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Walking The Line: Pipe and Sweat Ceremonies in Prison



ABSTRACT: This paper is an overview of the movement among Native American prisoners to have access to native religious practices, specifically pipe ceremonies, sweats, and prayer and drum sessions in prison. These practices form the basis of a new movement that supports a wide range of native spiritual traditions, organized around a few basic ceremonies now recognized as primary expressions of native religious identity. Since the early 1970s, this movement has fought for recognition in the prisons, in the courts, and in the popular press. I first review the history of the pipe movement through a survey of important legal cases. The second half of the paper covers the symbolic aspects of the pipe and sweat as they contribute to prisoner rehabilitation through the cultivation of a native formulated religious worldview. Also covered are the formation of various native societies for the purpose of providing spiritual advisers to prisons and the impact of this movement on the reservations.
Walking The Line: Pipe and Sweat Ceremonies in Prison
Author(s): Lee Irwin
Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions,
Vol. 9, No. 3
(February 2006), pp. 39-60
Published by: University of California Press
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Walking The Line
Pipe and Sweat Ceremonies in Prison
Lee Irwin
ABSTRACT: This paper is an overview of the movement among Native
American prisoners to have access to native religious practices, specifically
pipe ceremonies, sweats, and prayer and drum sessions in prison. These
practices form the basis of a new movement that supports a wide range
of native spiritual traditions, organized around a few basic ceremonies
now recognized as primary expressions of native religious identity. Since
the early 1970s, this movement has fought for recognition in the prisons,
in the courts, and in the popular press. I first review the history of the
pipe movement through a survey of important legal cases. The second
half of the paper covers the symbolic aspects of the pipe and sweat as they
contribute to prisoner rehabilitation through the cultivation of a native-
formulated religious worldview. Also covered are the formation of various
native societies for the purpose of providing spiritual advisers to prisons
and the impact of this movement on the reservations.
Rather than going to church, I attend a sweat lodge; rather than accept-
ing bread and toast from the Holy Priest, I smoke a ceremonial pipe to
come into Communion with the Great Spirit; and rather than kneeling
with my hands placed together in prayer, I let sweetgrass be feathered
over my entire being for spiritual cleansing and allow the smoke to carry
my prayers into the heavens. I am a Mi’kmaq, and this is how we pray.
(Noah Augustine)
nderstanding Native American religions is not an easy task.
Partly, this is a matter of the rich complexity and diversity of
indigenous religious traditions, each embedded in its own com-
munity, language, and cultural norms. Partly, it is a matter of recognizing
that the integrity of native spirituality is based in community relationships,
Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 9, Issue 3, pages
3960, ISSN 1092-6690 (print), 1541-8480 (electronic). © 2006 by The Regents of the
University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission
to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California
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in a supportive context of religious expertise that fully recognizes the
value and importance of each person’s individual spiritual experience.
Partly, it is a matter of acknowledging and supporting the integrity and
privacy that many native peoples prefer in their religious practices as a
result of non-native misunderstanding, false interpretations, appropria-
tion, or, often, sheer ignorance concerning the real values inherent in
those practices. And, partly, it is a matter of a long history of religious
oppression based on federal and state laws that have consistently refused
to acknowledge the right of native peoples to practice their religions.
Coupled with the legally sanctioned appropriation of native religious arti-
facts and ceremonially buried native bodies, the denial of the right to
possess peyote, the lack of access to sacred sites, and a general denial of
the validity of native religions through missionization and scholarly neg-
lect, Native American religionists have faced a long and bitter struggle to
maintain and develop their spiritual traditions.
Thus the historical context for understanding Native American reli-
gions is one of unparalleled suppression of religious freedom. A primary
example of this oppression is found in the state and federal prisons. All
such prisons employ chaplains or priests or rabbis who perform services
in prison chapels, with appropriate religious texts and ritual accouter-
ments. While all inmates are given access to these services, the traditions
represented and privileged are primarily Judeo-Christian and, more
recently, Islam and Buddhism. But not Native American. The religious
context reflects the sociological fact that some religious groups have
more social recognition and influence within the mainstream society
than others, and this unequal influence is represented within the federal
and state institutions of most prisons. As James Beckford has shown, this
lack of equality cannot be compensated for by simply valuing religious
“plurality,” but requires a substantive institutionalization of basic reli-
gious rights for all prisoners within the context of those institutions.
Native American inmates have fought a long and difficult battle to attain
equal rights to practice their diverse religions in a form acceptable to
prison authorities.
As a consequence of this struggle, a new religious movement has
developed that is unique within the context of native religions. This
movement is centered on the religious significance and redemptive
value of the rites of the sacred pipe and the sweat lodge. Native inmates,
both men and women, have fought for the right to make tobacco offer-
ings with a lighted pipe and to take “sweats” in a specially constructed,
domed lodge (usually in the prison yard) within which heated rocks are
placed to induce sweating. In the sweat lodge, members sit for prayer,
healing, purification, and social communion. What is truly unique about
this movement are the ways in which it integrates native members of
many different indigenous communities into new brotherhoods and
sisterhoods organized around core ritual practices that are interpreted
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as profoundly native and spiritual. As a new religious movement, “the
way of the pipe” reflects a strategy by which individuals from diverse
native communities are able to unite in a new solidarity of shared reli-
gious activities. In turn, the adaptation of these ancient rites in the con-
text of imprisonment provides a context for resistance to the provincial
powers of state and federal institutions, creates a means for cultural
adaptation and the recovery of ethnic identity in a pan-native context,
and affirms through healing and communal sharing a genuinely new
movement in native spirituality. In this essay, I give both the history and
the practice of this movement.
In 1972, the United States Supreme Court (LCruz v. Beto) estab-
lished the precedent that “reasonable opportunities must be afforded
to all prisoners to exercise the religious freedom guaranteed by the
First and Fourteenth Amendments without fear of penalty.”
same year, native peoples organized a mass rally in Washington, D.C.
(“The Trail of Broken Treaties”), as a protest against federal Indian
policies, occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) building, and
brought increasing attention to issues of native identity, culture, and
religion. In May 1972 American Indian Movement (AIM) members
took a pipe into Stillwater prison (Minnesota) to perform a pipe cer-
emony for native prisoners held there. This group included a 23-year-
old Navajo man, Lenny Foster, who would go on to become one of the
leading organizers of the pipe movement. He says of the experience,
“It had a profound impact on me. I could see the hope on [the pris-
oners’] faces. I felt so good that I could pray in my native tongue. That
was fate. Destiny.”
In the early 1970s, George Sullivan, warden of the
Oregon State Correctional Institution, began allowing native spiritual
leaders to counsel native inmates there. He also permitted the build-
ing of a sweat lodge, possibly the first such recognition given by a
prison administrator.
