Native Americans play massive roles in Western society for obvious reasons, but one thing I wasn’t at all aware is that their customs are still prominent to this day.
Chalk it up to sheer ignorance of Canadians not knowing Canadian history (seriously most people don’t know the details), I was surprised that during my Katimavik travels that we were going to a Native American tribal spot and participating in a sweat lodge.
Now what is a sweat lodge?
That was one of the big questions that I had running through my mind. As one of the many ignorant Canadian’s, I was unaware of customs let alone where we were going.
Judging by the words, a lot of people would think that it’s a lodge where you sweat, but there is more to that process.
It’s a lot more than just a sauna you’d find in any indoor pool.
In fact it’s far more compact than the spacious area that sauna’s provide.
All I knew was that I was to bring a swim suit and that the place would be outside.
I thought they were crazy since we were almost in winter and the temperatures started to really drop.
Little was I expecting what would happen next.
Sweat lodges come in all shapes and sizes, but the structure overall remains the same. The fabric of the lodges is tough, being able to handle the elements with incredible ease. Furthermore the fabric is able to keep any scents or vapours inside.
I knew this much from looking at it once me and the other 10 people from our group had arrived. Some of them were familiar with this process, while others, like myself, were completely clueless as to what was going to happen.
We were introduced to the chief and then we proceeded to change our clothing to our swimsuits.
Of course we were all shivering and were soon ushered inside.
There was no mats on the ground. In fact the only thing there was in the middle is hot rocks. It was a good distance away from all of us but there was still very little room for us to sit.
It was cramped but one thing became immediately clear, it was going to be very dark.
And it certainly was once the door flap went down.
The idea behind a sweat lodge is that it’s meant to imitate a mothers womb. Inside it was dark and we couldn’t see a thing. Inside the womb we develop and grow and much like the sweat lodge, the idea was to grow and develop ourselves in this space as well.
In short, the sweat lodge is a purification ceremony. It’s essentially a place for us to “sweat” what bothers us, much like a confessional in a church.
How we come to sweat literally is thanks to the rocks in the centre. Water was splashed onto the rocks and the sweat lodge kept the steam inside. Paired up with the fact there were ten of us plus the chief and an assistant, it wasn’t long for our bodies to start sweating.
At the time, I was in turmoil spiritually speaking. There was a lot on my mind and I had difficulty expressing how I felt and what I believed in. I talk a little about it here. As a result, I didn’t talk during the process. I was silent and closed my eyes, taking in the music and chants as the steam kept hitting us wave after wave.
Through that, I could understand why this is so significant and why a sweat lodge is more than some part of a religion. I felt quite light while I was in the space and it wasn’t because of all the heat. For a moment, I felt some level of clarity through all of it.
I don’t remember much else from the experience specifically. The last time I stepped into a sweat lodge was almost a decade ago.
However the experience taught me a variety of things that I never realized at the time.
It showed how much I cared about my family since they were on my mind during most of the process. At the time, I felt distant from my family and didn’t make an effort to explain what I was going through or what I was doing.
It showed me that I had to work on myself a lot. The fact I didn’t share my worries at the time was a continued theme throughout my Katimavik experience. I never fully displayed my emotions or tried to understand them or others.
Lastly, the experience taught me to endure. There were certainly times where the heat became far more intense. Not to mention the fact you are breathing in steam. This experience taught me to continue through it all and that the cool fall air will feel amazing once I get out and it did.
The sweat lodge got me to think a lot about myself, though at the time I brushed it off, it was something that warrants a revisit. That much was certain.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon