Sweating it out on campus

Student hopes to bring a sweat lodge to campus by September 2015

Jordan Robinson hopes to bring a sweat lodge to campus by September 2015. First he'll seek the approval of local spiritual leaders and the Tk’emlúps. (Ashley Wadhwani/The Omega)

Jordan Robinson hopes to bring a sweat lodge to campus by September 2015. First he’ll seek the approval of local spiritual leaders and the Tk’emlups. (Ashley Wadhwani/The Omega)

Fourth-year biology major Jordan Robinson is proposing a sweat lodge be built on campus with a focus on sustainability. If approved, the sweat lodge will be built on the hill beside the Lot N parking area.

Originally from northern Alberta, Robinson grew up attending his nation’s sweat lodge often. Upon moving to the city, Robinson stopped attending ceremonies and lost sight of his cultural roots.

“I completely forgot where I came from and I started being wavered so easily just getting in with wrong crowd,” he said. “Once I started going back to the lodge it just instantly came back.”

Robinson is currently in the process of applying for a sustainability grant through the Sustainability Grant Fund to fund the building that would house the sweat lodge. The building would be a dome-like structure covered in grass. Robinson is proposing a sweat lodge with two lodges, one for men and co-ed and one for women, roughly 20 to 40 feet in diameter.

“To keep it respectful and protected we would need to have a secured building around it so that people don’t desiccate it because it would be a sacred place,” Robinson said. “The inside of the building wouldn’t be a typical building. It wouldn’t be made of bricks it would be clay, or raw wood.”

Robinson is focusing his graduation research project on finding what plants would be appropriate for different aspects of the building, focusing on sustainability.

“For every piece of grass that we take out of the ground we’ll put back on top of the roof. For every piece of sage we kill we’d have to replace it. It’s sort of a fair trade,” Robinson said.

“To actually put [a sweat lodge] up doesn’t take much and it’s not supposed to take much. It does incorporate the natural world and when you take it down too you should have it so it wasn’t there,” said Vernie Clement, Gathering Place mentor and community coordinator.

Aside from the sustainability grant, which would pay for the initial building costs, Robinson has met with the dean of arts, the dean of science and the dean of law who have offered to speak with the other deans in hopes of offering an honorarium for maintenance of the sweat lodge.

Robinson will also be meeting with the traditional knowledge keepers to seek permission for the lodge.

“With the spiritual leaders and Tk’emlups, that’s where the real challenge is,” Robinson said. “I will not go through with this if they don’t give me the permission.”

A sweat lodge on campus would give access to a ceremonial practice that students at the UBC and BCIT already have on their campuses.

“For Aboriginal students, a lot of [them] who come from smaller communities and who [have] really connected to their culture miss that about their home. When they move here they not only disconnect from their family but also that part of their culture and their life, and it’s kind of hard,” Clement said.

If a student is interested in taking part in a ceremony but not familiar with the practice, workshops will be offered through the Gathering Place in order to prepare them.

“It involves being sober for, depending on the lodge keeper, between four days and two weeks. It’s a place of cleaning yourself up and being pure,” Robinson said.

Robinson was told to expect a reply on his proposal by late March. If approved, TRU can expect the sweat lodge to be completed by September 2015. Robinson added that ceremonies would have to start immediately.

“Once you put up a lodge, [if] you leave it empty, it’s like leaving a banana peel on the floor – it just starts to rot,” Robinson said.