Also in 1972 the native inmates of the Nebraska State Penitentiary
filed a suit against the penitentiary warden (Indian Inmates v. Vitek) as a
result of inmates having been denied “substantial protection as guar-
anteed by the First, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments”
regard to the practice of their religions. Thus 1972 marked the begin-
ning of the struggle for a new formulation of “native religion” that
would represent native inmates from a wide variety of indigenous com-
munities. Such a movement was consistent with a larger social context
in which native persons from many different communities sought to cre-
ate new intertribal organizations, including an emphasis on shared cer-
emonies like the Sun Dance and other popular rituals. No longer part
of traditional reservation life, many urban native people sought in the
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1960s and 1970s to create a new synthesis for religious activity through
adapting and borrowing from various tribal traditions. This reflected the
older pattern of intertribal religious practices of earlier native religious
Significantly, the context of a pipe ceremony, particularly
at Stillwater and the Nebraska State Penitentiary, emphasized a north-
ern plains religious context as a basis for the religious worldview sup-
ported by the pipe movement.
Influenced by Lakota spiritual values, AIM members, along with
other native activist groups, formulated a strategy to carry the sacred
pipe into the prisons as one of the most visible symbols of native religion
and ceremony. In turn, the “sacred pipe” quickly became a primary
expression of native spirituality in prisons and, regardless of the role of
the pipe in an inmate’s natal community, was adopted by inmates as the
foremost sacred object used in native prayer and in other native reli-
gious activities. In 1974, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF, estab-
lished in 1970 in Boulder, Colorado, as a native-organized legal service
for the protection of native rights) helped the Nebraska inmates win a
federal court Consent Decree permitting religious freedom, sweats, a
Native American club, and a “medicine man” as spiritual adviser to
prison inmates.
The Consent Decree became a mandate for the entire
prison complex in Nebraska and established an important precedent for
native prisoners in other states.
By the mid-1970s, many native activists were involved in helping to
bring the pipe into prison as well as helping to change the statutory and
constitutional laws for greater protection of native religious rights, both
in prison and in native communities. Walter Echo Hawk and Don
Ragona (of NARF), Lenny Foster and Vernon Bellecourt (of AIM), and
Ted Means and Gabriel Horn (Heart of the Earth Survival School), all
contributed significantly to these changes.
In May 1976, Norbert
Running, a Lakota medicine man from Rosebud reservation in South
Dakota, dedicated and led the first sweat lodge ceremony in Nebraska
where he was also a spiritual adviser to prisoners.
Charles LaPlante
(Santee) and Perry Wounded Shield (Oglala) worked closely with NARF
to form a Native American Spiritual and Cultural Awareness (NASCA)
group for native inmates, involving education and cultural activities.
During the 1970s and 1980s, chapters of NASCA spread throughout the
Nebraska prison system. Emerson Jackson of the Native American
Church (NAC) counseled NAC prisoners and Leonard Crow Dog
(Lakota) led sweat lodge ceremonies at various Nebraska penal sites.
Both Archie Lame Deer (Oglala) and his father, John, were involved
in bringing the pipe into the California system. In 1978, in the suit of
Bear Ribs v. Grossman, John Lame Deer advised prison authorities at the
California Lompoc prison on the religious significance of the sweat
lodge. The suit was brought by NARF for plaintiffs Terry Bear Ribs
(Standing Rock Sioux), Alan Morsette (Cree), and Daniel King (Apache),
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and based on their right of access to sweat lodge ceremonies as “a bona
fide place of worship which is universal among American Indian tribes
throughout the U.S. . . . within this religious facility Indian people wor-
ship, pray and purify themselves according to the tenets of Indian reli-
The strategy of the case was to unite members of various native
communities in a single spiritual practice that was comprehensible to a
non-native, often prejudicial court as a fundamental religious activity.
The legal focus was on very specific activities as representative of a much
wider range of native religious practices in order to gain federal and
state recognition for a minimal definition of “Indian religion.” At the
time of this suit, the Lompoc prison administration supported other reli-
gious denominations, such as Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, and Nation
of Islam, which recognition included the right to “chapel, medals, pam-
phlets, bibles, choirs, and two full time chaplains” (Protestant and
Archie Lame Deer’s involvement with the west coast prison systems
throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s was a result of his accepting a
position as a “spiritual adviser” at Lompoc, paid for by the Bureau of
Indian Affairs. As an ex-convict himself, he felt a special ability to appre-
ciate the struggle of native prisoners who had little or no access to native
spirituality. Eventually, along with other native advisers such as Lee
Polanco and Melvin Chiloquin, he became a spiritual adviser in eight-
een prisons throughout California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington,
“helping native prisoners find their identity.”
By 1978, the Nevada
Correctional Center was providing an outdoor sweat area for native
prisoners and a special room for storing dance and ritual materials.
However, in the rest of the U.S. prison system, little or no change had
occurred for native prisoners, and native inmates began to organize.
The Committee to Safeguard Prisoner’s Rights (CSPR), for example,
was formed in 1982 by native inmate Iron Thunderhorse and other
prison litigators of the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC), and led
to the publication of The Chill Factor, a widely circulated prison newslet-
ter on native rights.
Increasingly, inmates filed suits against prison administrators for vio-
lating their religious freedom. In Little Raven v. Crisp (1977), a class
action suit was filed against the Oklahoma prison system by inmates
“seeking reasonable access to native religious and cultural practices.”
In Canada, similar rights were also being sought for Indian prisoners but
only on a local basis.
Ironically, it was at this time that the American
Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA, 1978) was passed in Congress, a
policy statement that lacked penalties for non-observance of Native
American religious freedom rights and which provided no assistance to
native prisoners.
Native inmates were documented in the early 1980s
by Chris Spotted-Eagle (Haoma) for Twin Cities Public Television
(Minnesota) in an excellent video entitled, The Great Spirit Within the
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Hole (1983).
In this video, Archie Lame Deer remarks that “the sweat
is for rehabilitation purposes, it gives a new outlook on life with broth-
ers and sisters outside the wall.” This theme of the redemptive value of
the sweat and the pipe continues to play an important role in the adju-
dication of native prisoners’ rights to sweat lodge access.
By 1979, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, maximum security penitentiary
permitted the formation of a Native American Council of Tribes (NACT)
brotherhood, which included the right to hold sweats, singing, drum-
ming, dancing, powwows, traditional meals, and giveaways,
as well as
supporting the Red Road Approach to Sobriety (RRAS), an AA-type pro-
gram created by Gene Thin Elk for native prisoners.
The prominence
of Lakota elders and spiritual teachers in this movement, specifically in
the plains, southwest, and west coast prisons, helped to determine the reli-
gious content for spreading the “way of the pipe” among native inmates.
Influenced by Lakota spirituality, in the early 1980s AIM members took
the pipe “on the road” to bring it into prisons in the east. Even non-plains
advisers like Navajo Lenny Foster, who in 1980 joined a volunteer group
visiting inmates in the Arizona Sate prisons, drew predominantly on the
Lakota and plains traditions when leading native religious ceremonies for
non-plains Indian prisoners. In 1983, the Navajo Nation appointed Foster
as Spiritual Adviser and Director of the Navajo Nation Inmate Spiritual
and Social Development Program, which led him to hold ceremonies in
nineteen prisons throughout the southwest.
