Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented Whites

    The Native American National Council will offer amnesty to the estimated 240 million illegal white immigrants living in the United States.

    At a meeting on Friday in Taos, New Mexico, Native American leaders weighed a handful of proposals about the future of the United State’s large, illegal European population. After a long debate, NANC decided to extend a road to citizenship for those without criminal records or contagious diseases.

    “We will give Europeans the option to apply for Native Citizenship,” explained Chief Sauti of the Nez Perce tribe. “To obtain legal status, each applicant must write a heartfelt apology for their ancestors’ crimes, pay an application fee of $5,000, and, if currently on any ancestral Native land, they must relinquish that land to NANC or pay the market price, which we decide.

    “Any illegal European who has a criminal record of any sort, minus traffic and parking tickets, will be deported back to their native land. Anybody with contagious diseases like HIV, smallpox, herpes, etc, will not qualify and will also be deported.”

    European colonization of North America began in the 16th and 17th centuries, when arrivals from France, Spain and England first established settlements on land that had been occupied by native peoples. Explorers Lewis & Clark further opened up western lands to settlement, which ultimately led to the creation of the Indian reservation system.

    Despite the large number of Europeans residing in the United States, historical scholars mostly agree that indigenous lands were taken illegally through war, genocide and forced displacement.

    Despite the council’s decision, a native group called True Americans lambasted the move, claiming amnesty will only serve to reward lawbreakers.

    “They all need to be deported back to Europe,” John Dakota from True Americans said. “They came here illegally and took a giant crap on our land. They brought disease and alcoholism, stole everything we have because they were too lazy to improve and develop their own countries.”

    Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented Whites

    Pow Wow Allows Inmates to Reconnect with Their Roots

    By Toyacoyah Brown
    December 18, 2014

    There might not be the smell of frybread wafting in the air or rows of vendors selling their wares, but the familiar sound of the drumbeat is there.

    Native American inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison held a pow wow in November to celebrate their culture and reconnect with their traditional roots. The theme was “Many Tribes … One Nation” and organized by inmate Wendell Navanick Jr.

    According to the Utah Department of Corrections, a federal lawsuit affirmed the right of Utah’s Native American inmates to engage in traditional spiritual practices while incarcerated. There are now several sweat lodge yards at each prison, providing inmates an opportunity to participate in spiritual sweats at least monthly. Volunteers also supervise pipe and talking circle gatherings several times a month.

    “This means everything to them,” said Jim Pritchard, a Native American spiritual leader who volunteers at both the Gunnison and Draper prisons. “They look forward to this — being able to present their culture, to be able to interact socially on this level.”

    Sometimes the members of different tribes are antagonist to each other, but “today they are not,” said Pritchard, who is Cherokee. “It really helps them as people and it helps the administration on the inside [of the prison] by calming them down, helping them become less stressed in this environment.”

    Read more: HERE

    Supreme Court Limits Ability Of Prisoners To Seek Redress For Violations Of Religious Rights

    April 20, 2011

    ACLU Filed Brief In Support Of Texas Prisoner Denied Access To Prison Chapel

    CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

    WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that prisoners cannot seek monetary damages from states or state officials when their rights are violated under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law meant to protect the religious rights of prisoners.

    The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Texas prisoner who sued the state after he was barred from using a prison chapel. In its brief, the ACLU pointed out that in many cases, prisoners cannot seek a court order halting the violation, either because the violation is already complete or because the prisoner has been transferred or released from the institution where it took place. In such cases, money damages would be the only possible remedy for violations of prisoners’ religious rights.

    The following can be attributed to Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU:

    “The ability to freely practice the religion of one’s choice is a fundamental constitutional right and not one that is taken away just because you are incarcerated. Today’s decision will too often leave state prisoners without any remedy for serious violations of their religious rights. And prison policies that violate religious rights will in many cases escape judicial review entirely.”

    The case is Sossamon v. Texas, No. 08-1438.

    A copy of the ACLU’s brief is available online at: Prisoners Rights Religion Belief - Sossamon-V-Texas

    Violations Of Religious Rights

    U.S. Supreme Court backs Texas in prison lawsuit

    By Chuck Lindell
    April 20, 2011

    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Texas cannot be sued for money damages by an inmate who claimed his religious freedom was violated by prison disciplinary rules that restricted him to his cell.

