Discovering Native Culture in a Sweat Lodge
I have a funny relationship with my own culture in that I feel like a tourist in it. I was raised in complete seclusion from my Aboriginal background. There was no parental influence that rooted me in any cultural experiences. I grew up knowing the textbook definition of Indians. The hunter-gatherers, the feather in the hair, something about a peace pipe… It became clear these were just stereotypes. The truth is ‘Indians’ are my family, and I should probably know about my own culture. So, now that I’m in my early 20s, it’s become a goal of mine to immerse myself in the culture that I missed out on as a child. First stop, sweat lodge.
Certain people might find a sweat lodge to be a hellish experience. When I first got inside one I realized it was definitely not for everybody. A small, tent-like structure is built from maple branches and a tarp cover. Inside, 15 scalding hot rocks are placed in a dirt pit and, on several occasions, healthy amounts of boiled water are poured onto them. You’re left to sit inside for close to three hours and take in the dense steam and allow your body to drain out those years of binge-drinking and fast food. To me, it sounded exotic and dangerous. I’ve heard stories of people claiming to have visions and hallucinations while inside. They claim to have reached states of nirvana where the Creator speaks directly to them. For years, Aboriginal men and women have been using sweats as a means to seek peace of mind and spiritual direction. What a thrill ride! However, after going in, I wasn’t prepared to take it that seriously. I have become disillusioned with this idea of talking to God for a long time now. Still, I felt like my years of sitting through dense and abstract church sermons should be balanced by something. Making contact with a God other then that of the church seemed like a welcomed change. That gave me all the more incentive to try it.