In 1983, to protest their loss of religious rights Darelle and Gary
Butler (Stiletz Nation) began a thirty-four-day fast at Kent Institution, a
maximum security prison in Agassiz, British Columbia. As an AIM mem-
ber, Darelle Butler was also influenced by Lakota spiritual concepts
which are quite distinct from traditional Stiletz religious practices. When
the Native Brotherhood at Kent requested permission to hold a pipe cer-
emony, the warden seized the medicine bundle (and kept it) because he
viewed the pipe as “a possible weapon.” Following this infringement of
religious rights, the Butlers undertook the fast, during which Darelle
prayed in Lakota to “Tunkashila” (Grandfather) to allow him to “have
my Sacred Pipe Bundle and our Sacred Sweat Lodge to worship in
accordance with our beliefs as native people.” Other inmates joined
the fast, and the national media reported the event. After much nego-
tiation between elders, the native brothers, their lawyer, and the prison
staff, the warden was convinced that “aboriginal spirituality is a legiti-
mate religion” and issued a directive to allow spiritual ceremonies on a
limited basis at Kent Institution. Joseph Couture, a Métis psychologist
involved in the process, later wrote a set of guidelines that were influ-
ential in establishing native rights in the Canadian prison system.
In 1984, Leonard Peltier (Chippewa/Dakota), Standing Deer Wilson
(Oneida-Choctaw), and Albert Graza (Jewish) fasted for forty-two days
to draw media attention to the suppression of their religious rights at the
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U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Indiana.
About the same time,
Little Rock Reed, an inmate and native rights activist in Ohio, also
undertook a fast to protest “the failure of the Ohio Department of
Rehabilitation and Corrections to allow American Indian prisoners to
practice their traditional spiritual ways.”
These fasts sparked a strong
response among native prisoners in both Canada and the United States
and led to greater efforts by native inmates to resist suppressive meas-
ures that continued to deny the value or importance of native religions.
In the same year, at Lompoc prison in California, Dale Smith founded
a rehabilitation and crime prevention program for an Indian brother-
hood called “Tribe of Five Feathers.” Based on Medicine Wheel sym-
bolism, this program, along with the pipe and sweat, was eventually
adopted by other prisons through prisoner transfers.
In the New
Mexico prison system, strongly influenced by the work of Lenny Foster,
the Department of Corrections passed the “Native American Counseling
Act for Inmates,” which granted limited religious rights to Native
American prisoners.
In support of native prisoners’ rights in New
England, John Slow Turtle Peters, the Supreme Medicine Man of the
Wampanoag Nation, was asked in 1985 to provide spiritual guidance for
native prisoners in the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut, to con-
duct sweats and pipe ceremonies, and to help organize Native American
Spiritual Councils and Circles in the prisons.
By 1988, following the Consent Decree, all the correctional facilities
in Nebraska had sweat lodge structures, with individuals assigned as
doorkeepers or firetenders and to provide participatory leadership.
No other state had such a comprehensive program. In 1988 in Canada,
a Task Force on Aboriginal Peoples in Federal Corrections acknowl-
edged that a “traditional Indian view” of health was tied to spiritual
practices and exposure to native spirituality was a major contribution to
rehabilitation of native prisoners.
That same year, frustrated by the
lack of development in national native rights policies, the American
Indian Religious Freedom Coalition was formed, with the help of NARF,
to develop and support legislation to restore the protections of the First
Amendment to American Indian people. Members of the coalition
included over one hundred Indian nations, Indian organizations, reli-
gious groups, environmental and human rights groups.
The goal of
the coalition was to put teeth into the 1978 AIRFA policy statement
through amendments that included the recognition of native prisoner’s
religious rights.
In 1992, Canada passed the Corrections and Conditional Release Act
by which all Aboriginal (native) offenders were granted the right to
practice their religions in prison. Judge Murray Sinclair wrote, “simply
making identical provisions for elders as is made for chaplains is not
enough. The forms of religious observance are different . . . and cor-
rectional institutions must adapt.”
In 1993, the Religious Freedom
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Restoration Act (RFRA) passed in the United States Congress, and com-
pelled “all state prisons to accede to reasonable requests from inmates”
for religious activities. A proposed amendment to exclude all correc-
tional facilities from the RFRA was rejected by the Senate. This act
resulted in a large number of successful suits filed by native prisoners
protesting the infringement of their religious freedom rights and seek-
ing to bring the pipe and the sweat into prison.
In 1994, the American
Indian Religious Freedom Coalition proposed the Native American
Cultural Protection and Free Exercise of Religion Act (NAFERA). This
sought to redress AIRFA by describing in a substantive manner the reli-
gious rights of native peoples, including those in prison, and adding spe-
cific penalties for the abuse of those rights. The Prisoners’ Rights
Section of this act sought to ensure “that Native American prisoners who
practice a Native American religion will have access to (A) traditional
leaders, (B) items and materials used in religious ceremonies, and
(C) religious facilities on a basis equal to that afforded other prisoners
who practice other religions.” Although this act failed to pass in Congress,
a separate bill legitimizing the use of Peyote by NAC members was
passed. However, since 1989 the use of peyote in prison has been rigor-
ously denied for all NAC inmates.
Based on hearings held in the 103rd Congress (1995), the U.S.
Attorney General issued a directive to the Bureau of Prisons on the
“Free Exercise of Religion by Native American Prisoners” to combat
unequal access to religious practices experienced by Native American
inmates. Equal access provisions included: access for and to spiritual
leaders (with the same rights and privileges as Jewish or Christian
clergy), access to materials and items used in religious ceremonies,
access to religious facilities like the sweat lodge. The directive also noted
that native prisoners have a right to wear their hair long or “according
to the customs of their tribes.” Further, the Chaplain’s Office of the
Bureau was directed to implement a system-wide training of prison per-
sonnel with regard to the “unique needs of traditional [inmate practi-
tioners of] Native American religions.”
In June 1995, the National
Native American Prisoners Rights Advocacy Coalition (NNAPRAC) was
formed in Boulder, Colorado, by NARF, in conjunction with other
native-based agencies. The primary purpose of the coalition is “to seek
increased protection for the free exercise of religion and culture for
Native American prisoners in the corrections setting.”
Also in 1995,
John Slow Turtle Peters, as Executive Director of the Massachusetts
Commission on Indian Affairs, became a legal witness in support of the
religious rights of Native American prisoners in Massachusetts. This was
in regard to the Trapp v. DuBois case, in which inmates at the North
Central Correctional Institute at Gardner, Massachusetts, filed a class
action suit based on alleged discrimination against their free exercise of
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religion and “a continuing pattern of administrative disruption of native
spiritual practices.”
In 1997, the Religious Freedom Restoration (RFRA) was dismantled
by the Supreme Court in the “Boerne decision” (Petitioners in City of
Boerne v. Texas) which ruled that the RFRA exceeded Congress’ power
under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, and was therefore unconsti-
tutional. States must now pass their own versions of this act. In prepa-
ration for possible state legislation in Wisconsin based on Native
American religious rights in prison, Brian Pierson wrote a valuable
overview outlining the specific religious issues for native inmates.
a more positive note, that same year Lenny Foster was given a Petra
Foundation Award for his outstanding service to Native American pris-
oners and for his efforts in support of racial justice. Today, through the
Navajo program, he is responsible for the traditional spiritual guidance
of over fifteen hundred inmates in eighty-nine state and federal peni-
tentiaries. In 1998, Foster testified before the United Nations Human
Rights Commission on Native American prisoners’ rights.