    Harvey Leroy Sossamon III, an inmate in the Robertson Unit near Abilene, claimed the practice kept him from attending religious services or visiting the prison chapel in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

    The prison changed its policies after Sossamon filed a grievance and his lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruling notes. But the inmate’s attempt to get money damages from Texas was thrown out in U.S. District Court. That ruling was affirmed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, leading to the Supreme Court case.

    In a 6-2 opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court said Texas did not waive its sovereign immunity, protecting it from Sossamon’s lawsuit, merely because the state accepts federal money to operate its prison system.

    Thomas wrote that Congress, in drafting the religious freedom law, did not clearly state that money damages apply to prison violations when it authorized “appropriate relief” for violations.

    But a dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that there is nothing ambiguous about the concept of appropriate relief, which typically includes money awards.

    Justice Stephen Breyer joined the dissent. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case.

    U.S. Supreme Court backs Texas in prison lawsuit

    150-year-old letters give voice to Dakota prisoners

    By Dan Gunderson
    Minnesota Public Radio
    January 19, 2011

    Fargo, N.D. — For nearly 150 years, the voices of Dakota men imprisoned after the Dakota Conflict of 1862 went unheard.

    But the details of their imprisonment are starting to emerge, in letters written by those prisoners after six weeks of fighting along the Minnesota River Valley that left hundreds of Indians, settlers and soldiers dead.

    In a tiny office at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Clifford Canku has spent 10 years poring over the faint handwriting with a magnifying glass.

    "One letter would take about a week," said Canku, a Dakota elder who teaches Dakota language at North Dakota State. Canku is one of three lead translators on the project, which has unearthed never-before revealed details of a turbulent episode in Minnesota history.

    Clifford Canku teaches Dakota language at North
    Dakota State University in Fargo. He has spent the
    past 10 years, working with other Dakota elders,
    translating 50 letters written by Dakota prisoners
    of war in the 1860s. (MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson)

    Some of the letter writers talk about the war; others describe prison life.

    "We're very cold, and they took the stove away from us," one prisoner wrote.

    "It's way below zero and we're freezing. A lot of people have died."

    The letters add important first-person perspective to a troubling time in history, said professor Bruce Maylath, one of Canku's colleagues in the NDSU English Department. They plan to publish 50 of the letters.

    "There's a lot to be bothered by," Maylath said. "This has been a one-sided story to this point. And for the first time this tells the other side -- directly from the Dakota side. And it tells it in the language they were most comfortable in."

    Dakota POW letter

    The written Dakota language was created by a Presbyterian missionary, Stephen Riggs. When the prisoners wrote to him, he would share the letters with families. The letters, along with other documents, were stored in a box at the Minnesota Historical Society for decades.

    Hundreds of Dakota men were imprisoned after the war. Some 300 were sentenced to death. President Abraham Lincoln commuted the death sentence of 265 men, who were then sent to the prison at Fort McClellan in Davenport, Iowa.

    Maylath said the letters indicate prisoners were under great pressure to convert to Christianity. Interestingly, while missionaries were trying to save their souls, the Dakota understood being "saved" to mean they would not be hanged. Maylath said the letter writers asked about young men who disappeared from prison.

    "There's speculation in the letters about perhaps the young men disappeared because they refused to convert to Christianity," he said. "We do know those young men were never seen again."

    Descendants of the letter writers are alive today. Some of the translators recognized names while reading the letters for the first time at the Minnesota Historical Society.

    "This has been a one-sided story ... for the first time this tells the other side -- directly from the Dakota." - Bruce Maylath, North Dakota State Univ.

    "One of them would turn to me with a letter and say, 'Flag this one. It's by my great-great-grandfather.'" Maylath said. "And to have the voices of the ancestors right there, visible in their own handwriting, that was the most moving thing to me."

    The letters reflect the Dakota prisoners' concern after Lincoln was assassinated. The men feared they might be killed now that the man who saved them was dead.

    Canku said some letters are painful to read. He said the prisoners' letters tell how at night, guards would rape the Dakota women who worked at the prison camp, cleaning and cooking.

