Commercialization of Native American Sweat Lodges Creates Differing Opinions

September 15, 2002

Source: The New York Times

On September 15, 2002 The New York Times reported that "until Aug. 11, 1978, when Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, ceremonies like the sweat lodge were illegal. Today, Mr. Charles Thom and others are turning sweat lodge ceremonies into commercial enterprises, making their way into spas and 12-step groups and mounting carnival-like tours. The sponsoring group for last weekend's sweat lodge in Baiting Hollow, north of Riverhead, was the Earth Circle Association, a Fort Jones, Calif[ornia]-based nonprofit that tours the country and is host to two sweat lodges on Long Island each year. The suggested donation is $50. The commercialization of the ceremony has some Native Americans living on Long Island crying foul. Several members of the Southampton-based Shinnecock tribe criticized the Earth Circle ceremony, saying it should not be shared with outsiders. Christopher Vecsey, a humanities professor at Colgate University who said he had participated in many sweat lodges, said they had been around in one form or another for thousands of years and no organization owns them."