating and protecting human rights. Absent a detailed knowledge of those frameworks, some Canadian decisions will seem aberrant to Americans, and some American decisions will seem aberrant to Canadians.

            When two sets of rights are in conflict, Canadian laws tend to favour the outcome that protects groups who are and have a history of being marginalized or discriminated against. So something that disproportionately imposed a mild inconvenience on the basis of gender, but was seen as promoting access to health care for a group of people who have disproportionately poor access and outcomes, might ultimately be viewed as ok under Canadian laws. Not that, as far as I know, the issue highlighted by the OP’s question has ever come up in Canadian courts.

            Reply
            1. Raven

              You don’t feel that women are a group who are and have a history of being marginalized and discriminated against? Really?

              Reply
    3. Honeybee

      There have been several Canadians who have said that they don’t feel the ceremony is appropriate and wouldn’t participate in it, including the comment directly before this one. Solely from observation here in the comments, I don’t think there’s as much agreement on this as you think there is.

      Reply
      1. GS

        There are Canadian norms around Indigenous practices in organizations that are working on reconciliation and cultural competency, however Canada still has a massive problem with anti-Indigenous racism, including the idea that many people have that Indigenous people should just “get over it” with regard to colonization and genocide.

        I think the perspectives of people who have done cultural competency training and are part of organizations invested in reconciliation are likely to be pretty different from many people who aren’t.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Several of the people who have said they would be uncomfortable with it are clearly NOT of the “just get over it school.”

          Reply
          1. GS

            I’m not saying they are, apologies if it sounded that way. I’m saying that these norms are specific to certain types of organizations and that outside those orgs, Canadian perspectives are going to vary widely.

            I mention Canadian problems with racism for context – there’s been lots of discussion in the comments about Canada’s efforts toward reconciliation but less about how early in that process we are and how huge a problem racism is in our country. Being progressive and tolerant is part of the Canadian identity both internally and internationally and there’s a substantial amount of cognitive dissonance around how Canadian see themselves (and wish to be seen) and Canadian attitudes around Indigenous people and racism.

            Hope that clarifies.

            Reply
  64. Ann

    I have not read through all the comments so this may have already been mentioned. Can LW not just show a film about the ceremony? I agree the team needs information on the cultures and people they are working with, but it doesn’t have to be first hand. Here in the States, a Child Protective Services worker does not need to be beaten, or grabbed roughly and shook, or burned with a cigarette, or screamed obscenities at or any number of horrendous things people do to children, in order to understand what the child has gone through, or be able to recognize abuse when the physical body isn’t showing any.
    Show a documentary about the ceremony in order to inform your team. That would be a very appropriate continuing education event and it’s something you could require them to do because you’re not making them actually do something that may be against their own values.

    Reply
  65. Jbean

    As part of my Peace Corps training in a majority Muslim country, we took a trip to the capital city’s grand mosque. The women were told that if anyone was menstruating, that they could not participate in the tour since menstuating women cannot enter the sacred building. About 3 of the 10 women waited outside and seemed to be fine with it. From my perspective, I always thought it was awkward to know that much about their cycles.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      That’s a very very different context than what OP is describing, though. It’s one thing to be in a majority Muslim country and attend religious services at a masjid as part of cultural immersion, and it’s quite another thing to have someone have Jumma at your secular workplace in a secular country, and require your attendance/participation (with an opt-out provision), but then tell you you must opt out if you’re menstruating.

      Reply
      1. Jbean

        I’m sharing my experiences with being singled out as a menstruating woman in a work-sponsored cultural activity. I think it applies.

        Reply
      2. Mela

        I’m really at a loss with these comments…what is so hard about understanding that Canada is only a secular country because colonizers systematically attempted to wipe out an entire people for their own economic benefit? Canada is not an indigenous majority country simply because of a genocide. This is partially directed at you, Princess, but also to the larger commentariat.

        Reply
  66. Mookie

    it is a completely accepted practice and non-controversial in indigenous communities

    You are not in a position to state this unequivocally. This is untrue.

