There might not be the smell of frybread wafting in the air or rows of vendors selling their wares, but the familiar sound of the drumbeat is there.
Native American inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison held a pow wow in November to celebrate their culture and reconnect with their traditional roots. The theme was “Many Tribes … One Nation” and organized by inmate Wendell Navanick Jr.
Inmate Arthur Martinez, a member of the Shoshone (Northwestern Band, Washakie Reservation) Nation offers a song during the Fall Powwow
According to the Utah Department of Corrections, a federal lawsuit affirmed the right of Utah’s Native American inmates to engage in traditional spiritual practices while incarcerated. There are now several sweat lodge yards at each prison, providing inmates an opportunity to participate in spiritual sweats at least monthly. Volunteers also supervise pipe and talking circle gatherings several times a month.
“This means everything to them,” said Jim Pritchard, a Native American spiritual leader who volunteers at both the Gunnison and Draper prisons. “They look forward to this — being able to present their culture, to be able to interact socially on this level.”
Sometimes the members of different tribes are antagonist to each other, but “today they are not,” said Pritchard, who is Cherokee. “It really helps them as people and it helps the administration on the inside [of the prison] by calming them down, helping them become less stressed in this environment.”