Friday, September 18

Why sweat? Why not? Learn about Canadian Aboriginal culture the traditional way—in a sweat lodge

These are sacred, often life-changing, rituals. If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to join, take it. A Winnipeg, MB downtown lodge invites outsiders into its steamy circle.

It’s as dark and close as the womb in here, hotter than a sauna. I’m hunkered down in a sweat lodge with half a dozen other people at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House in downtown Winnipeg, MB. Beneath chanting and drumming, I hear traffic buzzing around one of Winnipeg’s historic intersections, Higgins and Main. With every cupful of water the sweat conductor dashes onto fire-heated “grandfather” stones in the central pit, the lodge—made of tarps and blankets piled thick on a willow frame—gets steamier and more surreal. I follow the drumbeat with my rattle, considering life in general and the heat in particular.

This isn’t something just any tourist can buy a ticket to attend; sweat ceremonies are sacred, often life-changing rituals, deeply respected by those who do it. But some Canadian tribes and native organizations now offer sweats to outsiders—as educational experiences about traditional beliefs.

Sweats at Thunderbird House can be arranged through Winnipeg-based Heartland Travel or Ô Tours. Elsewhere in Manitoba, Northern Soul Wilderness Adventures’ Bloodvein River multi-day paddling journey includes a sweat and feast at an Ojibwa village.

In British Columbia, you can sweat at Talking Rock Resort and Quaaout Lodge on Little Shuswap Lake, a one-hour drive east of Kamloops; Talking Totem Tours’ multi-day journeys along the Sunshine Coast include a sweat.

In Morley, AB, a sweat is part of the Stoney tribe’s four-day Cultural Camp at Nakoda Lodge & Conference Centre. Thirty minutes east of Edmonton, Elk Island Retreat has sweats, too. And just west of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, some Eagle’s Nest Indian Village cultural packages come with building a sweat lodge and participating in a sweat.

Sweats aren’t for the claustrophobic or the frivolous. But if you’re genuinely interested, along with a good, sweaty glow you’ll get some bona fide insight into the complex cultures and belief systems of North American native peoples.
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