American Indian spiritual advisers say prison officials should bar whites from participating in Indian religious ceremonies conducted in a sweat lodge at Nevada State Prison.
The spiritual advisers commented at a hearing Tuesday following
a background check by the Department of Corrections that shows many
participants in sweat lodge ceremonies for inmates segregated from
the general prison population are Caucasian.
Dorothy Nash Holmes, deputy director of the Department of
Corrections, said officials checked with Indian tribes in response
to complaints and found eight of nine participants in the sweat
lodge are white or Hispanic.
That includes the sweat lodge's spiritual leader, August
Ardagna, and its pipe holder, Lionel Hernandez. Information on the
ethnicity of nine other participants in the sweat lodge has not yet
"We took them at their word at what they were when they first
came into prison," Holmes said.
The inmates in the sweat lodge are sex offenders, violent
offenders and others who have been segregated from the general
"They are just playing with our ceremonies," said Buck
Sampson, spiritual leader for the Reno-Sparks Indian colony." What
they are doing makes me sick."
"Spirituality is a serious business. It is not a game," said
Lee Polanco, a spiritual leader from Winters, Calif.
Throughout the hearing, called by the Nevada Indian Commission,
the spiritual leaders emphasized they are sensitive to people who
may not be full-blooded Indians, but want to follow the Indian
Under federal law and Supreme Court decisions, Native Americans
are permitted to practice their religion in prison.
Nevada Department of Correction regulations allow the use of
sweat lodges and ceremonies in which sage, cedar and herbs are
burned. Indians also may possess eagle feathers and herb bags.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)