    "When they [guards] came after the women at night, they didn't have any recourse but to sing and let them know, and pray," Canku said, "to let the women know 'we're leaving you in the presence of God. Because if we were able to help we would have stopped what's going on. But we can't.'

    "When we read these letters to common everyday people, especially the women cry and go through a tremendous amount of anguish, because they have their own stories about what happened to their relatives back then," Canku said. "A lot of them were killed. Women were raped."

    Canku said the content of some letters is likely to be controversial. Some letters are likely to upset Dakota people, since they identify Dakota men who collaborated with the U.S. Army. Their descendants don't want that information publicized, he said.

    The letters also raise uncomfortable questions for historians.

    "What happened? Did they have concentration camps in Minnesota? Even today, people don't believe that," Canku said. "People died. They were in prison. They experienced genocide. And when you talk about these things you are going to get opposition saying, no, these things didn't happen. But they did happen."

    For Canku, the project is about truth telling. He said it's time for these long silent voices to be heard.

    "I think it's spiritually inspired by our ancestors," he said. "It's time to do this and give the information out. I feel a tremendous responsibility to carry this through."

    The 50 letters translated so far were chosen because they represent a cross-section of the 150 letters in the collection.

    The letters will be published early next year in book form with the original Dakota language, the literal translation, and the contemporary English explanation.

    150-year-old letters give voice to Dakota prisoners


    July 12

    The land where rapists walk free

    Why are men who rape Native American women getting away with it?

    Mariane Pearl finds out--and meets the hero who's helping victims heal.

    The Fort Randall Casino and Hotel, near the town of Lake Andes, South Dakota, stands like a mirage amid nothing but miles and miles of fields. Only the occasional antiabortion sign or wild turkey crossing the road breaks the monotony of the vast landscape. As I settle into my hotel room, I hear a woman panting loudly next door. A man's voice comes through the paper-thin wall: "Bitch," he says. Then the TV goes on.

    Owned and operated by the Yankton Sioux tribe, the casino is open 24 hours a day and is the main employer for the 6,000 Native Americans who live on the Yankton Sioux reservation, partially located in Charles Mix County.

    Still, poverty is rampant: Unemployment among South Dakota tribes averages 70 percent. In the streets, I see no children playing, no elders rocking on their porches, no bookstore or flower shop, and just one tiny grocery store. You can always find a drink, though--sadly, alcohol abuse is a widespread scourge.

    But I've come here to report on another tragedy that gets far too little attention: According to U.S. Justice Department figures, more than one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and they are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than non-Native women. And these estimates are widely assumed to be low because so many rapes go unreported. "We found anecdotally that the rates could be much, much higher," says Trine Christensen, a senior researcher with Amnesty International, which published a groundbreaking report on Native women and sexual violence last year. As Charon Asetoyer, an activist on the Yankton Sioux reservation, puts it, "The bottom line is that it's open season on Native women. Nearly every woman on the reservation has been affected."

    Because of underfunded health services, inadequate law enforcement response and jurisdictional confusion between tribal and U.S. courts, few of these rapes are even investigated, much less prosecuted. No data exists on how many cases go to trial, but Amnesty International and other activists agree: Perpetrators are walking free. "This place is heaven for serial rapists," Charon says. "Our daughters' lives are being taken from us."

    Charon, 57, has dedicated her life to fighting brutality against Native women. A Comanche, she founded the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center on the Yankton Sioux Nation's land--the first of its kind on any reservation when she started it in 1985. Charon's center is the first place women contact after being attacked, if they seek help at all. "When a victim calls, we'll either meet her at the emergency room, or take her there ourselves," Charon says. Her center connects victims with attorneys, acts as an advocate with doctors and law enforcement agencies, and may provide victims with shelter, counseling and child care.

    These days, Charon is also traveling the country as an advocate for Native women, speaking to conferences and government officials, including the United Nations. Charon has a soft face and a soothing voice, but she's also got the iron will needed to break the silence about abuse and injustice: "Our human rights are violated every day," she says, "and there is very little being done to protect us."

    Born to a Comanche mother and a Caucasian father, Charon grew up in Santa Clara, California. Herself the victim of an unreported rape as a teen, Charon only recently began disclosing her assault to family and friends.