    Reply
    1. Taravala

      In the community where my grandparents live (which is on the border with Canada and historically included Canadian territory) this would not be okay.

      Reply
  67. squids

    I agree with Roz just above that this discussion has been pretty excellent, and I’m sitting and thinking about how differently the US and Canadian commenters have read the question. (And curious about how readers in other parts of the world have read this, as well.)

    Some of the comments have reminded me of something Chelsea Vowel talks about in Indigenous Writes — that mainstream Canada has traditionally embraced multiculturalism in the form of food, music, artwork, crafts — but then refused to engage with anything that makes the majority uncomfortable. Some of the suggestions about viewing ceremonies as if they are a performance, doing crafts, etc, are making me think of that. (Nothing wrong with starting there, but it would be disrespectful to assume that sort of thing is “enough” to build cultural competence.)

    Reply
    1. Important Moi

      Who knows if you’ll even see this? I’m first generation US born (not Canadian ancestry though).

      I thought the question was asked considerately.

      I think the thread derailed often and needlessly.

      Reply
  68. KimberlyR

    I am a non-Canadian and I realize that I would be approaching this from a different place and a different culture. However.

    It sounds like a religious and cultural ceremony. I live in a place that has a huge culture that is very different and unique in our country. The people here also cling very tightly to a certain religion that is, again, different from many people in this part of the country. Cultural events and religious events SHOULD be separate. If there is a case where both apply (this ceremony is both cultural and religious), then people should be able to opt-in. Even if the OP is Canadian and this is The Thing To Do, it is still religious and you’re still asking people to participate in a religious ceremony that they may not agree with or feel comfortable being part of. If your team were allowed to view the ceremony, that may side-step the issue. But by asking your team to go to a religious ceremony, you are putting people in an uncomfortable position of turning down a request from their boss or of participating in a ceremony they don’t want to participate in. Sounds like a lot of Canadian commentors feel comfortable doing this; however, that doesn’t mean they speak for all Canadians everywhere.

    Reply
    1. A.N.Mous

      I don’t think anyone is trying to speak for all Canadians, we’re just saying that in Canada it is accepted that many FNMI traditions and ceremonies are not finely demarcated into “cultural” or “religious”. And that not only is this boundary blurred but there is a growing acceptance and movement to incorporate such ceremonies in publically funded organizations and institutions as a systematized effort at reconciliation.

      I honestly don’t understand how this part of culture isn’t part of the “take the LW at their word” rule that’s on this site. This is becoming increasingly normalized in Canadian culture and I feel like we’re not saying that all Canadians will be comfortable participating, but it’s becoming the norm here even if it’s not in other countries. I know it’s easy to forget sometimes but Canadian culture IS distinct from American, even if there is overlap. Just like certain terms for indigenous populations in America are not okay in Canada. We’re different countries with different histories with different approaches to our colonial past.

      Reply
      1. Jenbug

        There was nothing in the original letter to indicate that there was a Canadian context to this. People answered based on their own perspectives, as they typically do.

        Reply
        1. A.N.Mous

          His reference to the territories is what tipped me of. It has since been established that yes, there’s a Canadian context to this but even when it’s been identified, a lot of [presumably] American commentators have been pushing back on it and suggesting we are wrong about our own cultural norms here which seems silly at best.

          Reply
          1. Lissa

            Yes, what’s been getting to me has been the amount of people who are coming in to comment nothing but “nope nope nope” like dozens of others without reading fully. I find it really disheartening to see that type of thing when there is *so much* of it, it does feel pretty uncool as a Canadian where this sort of thing is normal — to have so many people immediately jump in with “gross” and “I’d quit” about something that is pretty culturally important without learning the context first.

            (I am totally fine with discussions about it, it’s the one-off “nope, don’t do it” comments I am bothered by.)

            Reply
            1. Amtelope

              But your cultural context doesn’t make separating people by gender in an event in the workplace not harmful. It doesn’t make requiring women to disclose whether they are menstruating in the workplace not harmful. It doesn’t make creating pressure for people who cannot participate in spiritual practices other than those of their own religion to participate in this spiritual practice not harmful (and, yes, the line between spiritual and cultural can be difficult to determine, but in this case there is explicitly discussion of “energies,” “spiritual power,” and the ceremony as “sacred,” which would be huge nos for some people who are Jewish, Muslim, or atheists.)

