Native American activists built a sweat lodge in Sioux City which they hope will inspire people to seek out the healing they need to get well from alcoholism, domestic abuse and trauma.

The small hut is made of willow tree limbs, nestled on a field next to War Eagle Park. Calvin Harlan, with the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa, says it’s a way to cleanse the mind, body and spirit. “We talk to Mother Earth and God about our problems, our issues, and when we come out, we leave them in there so that they’re taken care of,” Harlan says.

For many, it’s a place of prayer or healing. Harlan says the sweat lodge helps people let go of the negativity in their life, a large part of the healing process. Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, says the Native community is in “dire need of healing” and the sweat lodge will be a tremendous benefit.

“Whatever can help you get well is what I want to see us be a part of,” LaMere says. “This is a big part for those who’ve lost their way who’ve decided to come home, back to their people — be they Omaha, Winnebago, Nakota, Lakota, Dakota, Meskwaki — they can come back to their roots.” As he looks forward, LaMere says he hopes to see the sweat lodge prosper as he says it could really make a difference for those who have strayed.

“Things in the Native community, and maybe even in the greater community with regard to alcohol, drug abuse, opioid use in our community has probably never been worse and we don’t talk about that,” LaMere says. “This is a step toward healing, a step in that direction.” The lodge is near Jackson Recovery Centers’ Sioux City facility. Jackson’s Ben Nesselhuf says it’s one way the recovery center could better serve its Native American patients.

“Helping them connect with something that they feel comfortable with, helping them connect to their own traditions, their own culture,” Nesselhuf says. “In the past, we’ve had patients that have gone off site for sweats, so this way we have it much closer.”

The sweat lodge is a partnership between Jackson, the community and the nonprofit group Native Youth Standing Strong. Advocates say it may be one of the biggest steps the Native American community and supporters are taking to grow and address issues of addiction, health and depression.

(By Katie Peikes, Iowa Public Radio)