Prison Sweat Lodges Promote Native Spirituality

Inmates in Washington state’s prisons can attend Catholic Mass, take Protestant communion or celebrate Muslim Eid, but Native Americans often struggle to find ways to practice their beliefs while incarcerated. For Native religions based in nature, bars and razor wire can be insurmountable hurdles.

A group of young adults through the Boy Scout’s Venturing program set out early this month to change that. With direction from a Native American chaplain for the state prisons, the group hiked up a logging road near Gold Bar to collect slender alder saplings, said Ray Sayah, leader of the Venturing crew. The saplings will be used to build sweat lodges in prisons throughout Washington state. The group collected 160 saplings, being careful to avoid killing any other plant in respect for Tribal culture. The sweat lodges will be built on prison grounds, and they will be just like those found on Tribal reservations in north Snohomish County and elsewhere.

“This is contributing to the construction of more than 20 sweat lodges,” Sayah said. “We’re trying to get one for each prison facility where they’re permitted.”

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