              There’s no context that prevents those practices from causing harm. You can argue that the harm is justified because of the potential advantages of having the ceremony, but that’s not going to prevent a lot of people from side-eyeing this treatment of employees. It requires people to be treated differently based on their gender and/or menstruation, and to participate in spiritual practices of another culture, or to single themselves out by refusing to participate. And, yes, I’d quit if someone required me to do so.

              Reply
              1. Lissa

                I 100% agree with you, which is why I said I was fine with the discussion around it. It’s specifically the people just answering “nope nope nope” without adding anything else to the discussion (the “nope” point has been made) and in some cases, explicitly stating that they haven’t read anything else here.

                I actually do have a lot of reservations about the way this can happen in Canada, and have been in a situation that was relatively uncomfortable, so it’s not like I think it’s necessarily justified. It’s more the barrage of comments from people who aren’t coming at it from a place of “OK, this is the context, let’s talk about it” but rather “I hate this idea and am going to blame the OP for it as though it’s all his idea” that I feel ignores the cultural context here.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Keep in mind that that while some people treat the comments section as a dialogue, others see it as a place to just leave their thoughts and don’t stick around to engage or read many other comments. It’s just two different ways of seeing comment sections, but the second style can be jarring to the people with the first style.

            2. CoveredInBees

              I agree with Amtelope. I don’t want to disclose my menstrual status or be excluded from work activities because of my gender. Ever. The context for doing so is irrelevant, even more so when there are alternative ways to reach this cultural understanding that LW is aiming for without being exclusive.

              Reply
      2. Taravala

        ” This is becoming increasingly normalized in Canadian culture ”

        This has been normalized to white Canadians. It isn’t just white Canada v. indigenous Canada.

        Part of this issue with what is occurring is the pressure on other minority groups.

        As long as they are really, truly allowed to opt-out, then it’s fine.

        Reply
  69. Student

    As a researcher, an Atheist, and a woman – This is a huge failure of basic ingenuity and empathy on your part. Why on Earth do you not change this activity from “actively participate in indigenous ceremony” to “observe indigenous ceremony” – you ALL sit outside the circle together instead of trying to push out a select few?

    If I read your letter correctly, none of you believe in the actual ceremony. The indigenous ceremony leader who has offered this opportunity knows that, too. He’s offering to allow this kind of thing because he wants to build understanding of his community and sometimes maybe pick up a convert. As an Atheist, I’ve sat in many religious services where I did not participate in the religious rituals. Nobody needs to be deceived into thinking I’m a believer to let me observe. They all know not everyone believes the same as they do, but it’s mutually beneficial for us to try to understand each other.

    I don’t pretend to be a member of the church when I do this. I sit out of the way and I stay quite. I respect the traditions without engaging in them actively – I don’t pray, or sing, or go to confession, or take communion, etc. because I don’t believe those activities will do something for me and it I think it is disrespectful and sometimes offensive to engage in them while openly not being of that faith; I follow the dress code, I pay attention, I do not disrupt, nor make a display of not participating. After services, I sometimes ask willing members/leaders of the religion respectfully to tell me about their beliefs, to learn about what matters to them and how their religion works, and then I make sure to listen to them more than I talk.

    Reply
  70. Former Retail Manager

    Just interested to see in the comments that it looks like these types of educational experiences/outings are part of more jobs than I would have ever believed. Might be a neat ceremony to observe, as an observer, on my own time, or if all of my co-workers and I were all observers. Otherwise, I’d say no to attending. Think Alison’s advice is spot on for this one.

    Reply
  71. CoveredInBees

    Ohhh, good intent but I think the period issue is a non-starter. It would have to be presented along with other info when people opt in.

