A sweat lodge ceremony where two people died last week in Arizona was improperly conducted and not representative of a true American Indian tradition, local American Indians said Wednesday.|
Larry Lockwood of Davenport, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and spokesman for The Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, said coalition members are praying for the families of those who died and the 19 left ill at the Arizona resort last Thursday.
About 60 people were in the temporary 415-square-foot sweat lodge as part of the five-day "Spiritual Warrior" retreat hosted by self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray at The Angel Valley Retreat Center outside of Sedona, Ariz.
Mr. Lockwood said Mr. Ray is not native American, and the incident is an example of how dangerous it can be when people without expertise conduct sweat lodge ceremonies.
"Ultimately, our traditions are good," Mr. Lockwood said. "Something's wrong when people are participating in this and people die. It's not our Indian way."
He said all sweat lodge ceremonies he's participated in were under the supervision of tribal elders, even at a sweat lodge in rural Rock Island County. He said a Mesquakie elder usually comes in to oversee the lodge.
"It's under his direction," Mr. Lockwood said.
During a sweat lodge ceremony, participants wear light clothing, and water is poured on heated rocks, generating steam and additional heat.
Mr. Lockwood said sweat lodge ceremonies are purification ceremonies and unite the four elements -- fire, earth, air and water. He said the ceremonies teach people humility and offer an opportunity to pray.
Typically, 10 to 15 people participate, Mr. Lockwood said.
If anyone has a problem, someone can yell "To all my relatives!" and the doors to the sweat lodge will be opened to let in cooler air, and anyone having problems can leave the lodge, Mr. Lockwood said.
The fact that the people in Arizona paid $9,000 to $10,000 to attend the retreat where the ceremony was held doesn't sit well with Mr. Lockwood.
He said it's wrong and exploitative to charge money to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony. He doesn't fault people for wanting to participate, but "it has to be done the right way."
Mr. Lockwood said his two teen daughters were shocked about the deaths, and told him the American Indian community needed to say it was wrong with a united voice.
An investigation is being done to see if criminal negligence played a role in the Arizona incident. Autopsies were performed, but the results have not been released.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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