The Commi-
ssion then issued a report commenting on the lack of religious rights of
Native American prisoners in the U.S.
In December 1999, Trapp v. DuBois finally came to trial, and in early
2000 the judge ruled, denying the inmate request for a Purification
Lodge in any Massachusetts prison. He did, however, recognize the right
of Native American prisoners to own religious objects and mandated
that prison officials could not establish criteria for membership in any
Native American Spiritual Awareness circle. In 2002, responding to a
notice of appeal challenging this decision made by the native inmates in
the case, a panel of judges expressed serious doubts over the validity of
the decision on the banning of a sweat lodge and postponed any legal
decision pending new negotiations between inmates and prison officials.
In March 2003, a settlement was reached that allowed Native Americans
in three Massachusetts prisons access to monthly sweat lodge rituals.
Nevertheless, even though the Bureau of Prisons, following the
Institutionalized Persons Act and discussions with NNAPRAC, has estab-
lished guidelines with regard to native religious practices, abuse of
native prisoners’ religious rights continues in many prisons.
This history shows that there is an increasing use of the sacred pipe
and sweat to symbolize an emergent native religious movement. The
tribal affiliation of the participants and the natal religious traditions of
any individual prisoner are generally subordinated to the emergent and
variable paradigms of pipe and sweat symbolism. These symbols and
their associated ritual actions also indicate an ethical attitude held by
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prisoners that encourages a shared set of religious values based on
communal participation in prison sweat and pipe rites rather than on
tribal identity. Prisoners hold deeply felt convictions that these actions
and symbols are intrinsically native, spiritual, and valuable in helping to
define a shared native religious identity. By merging tribal identities in
a pan-native spiritual practice, a new attitude is fostered that works to
support the use of pipe and sweat as supplemental to religious practices
in the home community of any prisoner. Because the movement is based
in an open and receptive attitude toward native people of all nations,
members seek to promote unity between native nations that can help to
define native spirituality in a context of suffering and imprisonment.
However, the importance of these symbols and rites has been misun-
derstood by prison authorities, and their acceptance has been strongly
I want to return to the warden who claimed, like other prison admin-
istrators, that the pipe (or sweat) might provide a weapon for use against
guards and prison authorities. Such a fear, or such an excuse for preju-
dice, reflects an epistemological gap between the desacralized object of
a detached, disapproving, non-native observer and the engaged com-
mitment to reverence the object as a resting place for spiritual power
which affirms membership in a universe of living relationships for the
native practitioner. This gap is not merely a product of cultural differ-
ences, it is much more a consequence of the non-native commodifica-
tion of the world into objects whose value is only relevant in terms of
their material use. Such a view strips the object of the metaphorical, sym-
bolic, and associative, ritual connections that it has within a larger net-
work of meaningful relations that are far more salient than the material
use or value of the object. There is not only a suppression of the imag-
ination in such claims, but more significantly, an imputation that objects
are only significant in terms of their commodification. The warden’s
view reflects an attitude that the material object is neither sacred nor
does it have value beyond its physical use or its economic worth.
However, in the Native American religious context, objects are not sim-
ply material forms, they are also vessels of multilayered symbolic mean-
ings and sacred presence. Further, this desacralized view of an alienated
observer is not applied to other, non-native religious objects. There are
no references to a cross or Bible as possible weapons, nor to any other
such object from any mainstream religious tradition.
In the native context, the ceremonial pipe is not simply an object for
smoking, it is a prayerful medium of communication that sustains the
foundations of human relationships. Its primary symbolic value is to
establish a ground of connection and living interactions with others, be
they humans, animals, spirits, or the elements of nature. The pipe as an
embodiment of natural elements is an assembly of family or kinship rela-
tions which place the pipe holder in the center of a web of significations
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that extend far beyond the materiality of each element. The context for
the formation of these relationships is to honor and respect all the
members of the kinship circle, a circle which includes the formative
powers of world creation and spiritual well-being.
The taxonomies of
the pipe are based on its capacity to mediate between worlds and
between living beings of many different kinds and types. And yet it is not
the pipe as an “object” that determines these spiritual relationships,
but the reverent prayers, the breath of the individual, the stance, and
the appropriate gestures that indicate through the pipe respect for oth-
ers and receptivity to further communication. The pipe is the medium
for maintaining the dynamics of reciprocity that sustain the integrity and
wholeness of the community, its relationship to the sacred powers of cre-
ation, and specific connection to individual gifts and abilities given by
those powers.
The Way of the Pipe
The symbolism of the pipe is so complex that it can index an entire
spiritual cosmology, tied to primal origins of the religious tradition, and
to the seasonal rites of many different nations. In a general sense, the
pipe consists of two parts, the bowl and the stem, representing the fem-
inine and masculine aspects of creation, which are often symbolized as
Mother Earth and Father Sky. According to Campbell Papequash, a
Salteaux Elder and spiritual adviser within the prisons of western
Canada, when the stem and bowl are joined, “there is wholeness and a
sacred act of union, completeness, creation and togetherness. The
sacred pipe symbolizes harmony between human beings and cre-
The pipe represents the primal relationships between a human
being and the Creator, the heavens, the spirits, the plant and animal
worlds, other human beings, and the community. The tobacco is “the
sacrificial victim in which the immolation of the leaf is a tangible evi-
dence of creation and destruction, life and death.”
According to
Papequash, “when you pray with the pipe you pray for and with every-
thing; the more you use it, the more power it has.”
In its capacity to maximize the positive qualities of human spiritual
relationships, what the pipe represents is also reflected in other items
that are part of the “way of the pipe.” Thus, feathers, rattles, gourds,
drums, tobacco ties, sage, cedar, sweet grass, juniper, medicine pouches,
abalone shell, flags and ribbons of various colors—all participate in the
same complex of multiple relationships that support and sustain the
wholeness and unity of a non-objectified spiritual worldview. Every item
is an icon that is rich with a plurality of meanings and part of a larger
web of sacred stories and spiritual relationships. The context for native
ceremonial practices is one of “participant spirituality,” that is, a spiri-
tuality which seeks to reverently sustain a creative dynamic of living
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relationships, allowing for emergence and newness, while simultane-
ously holding to the primal significance of each of these sacred items.
They are not commodified “objects,” nor is their value defined simply
by pragmatic use. They are representations of primary interactions that
empower native understanding within the dense world of native spiritual
values and revered narratives.
The creative aspects of such an under-
standing are often self-defining through dreams, visions, or encounters
with those powers represented by the item. Thus, no specific definition
of the item can ever capture the full range of possible meanings for
other similar items.
The participant dynamics of the “way of the pipe” are based in the
tolerant and flexible attitudes that elders and spiritual advisers hold
with regard to the diversity of participants and how each person inter-
prets the practice. There is no final closure on the interpretive horizon;
what matters is “acting like a relative” by showing respect and reverence
for the powers of the pipe and the sweat through positive relationships
with other members of the circle.
