Students and faculty members took part in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony Saturday at Fort Lewis College.
It was the first in a series of sweats organized by All Peoples Lodge, a registered student organization designed to share traditional Native American ceremonial teachings with students, staff and the community, said FLC student and lodge President Clarence Smith.
This was the first-ever sweat lodge on campus, and its a milestone, Smith said. To have it on the colleges 100-year anniversary is great, he said.
Smith said he has been working for two years to get permission for the sweat-lodge site on campus. The college was concerned about liability issues after three people died during a sweat in Sedona, Ariz.
The Sedona incident was a perversion of the traditional Native American ceremony, and it caused a lot of fear in society, Smith said.
Traditionally, sweat lodges are used for purification ceremonies, he said. Their willow-based structures represent the womb of Mother Earth.
The ceremonies are intended to symbolize rebirth and to raise participants to a higher level of consciousness, Smith said.
It is important to our people that there is balance for the cultural base and educational base, he said.
Smith credited several local businesses, the colleges Native American Center and the Southern Ute Tribe with helping make the sweats a community event.
The site is open to all people who want to come learn about and experience Native American culture, said Smith, who hopes that the sweats will help create understanding between Native and non-Native Americans.
Eddie Box Jr., an elder of the Southern Ute Tribe, came to the site Saturday morning to bless the lodge along with his wife, Betty Box.
The site consists of a teepee, a fire pit and the lodge: a small, round structure layered with tarps and blankets.
Its beautiful to come to a school like this and have this here, FLC student and All Peoples Lodge Treasurer Lucian Davis said before the sweat.
Before participants entered the lodge, a group of six men sat, knelt and stood in a small circle, singing songs, praying and loading a ceremonial chanupa, or pipe.
The ceremony was led by Lloyd Elm, a nationally renowned educator and member of the Onondaga Nation who has visited FLC in the past as part of the colleges Elder-in-Residence program.
When members of All Peoples Lodge discussed who would lead the ceremony, they unanimously decided on Elm, said Yvonne Bilinski, director of FLCs Native American Center and adviser for the lodge.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being here and coming all the way from New York, Bilinski said to Elm.
Participants in the sweat lined up from oldest to youngest, with Elm entering first, followed by the women and then the men.
Before crouching down to enter the structure, everyone went through a smudging ceremony, where FLC student and lodge Vice President Aarick Lameman-Betsuie burned sage and waved feathers over the participants.
As Skip Page, a visiting professor of computer science and information systems, waited to be smudged, Lameman-Betsuie laughed and asked, Do I get some extra credit for this or what?
Once the students, professors, community members and tribal elders were situated in the lodge, Lameman-Betsuie moved large stones from the fire pit onto a wooden plank in the center of the lodge.
Drummers began steadily beating as the group sang and prepared themselves for the first traditional sweat on the FLC campus.
Its important to honor the culture that started here and the land were all using, said FLC student Kate Schumacher. I do it to reconnect with myself and the Earth and to honor the spirits we usually forget.