TRU may soon have its very own sweat lodge thanks to one student’s initiative.
Sweat lodges, which are common to many North American First Nations, are similar to European saunas, though the typically dome-shaped sweat lodges are made from natural materials and are used for prayer and purification.
Though there has been talk of building one on campus for years, it wasn’t until last year that the process of bringing a sweat lodge to campus finally got going.
Jordan Robinson, a fourth-year Ecology and Environmental Biology student at TRU, came up with the idea last year after questioning why there wasn’t a sweat lodge on campus.
Robinson consulted with Vernie Clement, Aboriginal Mentor and Community Coordinator.
“I asked Vernie one day, ‘Why isn’t there a sweat lodge around?’ and he said, ‘There is no reason why there is not, why don’t you make one?’” Robinson said. “So it just kind of got me going. I went around to all the Deans of the school to ask them permission and before I knew it I was standing in front of the Chief’s Council asking permission. And it just snowballed from there.”
Although the project has received some funding already and has been approved by many elders in the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc community, the project is still awaiting approval from the university, said Executive Director of Aboriginal Education, Paul Michel.
“It is not final approval until we get everyone at TRU approving and also all of traditional community approval,” Michel said, noting that there are various stages of approval that the prospective sweat lodge must go through.
After receiving a $20,000 grant from TRU, Robinson hopes that the sweat lodge gets approved sooner rather than later. Already, several key locations fitting for the sweat lodge have been identified, but no place in particular has been chosen yet.
“One of the suggestions was right here, right behind the Gathering Place,” Clement said. “It is not something that is normally traditional though. They usually aren’t out in the open like that, in a high-traffic area. They are usually in a sacred area, so that is one of the concerns we need to address.”
On top of this, Robinson said that the next step will be to work with Kamloops Fire Rescue to come up with a fire protocol for the sweat lodge as well.
Another hurdle that must be overcome before the sweat lodge gets its final approval is how it will be run and who exactly will run it, Clement said.
“They are all run differently by different First Nations and by, actually, different sweat lodge keepers,” Clement said. “Every sweat lodge is unique. Some of them follow different protocols, depending on where they are from.”