Global Volunteers Lauren and Jayce describe Blackfeet cultural experiences on their service program.
After a productive day of service, a couple of us headed off to the sweat lodge offered by a local family. It was sure to be a unique and educational cultural experience with our new Blackfeet friends.
Everyone gathers in a small dome no more than 4ft tall and 20ft around. More than a dozen people crowd – shoulder to shoulder – inside. The local participants were in the process of concluding their Sunday Dance, so this meant it’d be a longer sweat. At the beginning, everyone passed around a ceremonial pipe and said a prayer. Then the first “round” began by loading hot stones – which were heated in a fire outside – into the pit inside the sweat. Water is then sprinkled on the hot rocks. The number of stones (and intensity of heat) increased with each round. The door closed, leaving us in complete darkness as the steam began to fill the room. Every round consisted of 4 stages before the door is opened. We were told that at any time, if we needed to leave, we could go out of the sweat. Tonight, there was a total of 8 rounds, some were warmer than others, and the last was the hottest.
Prayers were offered during each round, and some people offered very personal stories about their need for prayer. We were encouraged to ask for prayers for anything we needed healed in our lives. The exhaustion was immense and the experience was nothing like I have ever gone through. It was incredibly gratifying to go through this unique cultural tradition, and I’m thankful they allowed us to join them. The biggest takeaway from it all for me was a better understanding of their strong connection to their native religious beliefs. I myself, not being very religious, was exposed to something genuinely new. I will surely tell stories of this Blackfeet cultural experience and others with Global Volunteers for many years to come.