    Why not take the intention and take it somewhere a bit more neutral? Hire an indigenous caterer and have an afternoon that includes indigenous music and/or games that the community can take part in. I don’t know if you are in the U.S. or not, but I have heard that a big issue in indigenous health here is an epidemic of diabetes. It is due to many indigenous people living in “food deserts” and relying on food of limited nutrition, so many groups are trying to renew traditional foods.

    Without knowing more about the research, this seems to fulfill the missions of indigenous health and cultural competency.

    Reply
  72. Little Love

    Something no one has brought up but occurs to me–I live in Montana so I have some experience with this–I am allergic to sage. Someone starts burning sage around me, my nose starts running, my eyes swell up, and I sneeze like a fiend. I have been invited to smudging rituals and always stand way, way back because of this. It may be a small thing to most people but it can be real bother to a few of us. My having an asthma attack in the middle of a ritual would not add to the event. I have avoided sitting close to campfires for years because of this.

    Reply
    1. Zip Silver

      That’s terrible, sage is one of my favorite spices.

      I have a cousin who is allergic to cocoa. *That* is a real tragedy.

      Reply
  73. Visualized Tacos

    No real advice, but I do want to applaud you on your efforts to consider what is best for everyone and make a decision in line with that. A not-great manager wouldn’t have the sensitivity to recognize that there are varying issues around how comfortable your employees and the community would be with this ceremony – they’d just require it and wonder why morale drops. See: the boss who claimed he was a Mayan shaman.

    Reply
  74. mccoma

    “Yeah, there is zero place for asking who on your staff has their period or treating people differently if they do. It doesn’t matter that it’s part of a cultural ceremony; it’s just so, so far over the line that you cannot do it in a work setting. I think you’re in agreement on that, based on what you said about trying to make a different arrangement with the elder.”

    I would absolutely recommend you don’t try to make a “different arrangement with the elder”. If you cannot practice the ceremony per tradition, then don’t do it. This is basically why you shouldn’t ever try this in a work setting. Its bad enough we have damn fools trying to do sweat lodges and killing people, but these ceremonies are not appropriate for work activities.

    I really, really value this blogs advice, but going to an elder and asking to change things for your group of non-tribal members is really rude and will setup a distrust of your group as just another set of interlopers. I really don’t think this is a good idea under any circumstances.

    Reply
    1. CoveredInBees

      I took alternative arrangements to mean something cultural/educational other than the ceremony. The OP said that the protocols are pretty set.

      Reply
  75. Persephone

    This has set my hair flying upward because I have such a strong reaction to it. Therefore, I am going to post without yet having read other replies.

    OP, I would be deeply offended by this. In fact, I’d go so far as to take it to my union and to HR–and I wouldn’t back down. No way am I attending something like this and to add (more insult to the original one) I would really be offended by the rule that women who are having their period will be excluded from certain parts. I honestly do not care if it is part of their ritual. I choose not to understand it and I choose to not participate. It just frosts my cookies that universities and colleges are so over-the-top with political correctness, and with the so-called honoring of other cultures while always ignoring mine (Scottish and Irish) because I am of the majority culture.

    My college does this and it is beyond offensive. I would find your suggestion highly offensive too.

    Reply
    1. Charlie

      Other cultures are honored and space is carved out for them because the dominant culture has a long, bad history of dishonoring and exterminating them, sometimes very literally. The open practice of Native American culture was forcibly and violently suppressed for centuries, children were removed from homes to boarding schools, and religious traditions and oral histories were lost wholesale. Begrudging those cultures a bit of belated honor and reconciliation is small of you, to be frank.

      And let’s not pretend that European cultures don’t get lavished with honor in a thousand big and small ways every day. The calendar itself revolves around European and Anglo-Saxon tradition and religion.

      Reply
      1. Deer God

        Thanks Charlie. There’s a reason that marginalized and subjugated persons and cultures MUST have space carved out for them, because the majority is the EVERY DAY. The majority is the ALL THE TIME. The majority doesn’t need special recognition when they’re usually the one that has marginalized the others.

        Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            paul, I think you might be conflating culturally safe spaces with cultural competency training.

            Reply
            1. paul

              They’re arguing for having spaces carved out for cultural/religious practices right?

