02/06/2014 02:17 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Sage smell: Manitoba school tells native youth he can't smudge before classes

BRANDON, Man. - An aboriginal teen in Manitoba says his high school told him he couldn’t smudge before classes because the strong smell of sage violates a scent policy.

Stephen Bunn, 17, attends Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School in Brandon. He says the native tradition, which involves the burning of sage, makes him feel closer to his younger brother, who was 15 when he killed himself in June.

He says that earlier this school year staff approached him and his sister and accused them of coming to school smelling like marijuana.

Bunn said the final straw came in November when a teacher took him to the principal's office. On the way, he said, the teacher was telling students not to touch Bunn and pushing them out of the way.

"I was embarrassed and was starting to get mad," Bunn told the aboriginal television network APTN.

The teen said there was no mention of the scent policy in the meeting and the principal asked Bunn if he was smoking weed.

"He said it was school policy that he ask me," said Bunn. "It’s obvious it was sage."

In December, Bunn's mother, Sandy Bunn, said she got a call from one of the school’s vice-principals.

"'We want you to notify us when he does (smudge) so we can send him home for the rest of the day,'" Bunn’s mother said she was told.

She refused.

"'You need to educate your staff on the differences … sage doesn’t smell like weed,'" she said she told the vice-principal. "Why should he have to miss school for this?"

The Brandon School Division said in a statement Wednesday that it "actively promotes and encourages respect of a variety of religious and cultural practices, including the practices of our First Nations students and their families."

The board said it has asked an elder to work with staff and students to ensure smudging is done so as to minimize any discomfort to others.

It cited privacy reasons for not commenting on Bunn's case specifically.

Bunn said he is still smudging and hasn't had any problems.

He has posted his story on YouTube because, he said, he wants everyone to know what happened.