In its strongest sense, the prayer cir-
cle is extended to include non-native inmates, prison authorities, non-
native peoples, and the world at large.
The general attitude in the
prayer circles that meet before and after ritual practices is to speak qui-
etly and calmly, without challenging or confronting the views or author-
ity of other individual speakers. The entire group listens attentively to
the person who holds the “talking stick” which is passed from person to
person in the circle. The speaker is not interrupted, and his or her
views are not subject to critical analysis or “feedback” as in most other
non-native groups.
This is an ethos of participation built around a
knowledge of good kin relations strengthened by ritual practices and
the intimacy of praying together in the sweat lodge.
Thus, the pipe is not an “object” but a spiritual means by which an
ethic of sincere communication is established. Through the pipe, a con-
fluence of mutual energies, both human and transhuman, are brought
into relationships of enduring significance for the purpose of providing
guidance and direction for a spiritual way of life. The pipe embodies a
multitude of these relationships, and a pipe-keeper or pipe holder is
obligated to sustain these relationships by maintaining a high degree of
integrity and exemplary behavior in his or her day-to-day life. Thus, as
an extension of the pipe’s spiritual purpose, a pipe-keeper in prison car-
ries a special obligation to act as a mediator and intermediary, to built
trust and respect among members of the prayer circles. Pipe carriers in
prison receive special permission to hold the pipe, pipe bag, tobacco,
and other materials used in ceremony, and often hold a right to be
present when a pipe bag is brought in from outside to confirm that cor-
rect protocols are observed by the inspecting guards.
The require-
ments to maintain the integrity of the pipe and to exemplify the correct
attitudes as a pipe carrier have often led to conflicts with guards or
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prison chaplains who have little or no understanding of the spiritual sig-
nificance of the pipe.
Sweating Together
If the pipe is the central means by which the network of spiritual rela-
tionships is sustained, the sweat lodge is the place of reverence in which
native inmates undergo purification in order to enhance their aware-
ness of those relationships. The sweat lodge as a “religious facility” is a
place of prayer, healing, purification, and deep personal sharing, as
well as a means for opening to the sacred dimensions of spirit and mys-
tery. At Lompoc prison, Terry Bear Ribs (Lakota) stated, “The sweat
lodge is a place for purification and a place for worship, the Indian reli-
gion is the sweat lodge . . . when I go in there, I purify and pray for all
my relations and I am in contact with my people.”
At the Nevada
Correctional Center, Chipmunk Burns (Paiute) states, “The brothers in
the sweat give you the support you need, advice, guidance for problems
and struggles.”
At San Quentin, Sonny Williams (Choctaw) said that
“the sweat is the only place where two enemies can sit down together
and come out brothers.”
And Lenny Foster says, “The sweat lodge is
one of the oldest forms of purification and cleansing of body, mind, and
spirit . . . a very profound therapy for insight into behavior, attitudes,
responsibility, respect, and sobriety. It’s a place one comes to pray, sing,
and meditate about his problems, or to seek a blessing for family or
loved ones.”
There is undisputed testimony that no incident of violence or con-
flict between native prisoners has ever occurred at any federal or state
prison in connection with the actual use of the sweat lodge.
The sweat
provides consolation, healing, purification and emotional clarity
grounded in metaphors of kinship. The semantic field of the sweat
lodge is imaged in complex metaphors and origin narratives that place
it both at the center of many ceremonies and as a preliminary stage to
more complex rituals like Vision Quest and the Sun Dance. The sweat
lodge is the “womb of mother earth” and the bent saplings are her ribs;
being within that womb requires humility and respect, and implies a
theme of rebirth in emergence from the lodge.
In symbolizing the
womb, the sweat lodge sacralizes the feminine power of birth and ges-
tation as well as emphasizing the respect due women as sources of life
and family. It is also a place where the elemental powers of nature unite
for healing and revivification of each participant—the lodge makes vis-
ible the power of the Medicine Wheel, it is round and oriented to the
four directions and reflects a unified symbol of the creation.
According to Campbell Papequash, the sweat lodge stones are
ancient powers that represent endurance, strength, and sacrifice. As
creative forces, the stones release their heat in the form of steam, as a
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breath of life, signifying the primal breath of creation, now renewed and
“coming into action.” The heat at the center of the lodge represents a
“rekindling of spirits” and a “reconciling with the Creator, family, and
community.” The four periods of time into which the sweat is divided by
pauses to open the sweat door during rest periods “represent the four
ages of human growth—infancy, childhood, maturity, and old age. And
how in the goodness of the Great Spirit we have received the light in
each of these ages.”
Beautifully describing his own sweat lodge expe-
riences, Leonard Peltier says, “You never celebrate, or even speak of the
most important things that happen to you [in the sweat], the deepest
most spiritual things. Those are between you and Wakan Tanka . . . you
come up against the cutting edge of your own fear . . . yet in the fear
there is an awareness [and] you pass through it into another realm.”
The Emergent Pipe Movement
Together, the pipe and the sweat are a powerful locus for integrating
the primary symbolic values that constitute a native epistemology of
religion, one particularly congruent with the northern plains traditions.
The early pipe movement, situated in the prisons of the plains’ states of
Nebraska and Oklahoma, and carried to other prisons by members of
AIM, the Heart of Earth Survival School, and various Lakota teachers,
has resulted in a religious movement that is emphatically connected to
the shared symbolism of the pipe and sweat lodge. Through prison
transfers, inmates from these prisons who were brothers and sisters of
various prayer circles carried those practices into prisons reaching both
west and east coast states. Lenny Foster worked in prisons throughout
the southwest. Constrained by the authoritarian and objectifying atti-
tudes of prison administrators and by a lack of legal representation,
inmates have held to the pipe and sweat as a genuine basis for redefin-
ing the complexity and diversity of native religious traditions. Required
to show respect for others, based on the proper handling of the pipe
and the purification of the sweat, a new epistemological affirmation
was grounded in the formation of prayer circles that included native
inmates from all tribes, and at times, non-native inmates as well.
Through increasing solidarity, native inmates have been able to formu-
late an application of “the way of the pipe” as redemptive and resistant
to past criminality and as a means for a positive, respectful return to
communal life outside of prison.
Consequently, while still maintaining the primacy of the pipe and the
sweat, native inmates and visiting spiritual advisers have built on them
and added increasingly diverse elements to their prayer circles. Today,
there are feasts, powwows, healing rites, giveaways, and even vision
quests and sun-dancing for model prisoners who are permitted to leave
the prison to attend these ceremonies on various reservations. However,
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the heart of the movement remains the redemptive value of the pipe as
a primary means of establishing connection and relationships within the
kinship narratives, in the stories that elders and spiritual advisers tell to
orient prayer circle members to a living network of healing and sus-
taining relations. The native epistemology of the pipe and sweat is
embedded in the stories of inmates who have been transformed or sus-
tained in their suffering and privation by the rites of pipe and sweat. In
turn, these personal stories are brought into relationship with narratives
that seek to explain the ritual and symbolic meaning of the pipe and its
proper use and care, and that provide a rich context of personal support
for all practitioners—one that honors their dreams, visions, and aspira-
tions for a more centered spiritual life, both in and out of prison.