              If you’re going to try to have other people participate in those under the guise of understanding or reconciliation I think it’s OK for those practices to come under scrutiny. I’ve seen a lot of comments in this thread about how common it is for Canadians to incorporate indigenous ceremonies and practices in their day to day events, in an attempt to foster understanding–which I can understand, but at the same time if these practices are being brought front and center then I think it’s OK for people being asked to participate in them to raise questions or objections to them.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Then I think I disagree with you in part (about critiquing the practice itself—I’m ok with scrutinizing whether to require participation in a cultural practice).

                I think there’s a little bit of elision because some phrases are being used in multiple ways to signify different concepts. So when I hear folks talk about creating space, I hear two things. The first is that there’s a need to carve out time and hold that time open for indigenous inclusion and to expose non-FNMI folks to aspects of different indigenous community practices as a part of the TNR process. The second is that there’s a need for culturally safe spaces in which indigenous voices are not silenced or erased from the “default” or “normal” day-to-day paradigm. I think those are distinct ideas that are related, which is why I’m pushing back a little.

                Reply
                1. paul

                  I don’t actually disagree with either of those; on the first definition I disagree with requiring people to participate. On the second, and this is admittedly something I’m only bringing up based on what Canadian contributers have said, I think participation and not being silenced is one thing, but facing criticism isn’t the same as being silenced either–particularly if there’s been an ongoing effort to incorporate said ceremonies into more day to day life and regular events; there are posters mentioning have First Nations (I gather that’s the term in Canada) people perform cultural/religious ceremonies at a large portion of regular governmental or cultural events.

                  If that’s the case, and they’re making an effort to incorporate them into the milieu of day to day life, great, but at that point I think it’s also fair game for other people to point out any issues that arise from them.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Thank you for saying this, Charlie. I wouldn’t have been able to do it so clearly and succinctly.

        Reply
    2. I used to be Murphy

      with the so-called honoring of other cultures while always ignoring mine (Scottish and Irish) because I am of the majority culture.
      Your culture (and mine, as my family is Scottish) is honoured in everything we do in North America, from the holidays we observe, to the language we speak, to our political institutions, the wages we make, to the jobs we have access to. That’s like saying “why is there no white history month?” when every month is white history month.

      Reply
      1. Taravala

        Yep. As someone with both American Indian and Scots-Irish blood, this person clearly does not get it.

        I wear tartan and drink whiskey daily. I can’t wear the jewelry that my grandmother sends me from the tribe without people singling it out.

        Reply
    3. Katie the Fed

      “It just frosts my cookies that universities and colleges are so over-the-top with political correctness, and with the so-called honoring of other cultures while always ignoring mine (Scottish and Irish) because I am of the majority culture.

      My college does this and it is beyond offensive”

      You find it offensive that efforts are made to respect and honor cultures other than white? How unfortunate.

      Reply
    4. Taravala

      As a tribal member with significant Scots-Irish ancestry, the fact you even equate the two is laughable.

      The Scots-Irish, Scots, and Irish were all discriminated against and oppressed by the British and took some time to merge into mainstream white culture. But they have done so.

      The history of First Nations/American Indians/Native Americans and other indigenous groups are in no way comparable.

      Your cookies my be frosted, but that’s because you really don’t get it at all.

      Reply
  76. Observer

    I have not read Alison’s response or the comments yet, so what I am saying may have already been said. Nevertheless I’m going to say what I need to say.

    Firstly, you cannot do this particular ceremony. You simply CANNOT have a ceremony that traditionally requires menstruating women to sit outside the circle in the workplace, on the one hand. On the other, given the cultural / religious background, pushing the issue will either result in something that is really not authentic or in convincing your Elder contact that you really either don’t respect or understand the context and community.

