By Christine B. Whelan
But Joseph Bruchac, author of “The Native American Sweat Lodge,” said that a proper sweat lodge is a purification ritual, not a physical endurance test. He has received dozens of e-mails from Native American elders expressing how upset—but unsurprised—they were at the tragedy.
In 2005, at the same retreat venue, an unconscious woman was removed from the event. A relative of one retreat participant said Ray had warned his young volunteer staff—untrained as medical professionals—that while some people might exit the lodge vomiting and dizzy, that was not cause for concern.
There was quite a bit more cause for concern than Ray anticipated. “Several men and women were foaming at the mouth and having seizures as they were dragged, unconscious, from the steaming tent,” a survivor’s relative told me. Volunteers spent 30 to 40 minutes doing CPR on the victims, and emergency teams intubated and evacuated at least one woman by helicopter.
There was no locked door trapping people inside, but Ray used something equally powerful: He tapped into psychological and spiritual traditions, and with apparent recklessness, he reaped a deadly result.
By Nina Rehfeld
Rod Bearcloud Berry of the Ni´U´Kon´ska tribe in Oklahoma, says it takes years to learn about the sweat lodge. “Go to a couple hundred,” he says, “then maybe you will begin to understand what they are about. And then you will no longer want to conduct one, because it carries great responsibility.” Bearcloud is an artist who has been living in Sedona for the past 20 years. He went to Angel Valley the day after the tragedy happened. “I had the feeling it was going to be just left and disappear. When I came the willows were still burning, and I asked if I could complete the circle and conduct a ceremony for the people involved.” There were many tears, he says, and people were hurting.
Traditionally, he says, the Inipi, which stands for “womb of mother earth,” is a place of humility. “It is about the way of the earth and the way of spirit. It is not about personal gain or about withstanding the heat. This was completely upside-down from what was intended.” Bearcloud says he is bothered by the fact that many people in Sedona try to do these ceremonies as a job, to support themselves financially. “Those are all the wrong reasons.”
For more on how sweat lodges should operate, see How Sedona's Sweat Lodges Operate and How Sweat Lodges Can Kill. For more on how Ray's sweat lodge operated, see Inside the Death Lodge and Sweat Lodge Victims Chose to Die?!
Below: "RJ Joseph, a documentary filmmaker and Cree Indian from the Canadian province of Alberta who helped establish the Native American program at Enchantment Resort in Sedona over the past four years."