Pow Wow Allows Inmates to Reconnect with Their Roots

Pow Wow Allows Inmates to Reconnect with Their Roots

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown December 18th, 2014 Blog
Utah Department of Corrections

Utah Department of Corrections

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.”

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About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.


17 thoughts on “Pow Wow Allows Inmates to Reconnect with Their Roots

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  2. Geraldine Bellanger says:

    My son is in prison in Rush city Mn. and I try to get sage,tobacco and finally got our tribe to buy the inmates there a couple cords of wood .I even had to get and drive 4 hours to delivery poles for their sweat lodge and now I have been trying to find a 2 sided drum for them as theirs fell apart to be donated so they can keep up their culture,but I can’t seem to find any.They even try to pool there money together on what small wages they get to buy their rock.It seems like I’am the only one who tries to help them.

  3. Rossie Longhair says:

    I was in the Utah State Women’s Prison in Draper, utah. We had the Sweat Lodge too and i turned to that to help me through the hardest time in my life. I spent 2 years trying to find my way and tey to find myself and get back to my beliefs and remembering the way i was taught and raised by my father n family it also helped me get back on the right path. I would always look towards the west from star4 and seeing the men get their sweat lodge up n have a ceremony i also would hear them sing powwow songs too. Their voices made me feel better and made my mind stronger to hold on a little more and i will be free. Now im out of prison 2 yrs i got off parole with good time, Im happily married and i have all 3 of my children with me. I pray for everyone thats going through a hard time and i do hope the men and women behind bars keep with their traditions in there cause when all else fails and no one is by your side because it does happen that way our traditions and prayers are always there to get us through the hard time. Just thought i would share this if i said anything wrong i apologize.

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