Window into the Curriculum: 8th Grade Sweat Lodge Experience

The 8th grade students gather around the fire

By Timothy Frantzich, 8th Grade Co-Teacher

The flap went down and our 8th grade class was sitting in total darkness except for the stones, glowing red, at the center.

Our 8th grade had gone out a few days prior and cut 30 young, flexible willows. We then proceeded to my house where there is enough land to build a traditional Sweat Lodge. Our class worked that day with Dan Gorbunow (a former CLWS parent) who had agreed to help the 8th grade build the lodge; by day’s end there was a small dome of willows that stood about five feet high at center.

A week before, the 8th grade had “met” Miguel Rivera on FaceTime. Miguel flew into Minneapolis from Los Angeles and agreed to facilitate a sweat for our class. Miguel is a trusted friend of mine. Miguel is an indigenous man from Guatemala who has spent the last 28 years leading traditional Lakota sweats three or more times per week.

“We are here to introduce you to some relatives… strange looking relatives you did not know you have” –Miguel Rivera

The day of our sweat was a clear, cool October day. As we drove east the trees were burnt umber and russet. The students stacked wood around 24 field stones, each stone the size of a cantaloupe. They lit the fire and the stones heated for the next two hours. The dome of willows was covered with cloth tarps and blankets. Light tests were done, covering the lodge until even the brightest sunlight could not penetrate. We changed into shorts and t-shirts and stood in a circle around the fire.

“No one and no-thing is excluded from our lodge here today”

After the flap went down, Miguel asked us all how we were doing. He told a joke or two and then he began to sing songs and prayers. Songs and prayers for ourselves, for our loved ones, for grief, and for gratitude. Half way through, water was handed out; any of us could leave at any time we wished. Most stayed.

“Don’t pray for the earth, the earth will take care of itself, pray for yourself, you can help”

The lodge went on for an hour or so. One of the teachings revolves around rebirth. The willow dome as the womb of the mother, the stones as our grandparents, creation is enacted again. So, after an hour of heat, darkness and song, each of us crawled out, into the bright light, squinting and blinking.

Then, we all feasted on wonderful vegetable soup that the students had chopped and created earlier. Our voices were full of excitement. Eyes full of joy.

The 8th grade is slowly reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. If you have not read it, please consider!

A special thanks to the earth, Dan Gorbunow, Miguel Rivera, Ms. Crawford, parent drivers, parents who donated to support the field trip, and CLWS.

Photos of the students building the lodge; carrying willows, building the fire with Miguel

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