    Which leads to my second point. From where I sit, it looks like this might be an accurate assessment. Religious ceremonies are for people who believe in those ceremonies. Partaking in religious ceremonies that you don’t believe in as a “cultural activity” doesn’t do much to really bridge any divides or bring understanding about the group you are dealing with. (Yes, there are some exceptions to that, but none in this kind of context.) On the other hand, for people who DO take this stuff seriously and who DO believe in the religion, this can be rather offensive. Many religions see this kind of thing as sacrilegious. It feels like cultural appropriation. And, it has a definite sense of “slumming”, or visiting the “exotic natives”. Oh, and look at us, we’re even trying on their native dress. (At least you won’t be taking selfies…)

    In general, it’s pretty hard to get a truly authentic experience when bringing a ceremony with specific cultural roots to a group of people who have no real connection to it or the culture it’s rooted in. This is true in spades when dealing with a religious ceremony and people who simply don’t believe in it.

    Lastly, unless you have managed to collect a group of people who are not-religious and don’t have any respect for religion (Hopefully without being disrespectful of people who do deeply believe in this stuff), you are going to have a number of people who are going to be uncomfortable with this. So, either people are going to be pressured into taking part in a religious ceremony they are not comfortable with or being shut out of something that is intended to benefit the project. That seems like a fairly troublesome thing to contemplate.

    Reply
    1. Biff

      Thank you. As someone who puts a great deal of effort into ceremonies for those in my faith, the idea of others coming, insisting on doing that ceremony for the sake of doing it, not pleasing the gods makes me feel icky.

      Reply
  77. Deer God

    Uh. I don’t like the overall feeling of this. I do appreciate that the LW seems like someone who tries very hard to be respectful, culturally competent and a bunch of other “woke” buzz words. But this idea just kind of feels icky. Being studied by outsiders who come in an appropriate my culture already is annoying and frustrating (not saying this LW is trying to appropriate, but the line is over very thin) and idk… team build another way.

    Reply
  78. Jennifer writes SOPs about Thneeds

    Maybe this has already been touched upon?

    > This is a practice followed in certain Indigenous communities from time immemorial, and you may not like their explanation for this protocol, but it is a completely accepted practice and non-controversial in indigenous communities

    Two things here: you say that CERTAIN indigenous communities follow this practice. Are there other communities that do not, and who are also part of your target community? You do, after all, work “with indigenous communities across the country”. That’s a lot of cultural variation available to you.

    But the other thing is this: no group of people is monolithic. In any group there will always be people who disagree with the majority. In politics they’re known as “the loyal opposition” for a good reason. So, just based on what I know about human beings, there are probably people in that very culture who don’t accept this practice. (It also sounds like you’ve gotten all of this information from one informant. Is he well-regarded in the community?)

    Anyway, I suggest that you talk to others in your target community, and ESPECIALLY talk to some of the women. The men in a given group do not necessarily know what the women know or think, even if they think they do.

    Reply
  79. Rocky

    I’m intrigued at the common reaction that the LW must have it wrong and that attending/participating in such a practice won’t be welcomed by the indigenous group. We have a general approach that we take the letter writer at their word.
    Where I live (NZ) there is broad acceptance that ceremonies like this are part and parcel of doing good consultative government work. Observing isn’t enough – it would make the participants self-conscious and emphasise the observers’ outsider status. I don’t agree or believe in some parts of Maori ceremony, but I attend and participate as wholeheartedly as I can. This is my acknowledgement that the dominant culture has stolen so much, the least I can do is be gracious when invited to join in.
    Others feel differently, and a few years ago we had a court case brought by a government worker. Her case was that the assumption women sit at the rear of the hall for a welcome ceremony was gender discrimination. (In the end she was dismissed for her interactions with the media rather than for her stance).
    My background is in cultural anthropology and I believe that participating is understanding. Table-top exercises can only go so far. My advice to the LW would be:
    1. ask the elder if another ceremony of welcome/cleansing could be appropriate
    2. if so, invite staff to attend but emphasise that it’s not compulsory.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      FWIW, I don’t think most people are saying that OP has “it wrong that attending/participating in such a practice won’t be welcomed by the indigenous group.” Most (American) commenters are identifying the ways in which this plan is either inappropriate in the specific context of his workplace, or is not the right way to approach cultural competency training (which OP identified as the basis for bringing this ceremony to his workplace). There’s been much less commentary about whether an indigenous group would welcome/reject the attendance/participation of non-indigenous folks.

