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DHS news release

July 1, 2004

Contact: Nadine Jelsing, DHS, 503-945-5950
Program Contact: Gail Mason, Ph.D., OSH, 503-945-9031

Oregon State Hospital celebrates diversity, renewal and healing with first sweat lodge in 20 years


It's a Native American ceremony that's thousands of years old. On Friday, July 2, at 11:00 a.m., staff and special guests will celebrate the construction of the first sweat lodge at Oregon State Hospital (OSH) since 1983. Drumming, singing, dancing and native dress will help commemorate the occasion.

"The sweat lodge ceremony is basically a purification ritual — a time of prayer and reflection," says Gail Mason, Ph.D., an Ojibway Indian and psychologist resident at OSH. "It's medicine that's both spiritual and physical in nature. When we enter the lodge we pull negativity from our body. We let go of our grief and anger, and heal from the tragedies and trauma that hold us back from being whole."

The lodge is built from 16 willows that are bent over into a half circle, representing the 16 ribs in a woman's body. There's a fire pit on the east side — the place of renewal — and cedar boughs and herbs gathered by patients have been laid on the ground inside. According to Mason, the sweat will soak into the earth and cedar — and its energy will be purified.

"It's a ceremony that's designed to bring us intimately in balance with life — so we're in harmony with nature," says Mason. "The Creator will bless the sweat and it will come back as blessings in the form of clean air, clean water, plants and animals — all life that sustains us. Native Americans with mental illness believe they have one foot in the spirit world. But we have to remember — they have a right to heal. They have a right to enter the lodge and keep themselves grounded."

Mason says this is an important occasion for patients at OSH and their families who've worked hard to provide support. But, she adds, "The sweat lodge is not just for Native Americans. It's all inclusive and for the use of all patients and staff which will help bridge the many cultures at OSH."

"This is really good for everyone here," says OSH Superintendent Marvin Fickle, M.D. "It's helping people to reconnect with their cultural roots, to practice their own personal spirituality and to connect with others within their own community. It empowers people with a sense of dignity and honor — 'I'm not just a person with mental problems — I can do the things that help me recover'."

Media will be welcome at the ceremony only from 11 a.m. until noon. The uncovered willow frame of the sweat lodge will be in place. Please check-in at the Communication Center (Breitenbush Hall — north side of Center Street off 27th Place). After check-in, you'll be directed to the lodge.