    Talking to Charon about her past helps me realize how loud silence can be.

    Being raped and not talking about it leaves a double wound, one so many victims carry with them. Sharing that history of unspoken abuse helps Charon understand what many other sexual assault survivors go through.

    After the end of a difficult marriage, Charon moved to South Dakota in 1979 to go to college, eventually becoming the first Native to hold a master's degree in international administration. Then she met her second husband, Clarence Rockboy, a Yankton Sioux tribe elder who was her partner and best ally before he passed away two years ago. "He was a traditional man and a feminist," she says. From her Native mother, Charon has retained two relationship lessons: Learn to shoot a gun, and never marry a man you love. "You want to marry a man you respect; then love is guaranteed. It took me two marriages to understand that," Charon tells me, laughing.

    Charon began her activism work alongside Clarence in the early 1980s, when the couple started a fetal alcohol syndrome program in their basement in Lake Andes. Although the program wasn't designed to assist assault victims, Native women fleeing abuse flocked there. "Women would run to our house as a safe haven," Charon remembers. "They just kept coming."

    Also around that time, in 1982, Charon suffered an unthinkable personal tragedy: Her best friend, Ethel, was murdered by her husband, who came home drunk from a party one night and beat her to death.Charon and Ethel had taken each other as "hunka sisters," Sioux for two friends who become family in a special ceremony. Ethel's death changed Charon's life; combined with her own abuse history, that loss helped her to realize her true calling as an advocate for forgotten abuse victims. "Those things determined my destination, my path in life," she says.

    When Charon began telling other women that they had a right to justice, they didn't believe her--the notion seemed so foreign. It's hard for me to grasp that such a mind-set could exist in America. But you don't acquire that sense of futility in one generation; it's a hangover from the inequities Native people have endured ever since white men settled this country.

    How is it possible that so many rapists go unpunished here? As Charon helped me understand while eating dinner at her home, the breakdown in justice starts from the moment a Native woman is attacked. Because abuse is such a fact of life here, most Native sexual assault victims don't even go to the police, assuming nothing will come of it. Some victims may seek help at health clinics, such as those operated by the federally funded Indian Health Service (IHS)--and here, the system breaks down yet again.

    Unlike most American hospitals, IHS clinics lack standardized policies to handle sexual assault cases; almost half don't even have personnel trained to examine victims and collect DNA evidence with a rape kit, according to one study. "Without a rape kit," Charon says, "there are no convictions."

    Thanks to Charon and other activists, though, Congress is starting to pay attention: In February the U.S. Senate passed amendments mandating, among other things, that IHS develop a standardized sexual assault policy.

    When rape victims choose to report crimes, because of complex laws and boundaries between tribal and U.S. lands, just figuring out which agency should investigate the claim can be chaotic. When an assault takes place in a U.S. city or county, those police departments have jurisdiction. On Native lands, which are federal territory, both the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation could claim the case--unless the alleged perpetrator was non-Native, in which case tribal officials have no authority. "It can take months before it's determined who will investigate an assault claim," says Amnesty's Christensen.

    In many cases, no one does. Charon recalls an incident several years ago in which a young Native woman was allegedly raped in tribal territory.

    Although the woman immediately reported the crime to BIA police, it was federal authorities who had jurisdiction because the suspect was white. "The FBI didn't bother to investigate, " Charon says. "The woman dropped out of school. It affected every aspect of her life."

    When police do show up, they're often way too late, jeopardizing rape investigations. Because of poor federal funding, Charon says, "just two BIA officers cover our 62-square-mile area." And many victims experience prejudice from police. Charon describes an incident in which a young woman told an officer she'd been raped by a man she recognized-- but he never wrote down the suspect's name or filed a report. "That's the kind of racism we deal with," Charon says. Perhaps most appalling, those rapists who are tried in tribal courts end up back on the streets frustratingly quickly: U.S. law limits their sentences to only one year--a fraction of what they could get for the same crime committed off Native land.

    It's no wonder then, given the barriers that stand in the way of punishing these rapists, that Charon can think of only one perpetrator in her area who was brought to justice: a 2004 case involving a serial rapist and several teenage victims. "It took forever to get him behind bars," Charon says. "You get really frustrated."

