Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center - Richmond, VA
The sweat lodge at McGuire VA Medical Center serves as a location where Native Americans and others can search their souls and open up to the Great Creator. According to Chaplain O. Dewane Stone, chief of chaplain services, the sweat lodge cleanses the evils and toxins of life.
The establishment of the sweat lodge on VA grounds in 1995, by Veteran Bobby Bartlett provided Native American Veterans with a place where they can commune with the Great Creator.
A dome made from freshly-cut saplings is covered by canvas tarps, then gradually heated to heal the body, mind and spirit. A fire pit full of rocks maintain the heat during the ceremonies, or sweats as they are called. The entire structure is surrounded by a cedar privacy fence.
The Medicine Man, also referred to as a Native American Spiritualist, helps maintain a peaceful environment while participants engage in deep meditation meant to cleanse their bodies.
Before ceremonies in the sweat lodge begin, certain steps must be taken. A fire must be prepared, stones placed upon the fire, then carried into the lodge by a fire-tender.
Smoke from sage and grasses are burned to cleanse the lodge. As heat gradually builds, participants sweat in sauna-like conditions for several hours.
Typically, sweat lodge ceremonies are conducted in silence with drums and other music before or after the ceremony.
The sweat lodge is similar to religious fasting traditions, said Stone. Both actions encourage the cleansing of the body to strengthen a person’s connection with the Creator.
“It was important to bring a sweat lodge here because it is sacred to Native Americans, and they need a place to commune with the Great Creator,” said Stone. “The sweat lodge provides a place where Native Americans preparing for combat can cleanse and ready for deployment.”