The use of the pipe and sweat lodge in prisons is a new movement
of pan-native spirituality that has become an expressive representation
of intertribal unity and spiritual self-affirmation. Many native inmates
(up to 65%) experience the sweat and use of the pipe for the first time
in prison, and this introduction provides a context for developing a
stronger sense of native identity and cooperation with other native pris-
oners from a wide diversity of indigenous communities.
from inmates and from native spiritual advisers tell how the pipe and
sweat have become crucial for orienting them to life outside of prison
by establishing values of respect toward others and integrity in one’s own
practice as central to living a balanced, meaningful life. Sobriety, non-
violence, respect for women, acceptance of others, remorse for past
actions, and living a proactive life in sustaining the use of the pipe and
sweat are all central to the teachings of the new movement.
Elders and
native spiritual advisers constantly work to promote positive intertribal
relations and to use the narratives of their lives with the pipe and sweat
to show the power of the pipe as an spiritual agent for cooperative
human relationships. While advisers and elders for native prisoners
often face harsh criticism by members of their communities who do not
support prisoner rehabilitation, they continue to strongly emphasize
intertribal unity and the value of the pipe as a means for establishing
greater peace and harmony outside of prison.
According to Elizabeth Grobsmith, pipe and sweat ceremonies now
carried out in many prisons “provide a unity of cultural and religious
expression, despite the variability in tribal affiliation.”
As a revival of
native spirituality, the “way of the pipe” is an affirmation of indigenous
religious identity that is no longer tied to any particular native commu-
nity or group. It has increasingly become a spiritual template for nego-
tiating the uneasy gap between non-native authorities in prison and the
genuine, personal experiences of prisoners who have discovered, as
one prison drumming group has named itself, Oyate Wanji, or the “one
nation” of practitioners from all tribes and all nations.
Such a new
movement stands in sharp contrast to the tremendous diversity and
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complexity of specific “traditional” native religions found on many
reservations. As a therapeutic movement aimed at healing the conse-
quences of abuse, privation, and cultural loss due to a long history of
oppression and political manipulation by non-native authorities, the
pipe movement is a condolence ceremony that seeks reparation and
reintegration of identity through group solidarity and respectful com-
munity relations. The emphasis in the movement is on membership in
the prayer circle, in the group, in the processes of shared experience,
and its reconstitution in a new frame of reference outside of prison.
The consolation of the pipe as a pan-Indian movement is based on
its capacity to represent an open horizon of multiple native traditions
without contradicting or devaluing any one tradition. While its primary
symbolism has strong identity with the central plains nations, the sacred
use of the pipe as a mediator between human beings and the creative
sources of life, and the sweat as a place of humility and honesty in prayer
that builds solidarity with those same creative powers, has helped dis-
solve tensions between diverse native participants. The prayer circles,
the brotherhoods and sisterhoods, have further strengthened that soli-
darity and allowed participants to grapple with deep-seated issues of
ethnic identity, communal struggles, and native-non-native relationships
in a context specifically adapted to native needs and issues. Along with
many other related practices like powwows, vision quests, sundances,
healing circles, and singing and drumming groups, the pipe and the sweat
movement have helped support the healing and transformative values
inherent in the new movement. Additionally, many non-native prison-
ers, both male and female, have participated in these rites and have
been deeply impacted by the spiritual values of the movement.
The ceremonies of the pipe act to connect inmates with cultural
and spiritual roots as a healing of the displacement and dislocation of
native peoples from their religious practices. By resisting on-going
processes of colonization in the denial of native religious rights, pris-
oners have formed a religious movement that not only defies chau-
vinistic, oppressive tendencies, but, more creatively, has resulted in a
widespread movement that is now beginning to manifest within reser-
vation communities. In programs now being run on many reservations,
returning prisoners, as well as various spiritual advisers, are continuing
the “way of the pipe” in conjunction with the Red Road approach to
alcoholism recovery. These programs are used in treatment facilities,
half-way houses, and by “Firestarters” in community prayer circles who
have been trained in Medicine Wheel symbolism and application strate-
gies that first originated in prison.
Thus, a movement that began with
alienated native prisoners oppressed by non-native prison authorities
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has emerged not only as a source of healing and reintegration for native
prisoners, but also as a movement which is increasingly present in many
native communities.
In the fall of 2003, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at
Harvard University announced that the Navajo corrections program,
under direction of Lenny Foster, was a finalist for its American Indian
Tribal Governance award. Certainly this is a tribute to the dedication
and effort made by many indigenous leaders and advisers to provide
prisoners with access to native spirituality. And yet, it is not from the
institutions of mainstream education that the support has come for
indigenous prisoners. Most of the support has come from dedicated
native people, elders and spiritual advisers, who have faced a great
amount of discrimination and hard treatment from non-native institu-
tional authorities. In the context of this discrimination, they have forged
a new religious movement that cuts through even the oppressive context
of prison to enact a form of native spirituality that is far older and
deeper than those educational institutions. And yet, as a revival of native
spirituality, it is forging links with other native (and indigenous) tradi-
tions by forming a core of values which seek to include the diversity of
native peoples in a willing harmony of spiritual sincerity without deny-
ing that diversity.
Spiritual elders working through the United Nations (as well as the
United States court system) to address issues of political and religious
freedom perhaps reflect one of the many paradoxes of the contempo-
rary world in which neither the “past” nor the “present” is a uniquely
defining characteristic of religious authenticity. The question of
“authenticity” is in fact at the heart of all religious movements, both old
and new, as human beings seek to legitimate the spiritual roots of their
social and individual identity. It is perhaps an artifact of cultural analy-
sis to regard the use of the pipe and sweat in prison as a new religious
movement when it actually reflects values and spiritual practices that
were authenticated long before such prisons were ever built. And yet,
there is something “new” in the sense that there is a reformulation of
spiritual values that are no longer rooted in a particular ethnic identity,
nor in a particular place, nor in a particular communal context. The use
of the pipe and sweat by spiritual advisers and by prisoners whose own
native traditions may or may not be congruent with the actual cere-
monies they practice in prison sets up a unique context for asking ques-
tions of authenticity.
For the prisoners, there is no doubt that these practices are authen-
tic, regardless of the ritual practices or religious worldview held in their
natal communities. Some native prisoners, a minority, have refused to
participate in these ceremonies, though, claiming that the context of
prison is too alien and the practices too narrow to be congruent with
their own traditions.
Authenticity, then, is not a matter of reflecting
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traditional values or practices as much as a matter of commitment to a
particular communal activity that results in an affirmation of cultural
and spiritual identity. Through the pipe and the sweat, native prisoners
have been able to engage issues of ethnicity, oppression, displacement,
confusion, and their own criminal behavior, in order to resolve those
issues in terms of a complex of spiritual activities that support and affirm
the value of being native, regardless of tribal or communal affiliation.
And yet, that affirmation occurs through participation in rites that are
very old and highly respected by a majority of native communities. The
adaptation of these revered rites to a new context of religious oppres-
sion has resulted in a powerful movement to affirm a core of spiritual
values that are increasingly regarded as truly native and truly expressive
of contemporary native religion.