    That night at my hotel, there's another round of drama from the couple next door. "Don't hit me! I was joking," the woman pleads. The man mumbles, then they have sex, but it sounds more like a beating.

    When I visit the 18-bed shelter at Charon's center, it feels comfortable. There's a couch, a television, a toy box packed with stuffed animals, a big kitchen table and a garden. I meet a woman there who describes being brutally attacked by a man she had dated, and it strikes me that I usually hear this type of story in war zones--where rape is used as a weapon, like in the Congo.

    After hearing one heartbreaking story after another, I meet Sasheen Thin Elk, an 18-year-old volunteer at the center's radio program whose poise and maturity feel like oxygen. Not that the kid has been spared. She, too, is a survivor; although she didn't initially report the crime, she recently confronted her attacker. Speaking up was painful because it made Sasheen relive her ordeal, but it was only when she broke her silence that she was able to dream about the future.

    Now Sasheen wants to encourage other Native women to speak out too. Her advice for those confronting the trauma she knows so well: "Just stop the cycle. Say something," which reminds me of a famous saying by feminist icon Gloria Steinem, "The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

    The night before my departure, I have dinner at the casino restaurant with most of the women I have met here. The guest of honor is Sasheen. I have decided to help her find a sponsor to make a radio documentary on her people--a brilliant student, Sasheen wants to study journalism in college, and maybe science, too.

    As for Charon, after years of fighting, she seems cautiously hopeful that if enough survivors tell their stories--on the radio, to the police, to the world--Native women will get the justice they deserve. "This is allowed to go on because people don't hear about it," she says. "Women would be appalled if they knew about this outrage." She's right--hearing the truth is bound to piss us off, but working together for justice will also set us free.

    (source: Mariane Pearl's collection of her Global Diary columns, In Search of Hope, can be purchased on glamour.com/ globaldiary. Glamour's proceeds go to the charities of the women profiled---- Glamour Magazine)

    An Indian Sacrament Behind Prison Walls

    By; Nancy Mullane
    JUNE 28, 2008

    The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world -- 2.3 million Americans are currently behind bars. But that doesn't mean they don't get weekends. Their weekends are just a little different.

    At San Quentin State Prison in California, there's a place of worship for everyone -- a Protestant chapel, a Jewish synagogue, a Catholic church and a mosque. In fact, half of the prison's population regularly attends some form of worship -- that's actually a higher percentage than the free population outside.

    Reporter Nancy Mullane recently visited what's called the San Quentin Indian Reservation, where many of the American Indian inmates go every Saturday for a traditional sweat ceremony.

    One in every 31 adults in this country is currently locked up behind bars, and the fastest-growing prison population are men and women serving life sentences. Many of these inmates qualify for a parole hearing and may get out and return to civil society.

    While they're serving time, in some cases decades, many "lifers" try to reform themselves. Just about every weekend, 50 percent of the prisoners incarcerated inside California's San Quentin State Prison attend services at the Protestant chapel, the Jewish synagogue and the mosque. That's a higher percentage than the free population outside.

    It wasn't until 1977 that American Indians locked up in San Quentin got a church of their own -- in the form of a "reservation" inside the walls. Now, on Saturday mornings, Indians representing a number of Native American tribes gather on the reservation for a ceremonial sweat.

    The reservation is a 2,500-square- foot fenced-in oasis located out on the edge of the prison yard. It's filled with fruit trees, flowers and herbs, all planted and cared for by the Indians.

    Robin Guillen is an inmate and one of the reservation' s caretakers. He says all of the plants are important to the Indians at San Quentin. "You have the roses and the different trees and the grass," he says. "And everything has meaning."

    Before slipping between two gates separating the reservation from the prison population out on the yard, Guillen, a Chippewa and Camanche Indian, lights a bundle of sage at the bottom of a conch shell. He holds it up to the sky and bathes himself in the smoke. Guillen says this is called smudging. "When you smudge off, what you're doing is getting rid of those negative things that you may bring into this sacred area that should not be here," he explains.

