Inipi ceremony/sweat lodge unveiled for Department of Community Justice youth

May 11, 2016

Sundance Chief John Bravehawk, Latino Network care manager and singer Rodolfo Serna and firekeeper Gerardo Calixto-Cara take part in blessing ceremony for new sweat lodge.

It’s not the typical scene in the courtyard of the Donald E. Long Detention Center. A group of people, standing in a circle, guided by prayer and meditation, song and the smudges of the smoke of burning sage wafted over them with an eagle wing fan.

Each person prays to themselves as a singer chants and plays the drums. Gifts are offered then handshakes exchanged.

It’s a blessing ceremony for the new sweat lodge at Department of Community Justice’s Donald E. Long Detention Center for youth. In a traditional ceremony, participants would be called to go into a low covered dome with steaming rocks in the center.

They sweat, meditate, talk, listen, ask for forgiveness and heal.  

“It’s a connection to the creator. Some people call it a religion but it’s more of a way of life,” says John Bravehawk of Medicine Bear Lodge.  As an elder and Sundance Chief from South Dakota Bravehawk has led the Inipi ceremony (Lakota name) which is meant to purify the spirit, for decades.  

He and his helpers have performed Inipi ceremonies throughout the region including the Oregon State Penitentiary, the Washington State Penitentiary, Multnomah County Inverness Jail and now at Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center.

Youth at the detention center can access the sweat lodge once a month. Bi-weekly cultural activities like mural arts and Aztec dance will also be available.  

Helper Beth Rakoncay smudges participants with sage and an eagle fan.

The sweat lodge, which experienced financial challenges at first, is years in the making and part of a group effort including detention staff and community partners to bring the service to the Juvenile Services Division of the Department of Community Justice.

Pamella Guzman, Juvenile Custody Services Evidence Based Practices Lead, helped spearhead the effort after witnessing its impact on youth and its effect on people struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  

Latino Network employee and care manager for the Community Healing Initiative (CHI) Rodolfo Serna worked with Guzman to get the project going. Serna not only works with youth and families, he helps perform the purification ceremony.  

“I feel so blessed that I got chosen to do this,” Serna said. “Part of this project is the continuation beyond these walls.”  

For Bravehawk the ceremony has evolved to address the loss of cultural values from divorce to domestic abuse to drug abuse.   

“It makes it hard on the children,” says Bravehawk.  

“The children who are behind these walls, they’re going to come out. Let’s make this the best day for our children so when they get out, they can do something beneficial for the world.”