Perhaps some prisoners, and even a majority of people who practice
the inherited traditions of elders and teachers in their community, will
not regard this movement as truly defining a native spiritual identity.
However, the fact that programs of “wellness and health” drawing on the
“way of the pipe” are increasingly popular in reservation treatment and
educational programs suggests that these movements do represent a
means for affirming and supporting native spiritual identity. Thus, in
this new movement, the pipe and the sweat reflect a positive means for
resolving issues of native religious identity that cut across tribal com-
munal identities and suggests a paradigm for healing and recentering.
What is “old” in this paradigm, the pipe and sweat, is crucial to its effec-
tiveness as a movement to affirm the deep roots of enduring native
spirituality and what is “new” is the context of resisting the alienating
pressure of the denial of native religious rights. Of course, this denial is
not really “new” at all, it is a legacy of three hundred years of on-going
denial that has constantly dismissed or devalued the importance of
native religion and spirituality. However, the latest form of that oppres-
sion, a lack of religious freedom in prison, has sparked a movement in
which native prisoners have been remarkably successful in gaining those
rights through the reconstruction of traditional practices redefined as
fundamental in affirming contemporary intertribal religious identity.
Noah Augustine, “Grandfather was a knowing Christian,” Toronto Star (9 August
9 2000), < nataspir.htm>, accessed 10 September
For an overview on the suppression of native religions, see Lee Irwin, “Free-
dom, Law and Prophecy: A Brief History of Native American Religious Resis-
tance,” American Indians and U.S. Politics: A Companion Reader, ed. John Meyer
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(Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2002): 75–89. My thanks to the
editors and anonymous readers of this paper, your many suggestions helped to
make this a better paper.
James Beckford, “The Management of Religious Diversity in England and
Wales with Special Reference to Prison Chaplaincy,” International Journal on
Multicultural Societies, 1, no.2 (1999): 55–66.
LCruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972) in Timothy Little Rock, “The American
Indian in the White Man’s Prison: A Story of Genocide,” Journal of Prisoners on
Prisons 2, no.1 (1989): n.p.
“Lenny Foster,” <
.html>, accessed 10 September 2005.
Monique Fordham, “Within the Iron Houses: The Struggle for Native American
Religious Freedom in American Prisons,” Social Justice 20, no.1–2 (1993): 165–71.
Elizabeth Grobsmith, Indians in Prison: Incarcerated Native Americans in Nebraska
(Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1994): 38–39.
See Irwin, “Freedom, Law, and Prophecy” for an overview of the earlier movements.
For a description of taking the pipe in Stillwater prison, see Gabriel Horn, Native
Heart: An American Indian Odyssey (San Rafael: New World Library, 1993): 30–45.
Indian Inmates v. Vitek, in Elizabeth Grobsmith, “The Impact of Litigation on
the Religious Revitalization of Native American Inmates in the Nebraska Depart-
ment of Corrections,” Plains Anthropologist 34, no.1 (1989): 135–47; see also
Laurence A. French, “Wounded Knee and the Indian Prison Reform Move-
ment,” The Prison Journal 83 (March 2003): 26–37. N.b., the name of this case was
changed in 1974 from Indian Inmates v. Wolff to Indian Inmates v. Vitek when Wolff
quit as warden.
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 39–40, 63ff.
Fordham, “Within the Iron Houses,” 168.
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 45.
French, “Wounded Knee,” 29.
Bear Ribs v. Grossman (No. 77-3895 RJK) in Walter Echo Hawk and Roy S.
Haber, Prison Law and the Rights of Native Prisoners (Boulder, CO: Native American
Rights Fund, 1985), 4.
Echo Hawk and Haber, “Introduction,” Prison Law, 6.
Archie Lame Deer, Gift of Power: The Life and Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man
(Sante Fe, NM: Bear & Company, 1992), 126–27.
Iron Thunderhorse, #624391 Mark Stiles Unit, Beaumont, Texas, “The Com-
mittee to Safeguard Prisoner’s Rights,” (January 20, 2003); manuscript in
author’s possession.
Echo Hawk and Haber, “Little Raven Brief,” Prison Law, 3.
James Waldram, “Aboriginal Spirituality in Corrections: A Canadian Case
Study in Religion and Therapy,” American Indian Quarterly 18, no.2 (1994):
Irwin, “Freedom, Law, and Prophecy.”
The Great Spirit Within the Hole, dir. Chris Spotted Eagle, prod. KCTA, Twin
Cities Public Television, 1983, videocassette.
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A “giveaway” is a ritual giving of gifts to participants of ceremonies to express
gratitude for their participation.
Timothy Little Rock Reed, “Rehabilitation: Contrasting Cultural Perspectives
and The Imposition of Church and State,” Journal of Prisoners on Prisons 2, no.2
(1990): n.p.; Lisa Morgan and Timothy Little Rock Reed, “Editors Introduc-
tion,” Journal of Prisoners on Prisons 4, no.2 (1993): n.p.
Petra Foundation Fellows, “Lenny Foster.”
James B. Waldram, The Way of the Pipe: Aboriginal Spirituality and Symbolic Heal-
ing in Canadian Prisons (Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 1997), 10–14; Joseph
Couture, “Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality and Religious Practice in Prison,”
in Aboriginal Peoples and Canadian Criminal Justice, ed. Robert Silverman and
Marianne Nielsen (Toronto: Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1994), 199–203.
Anna Standing Deer, “Standing Deer—Who Is This Man?” (May 2001);
<>, accessed 10 September
Morgan and Reed, “Editors Introduction.”
Reed, “Rehabilitation.” The Medicine Wheel practice is based on a complex
symbolism involving the circle and the four cardinal directions.
New Mexico, Native American Counseling Act for Inmates (Rev. 2002), <http://>, accessed 15 September 2005.
John Peters, “Affidavit in support of motion for preliminary injunction,”
Trapp v. Dubois (95-0779 SS, Commonwealth of Massachusetts), <www.nativeweb
.org/pages/legal/trapp/affidavit_turtle.html>, accessed 15 September 2005.
Grobsmith, “The Impact of Litigation,” 144–45.
Waldram, “Aboriginal Spirituality in Corrections,” 198–201.
See also NARF, “American Indian Religious Freedom” (1997), <
pubs/justice/1997winter.htm>, accessed 15 September 2005.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 16.
On RFRA, see “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts: Federal Legislation”
(2002), <>, accessed 15 September 2005.
See also David Ackerman, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Its Rise, Fall,
and Current Status,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (June
1998); James T. Richardson, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: A Short-
Lived Experiment in Religious Freedom,” in Religion and Law in the Global Vil-
lage, ed. D. E. Guine, Christopher Barrigar, and Katherine Young (Atlanta, GA:
Scholars Press, 1999), 143–164.
Grobsmith, “The Impact of Litigation,” 139. The Peyote amendment became
Public Law 103–344 in 1994, and states that “only enrolled Indians who are qual-
ified by their tribe as spiritual leaders may possess peyote and perform certain
traditional ritual” (French, “Wounded Knee,” 35).
Alexandra Witkin-New Holy, “American Indian Religious Rights: Inside
Montana Prisons” (Bozeman, MT: Montana State University, 2000), 16–17.