    Guillen was convicted of first-degree murder 35 years ago. Today he's the spiritual leader of the Indian religious ceremony at the prison, called a sweat. Before the sweat can begin, rocks representing ancestors have to be fired so they can be used to heat the sweat lodge. Guillen carefully chooses 28 rocks from a pile inside the reservation and places them in a fire pit to be heated. The rocks represent their ancestors: "This first ancestor that I will lay here represents our Earth mother, so mother is everything that we're standing upon."

    After placing the rocks in the pit, he starts a fire over the rocks using scraps of wood from the prison's furniture factory. For two hours, while they wait for the rocks to heat up, Indians sit under the reservation' s trees on the cool grass.

    The Indian reservation has a tenuous relationship with the prison that surrounds it. Guards can enter at any time and the warden decides whether or not the Indians can still use tobacco, a traditional part of their sacred ceremonies. For now, tobacco is seen as a violation of the prison's new anti-smoking policy and it is forbidden.

    Jasper Alford, a Karok Indian, is serving 25 years to life after violating California's tough "three strikes" law. He says prison officials stopped selling tobacco to the prisoners and they stopped letting it come in from the outside. "And when it run out, it run out," he says. "Now, if you get caught with it, they write you up."

    Even without tobacco, Alford says participating in sweats and other spiritual ceremonies on the reservation helps him transition from feeling like a criminal to feeling like a human being. "This is one of the few places that we can come in San Quentin where they have enough respect for our religion and our culture to allow us to practice our ways to sing, to dance to drum, to sweat."

    When the rocks have turned fire white, the inmates take off their prison blues. Wearing only white boxer shorts, they get down on their hands and knees and crawl into the sweat lodge. Two fire-tenders then bring the first three burning rocks to lodge. After pushing the rocks into the lodge, the opening flap is then closed. Inside the lodge, mint-infused water is poured on top of the rocks, causing billowing steam.

    The steam causes the temperature inside the lodge to jump to more than 150 degrees. Alford says the Indians have a name for the steam -- "they call that 'grandfather' s breath' because he's taking your strength, all the impurities out of your body and offering them up to mother Earth so that mother Earth can put them somewhere where they won't hurt no one."

    One of this day's fire tenders is Dwayne Garcia. Standing outside the lodge, the White Mountain Apache says the first time he met his father was inside this sweat lodge. He says he was sitting inside and got up the courage to ask the other Indians to pray for the father he'd never met.

    "I was inside and I was praying and I said 'I'd like to pray for my father, he's ailing,'" he says. "And my dad, first time I ever met him, sitting right across from me, he said 'Thank you.' Not a good thing -- but hey, I met my dad."

    After two hours of the sweat ceremony, the Indians begin to crawl back out of the lodge. Slowly, each man stands and looks up to the sky. Their bodies drip with sweat. Their white boxer shorts are covered in reddish brown mud. But their eyes are sharp.

    One of the first inmates to leave the sweat is Frank Gomes. He's a Yurok and Pomo Indian. He stumbles over to a cold water hose and uses it to wash the mud off his body. Gomes says the cold water feels like he's jumping into a cold river. "It's like being reborn, literally. The songs, the prayer, the stages of life that we tend -- it's a beautiful ceremony."

    Now clean, the men put their prison blues back on. The fire is put out. Then Robin Guillen picks up a flute he carved and plays for his mother, who recently passed away.

    Then the prison's bells ring out. It's time for all inmates to return to their cells for the day's head count. The Indians leave the reservation, and walk back across the yard.

    An Indian Sacrament Behind Prison Walls

    Prisons around the country offer sweat lodges to American Indian inmates

    (AP) - 6/4/2007

    Melvin Martin was once seething behind bars. But the Navajo inmate says these days he is feeling relaxed, respectful and reconnected to his culture _ all because of weekly sessions in a traditional Indian sweat lodge.

    Many prisons around the U.S. are allowing ceremonial saunas for American Indian inmates, just as they offer religious services for prisoners of other faiths.

    Prison officials have learned that sweat lodges _ which are supposed to cleanse the body, mind and soul _ can have a calming influence on inmates and help keep order behind bars.

    CUTLINE: Lenny Foster, second from left, a Navajo spiritual adviser, greets each inmate emerging from the sweat lodge after a ceremony at the Torrance County Correctional Facility, in Estancia, N.M. The goal of the sweat lodge is the same as the other religious services provided to inmates of various faiths. Prison wardens have even come to recognize the benefits that can have for the inmates and for keeping order on the inside.