      Reply
      1. Sleepyheadzzz

        But Rocky is also saying that this kind of ceremony is part and parcel in this kind of work and is normal in NZ, and it’s also normal in Canada in this specific context of the workplace and can be (because we don’t know the details) an appropriate approach to cultural competency training.

        “This is my acknowledgement that the dominant culture has stolen so much, the least I can do is be gracious when invited to join in.”

        This is my view as well. Even if I may not personally believe, going through the ceremony helps give me a better understanding of the cultural significance

        The Canadians posting understand the US posters find this bizarre, but some fiolks need to consider that this really might be appropriate, or at least in the realm of appropriate.

        Reply
        1. Taravala

          But that assumes the people participating as outsiders were all white.

          What if they are of a different, but equally oppressed indigenous group? What if they are from an indigenous group that was oppressed by the other indigenous group you are honoring?

          That has actually happened to people I know. Prior to the white man showing up, a lot of plains tribes fought over land. It got worse after guns were introduced. I know a lot of people from X tribe who would never, ever even speak to a member of Y tribe.

          You can’t always know someone is a tribal member by looking. My tribe has white people, hispanic people, black people, and people who are 100% DNA from our ancestors.

          It’s not as simple as white people showing respect. Because there are more groups than just white and the one band/tribe/nation whose ceremony you are using.

          Reply
      2. semi regular posting this undercover

        ‘This is my acknowledgement that the dominant culture has stolen so much, the least I can do is be gracious when invited to join in’

        This can be a problem because it is based on the assumption that everyone else (non-Indigenous people) are a part of the dominant culture. I have Canadian citizenship now, but I immigrated as refugee. I am from an ethnic minority that has been hunted and killed and a member of a religion that is illegal and heretical in my home country and other places in the world. I may look white but even in Canada I am part of a tiny, tiny minority. I have been identified based on my looks by people from the region where I was born and grew up, even in Canada. I understand that Indigenous people in Canada have similar experiences to what happened in my home country and I personally would have no problem joining the smudging if I was asked, but don’t assume who is and is not a part of the dominant culture.

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        1. Taravala

          I am a member of a USA-based tribe. I look white, so people don’t know it.

          If asked to participate in the tribal ceremonies of another group, I may say no simply because there are other tribe’s whose beliefs are in direct contradiction to my own or because the tribe being honored slaughtered by ancestors.

          The presmption by the Canadians on this thread that all the workers are white is astounding tome.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I don’t think they’re assuming all workers are white, but I do think they’re discussing the issue with the assumption that most workers are non-indigenous (because that’s sort of how the OP framed the context, no?).

            Reply
            1. Rocky

              Yes, exactly. And for those quoting my line about ‘this is my way of being gracious’ – my very next paragraph starts ‘others feel differently’. In those others I would include those whose (NZ) tribal affiliation precludes participating, those who don’t identify as ‘dominant culture’ European NZers and other ethnic minorities.

              Reply
  80. LW

    LW here! Thank you Alison for posting the question and the incredibly thoughtful responses to it. My sincere apologies for not clarifying in the letter that I am situated in Canada, where the context for Indigenous issues is far different than the US.

    I am just going through the comments and will respond back with some more details and an update this evening.

    Again, apologies for not clarifying the Canadian context.

    Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        There are other ways the context is different, as the discussion above makes very clear!

        Let’s lay off the letter writer, who’s being a very good sport about a lot of criticism. Thank you.

        Reply
      2. LW

        Sorry, yes – agree with you. Without getting into a broader discussion about genocide, what I was indicating is the current climate in Canada regarding reconciliation discourse, decolonization, which has a regional, national character that is different from the US. LW.

        Reply
        1. Deer God

          My apologies for misunderstanding what you meant and yes I agree with those differences very much. I can tell from your original letter that you are trying very hard to navigate these sensitive things the best way you know how, even if I disagree with some of the approach as a whole, and I think you are probably someone who can accept the viewpoints of others and make appropriate change when necessary.

          Reply