Lenny Foster, “Religious Intolerance Against Indian Religion: Native American
Prisoners’ Religious Freedom,” (1998), <
lfoster2.htm>, accessed 15 September 2005.
John Peters, “Affidavit in support of motion for preliminary injunction.”
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Brian Pierson, “Religious Rights of Native American Prisoners,” (June 1997);
manuscript in author’s possession.
Lenny Foster, “Spiritual Victory for Condemned Pima Prisoner” (29 April
1999), interview by Suky Hutton, <
990420victorysweat.htm>, accessed 15 September 2005.
For the United Nations Commission on Human Rights statement, see “Ques-
tion of the Human Rights of All Persons Subjected to Any Form of Detention or
Imprisonment,” (E/CN.4/1997104), 16 January 1997, <
koff/uploads/dealing/ 6unhcr.pdf>, accessed 15 September 2005.
For the Trapp decision, see “Native American Indian Spiritual Freedom in
Prison” (June 2004), <>, accessed 15
September 2005; for the settlement in Trapp v. Dubois, see “Settlement Agree-
ment” (March 2003), <>,
accessed 15 September 2005.
The Arizona Department of Corrections offers guidelines for Native American
prisoners’ religious practices; see “Inmate Religious Activities” (April 2000),
<>, accessed 15 September 2005.
Charles H. Long, “Indigenous People, Materialities, and Religion: Outline for
a New Orientation to Religious Meaning,” in Religion and Global Culture: New Ter-
rain in the Study of Religion and the Work of Charles H. Long, ed. Jennifer Reid. (New
York: Lexington Books, 2003), 167–80.
Vine Deloria, “Native American Spirituality,” in For This Land: Writings on Reli-
gion in America, ed. James Treat (New York: Routledge, 1999), 130–134.
Papequash, cited in Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 93.
Papequash, cited in Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 93.
Campbell Papequash, cited in Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 96.
On “participant spirituality,” see Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory:
A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 2002).
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 73.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 131.
Spotted Eagle, The Great Spirit Within the Hole, interview with Tubby Eggsman.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 135.
Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sundance (New York: St. Martin’s
Press, 1999), 187. See also Minnesota Department of Human Resources, “Reli-
gion Behind Bars,” The Rights Stuff (April 2001), <
dhr/accsite/docs1/RightsStuffHTML/RightsFeb01Prison.html>, accessed 15
September 2005.
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 47.
Echo Hawk and Haber, Prison Law, “Bear Ribs Brief,” 4, 6–7, 11.
Spotted Eagle, The Great Spirit Within the Hole, interview with Chipmunk Burns.
Spotted Eagle, The Great Spirit Within the Hole.
Foster, “Spiritual Victory for Condemned Pima Prisoner.”
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 19.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 74, 86.
Irwin: Walking The Line
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The Medicine Wheel is a primary symbol of spiritual orientation within many
Native American communities, based on equal armed cross representing the
four directions, enclosed in a circle representing wholeness, unity, and spiritual
integration. Each direction, and its related path, is given symbolic meanings
which differ for different ritual use.
Papequash, cited in Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 88, 90.
Peltier, Prison Writings, 184–186.
See the prison interviews in Spotted Eagle, The Great Spirit Within the Hole.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 136. Waldram notes that 64% of the native
inmates said that sweats were absent in their home communities.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 130–131, 145; Peltier, Prison Writings, 183–193.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 110.
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 49; Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 79.
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 93.
See, for example, Well Nations Magazine at <>, or the
“Wellbriety Movement for Prisons” at <>.
Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 155.
Grobsmith, Indians in Prison, 88.
Nova Religio
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The paper deals with the history of criminal law and criminal liability in conflictological discourse. On the basis of ideas of legal pluralism, the authors investigate the transformation of the criminal and legal mechanism of conflict resolution from ancient times to the present. They study the customs of exile, blood vengeance, blood reconciliation, as well as a number of other customs of Amazonia and North America. The paper explains that such customs remain until now due to the expressed compensatory character and evaluates the origins of ritualization of conflict resolution procedures in ancient society. The authors examine the circumstances of the disappearance of the victim concept from repentant law, as well as the borrowing of the religious concept of responsibility not before the victim, but before the suzerain by secular law.The authors note that many generations of lawyers have formed their professional consciousness under the influence of an indispensable formal cliché: for the committed crime the perpetrator must be held criminally liable not before the injured person, but before the State that is not in the least at times guilty of failing to provide the victim with a safe life. Few doubted that the postulate given is the only one true. This example of survivability of ancient criminal law customs demonstrates the interest of society in alternative ways of solving criminal law disputes. The authors conclude that legal pluralism is natural for the area of criminal law due to the expressed compensatory tendency in the society’s perception of criminal liability. The penetration of compensatory elements into modern criminal law is assessed as a positive and only possible trend of further criminal law development.
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Symbolic healing is a complex phenomenon that is still relatively poorly understood. This paper documents a process of symbolic healing which is occurring in Canadian penitentiaries, and which involves Aboriginal offenders in cultural awareness and educational programs. The situation is compounded, however, by the existence of offenders from diverse Aboriginal cultural backgrounds with differing degrees of orientation to Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian cultures. Participants must first receive the necessary education to allow them to identify with the healing symbols so that healing may ensue, and both the healers and the patients must engage in a process of redefining their cultures in search of a common cultural base.
Fifteen years ago, the Native American inmates incarcerated in the Nebraska Department of Corrections, with the aid of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), brought suit against prison administrators for violation of their religious freedom rights. This litigation resulted in the federal court’s issuing a Consent Decree in 1974 which has formed the basis for Indian religious expression in prison and has served as the foundation for other lawsuits which profess violation of this Decree. This paper is a review of this litigation and the impact it has had on Native American cultural, political, social and religious activity in the Nebraska Department of Corrections.
Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality and Religious Practice in Prison
  • Joseph Couture
Joseph Couture, "Traditional Aboriginal Spirituality and Religious Practice in Prison," in Aboriginal Peoples and Canadian Criminal Justice, ed. Robert Silverman and Marianne Nielsen (Toronto: Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1994), 199-203.
Standing Deer-Who Is This Man?
  • Anna Standing
Anna Standing Deer, "Standing Deer-Who Is This Man?" (May 2001);
American Indian Religious Freedom The Way of the Pipe, 16. 36 On RFRA, see " Religious Freedom Restoration Acts: Federal Legislation The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Its Rise, Fall, and Current Status
  • See
  • Narf
34 See also NARF, " American Indian Religious Freedom " (1997), < pubs/justice/1997winter.htm>, accessed 15 September 2005. 35 Waldram, The Way of the Pipe, 16. 36 On RFRA, see " Religious Freedom Restoration Acts: Federal Legislation " (2002), <>, accessed 15 September 2005. See also David Ackerman, " The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Its Rise, Fall, and Current Status, " Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (June 1998);
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: A Short-Lived Experiment in Religious Freedom
  • James T Richardson
James T. Richardson, "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act: A Short-Lived Experiment in Religious Freedom," in Religion and Law in the Global Village, ed. D. E. Guine, Christopher Barrigar, and Katherine Young (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999), 143-164.