    Martin, 40, is serving a federal sentence for assault at the privately run Torrance County Detention Center, which has a canvas- and-willow-branch sweat lodge.

    ``We look beyond these wires,'' he said, pointing to the fences and razor wire that separate the prison from the prairie. ``Me and the brothers here, we look beyond all that, even though we know we're within. Once we get the ceremony going, our minds go back home, they go back to the places of our people, our land. We can get away from this place.''

    It has been three decades since the first sweat lodge was built in a Nebraska prison, but native prisoners in some states only recently won access to such religious ceremonies, and others are still fighting for it.

    The chief objections are usually security-related. Prison officials worry, for example, that the tobacco used in the sweat lodges will find its way back into the general prison population. Also, colored beads are used in some ceremonies, and the colors could be associated with certain gangs.

    In Maine, a group of prisoners is suing for access to sweat lodges or ceremonial music and food. In New Jersey, Indian inmates are pursuing an 8-year-old lawsuit over religious rights.

    Lenny Foster, a Navajo spiritual adviser and head of the tribally funded Navajo Nation Corrections Project, built his first sweat lodge for inmates at Arizona State Prison in 1980 and said he has seen the positive effects.

    ``The intense heat or the steam, what we call grandfather' s breath, opens up not only the pores, the physical aspect, but it opens up the mind and the spirit, and there's a real purification and a cleansing of the soul that takes place,'' he said.

    He noted that a lot of the inmates are locked up because of problems with drugs, alcohol and anger.

    ``They need to detox and purify themselves so they have a clarity of mind and realize the mistake that they made that led them into prison,'' he said.

    To prison officials in Torrance County, the sweat lodge is both a right and a privilege for prisoners. As long as they behave, prisoners can look forward to sweating on the weekend.

    ``Having an inmate spiritually look within themselves and leave their services a different person, even for a while, that's helpful to us security-wise, '' said prison spokeswoman Ivonne Riley. ``Security is the No. 1 thing, but anything to help anybody to make it a little better, we look forward to that.''

    Riley said a few inmates take advantage of the sweat lodge as a way to spend time outside and smoke tobacco, which is otherwise forbidden in prison. But she said most Indian prisoners take the lodge seriously and won't do anything to jeopardize their participation.

    On a recent day on the prison grounds, inmates tended to a fire surrounded with lava rocks, while others draped blankets and canvas tarps over a frame of willow branches to form the lodge. They rolled and smoked tobacco, using their free hand to catch the smoke and let it wash over themselves as they prayed.

    Then they disappeared into the canvas dome, not to be seen again for about an hour, as the prison guards waited in the hot sun. The silence was eventually broken by a drum beat and chanting, after which the men crawled out of the lodge, smiling and laughing and jumping in puddles left from the rain the night before.

    ``We tell them that they're free when they're out here,'' Foster said. ``They join the sunlight, the fresh air, the wind.'' Martin, who is from Crownpoint, New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation, said the sweat lodge ``keeps me with a sound mind.''

    Sweat lodges for American Indian Inmates

    Leonard Peltier nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

    By Stephanie Hedgecoke
    Published Apr 19, 2007

    Indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier has been nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.

    Official confirmation on this nomination was received April 3 by the LPDC. In their announcement to supporters, they state, “We want to thank the people who nominated Leonard for this prestigious award. We ask that supporters NOT send letters of support or recommendation to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee as only selected individuals can nominate for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

    Peltier, a Lakota/Anishinabe veteran of the American Indian Movement, is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. He has been in prison for 32 years, since 1976, for a crime he did not commit. In violation of its own statutes, the U.S. government has repeatedly refused him parole.

    The U.S. suppressed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, including ballistics evidence, which would indicate Peltier’s innocence in a 1975 shootout at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Two FBI agents opened fire on the Jumping Bull compound there while children, elders and adults slept. In the resulting firefight, a Native man and the two agents died.

    U.S. prosecutors have publicly admitted that they do not know who actually fired the shots that killed the agents.

    This year 181 official candidates for the annual Nobel Peace Prize have been registered. The name of the Prize recipient for 2007 will be announced in mid-October.


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