Help for Indian faith in prison

Inmates in Washington state’s prisons can attend Catholic Mass, take Protestant communion or celebrate Muslim Eid, but American Indians often struggle to find ways to practice their beliefs. For religions based in nature, bars and razor wire can be insurmountable hurdles.

A group of young adults through the Boy Scout’s Venturing program set out early this month to change that. With direction from an American Indian chaplain for the state prisons, the group hiked up a logging road near Gold Bar to collect slender alder saplings, said Ray Sayah, leader of the Venturing crew. The saplings will be used to build sweat lodges in prisons throughout Washington state.

“This is contributing to the construction of more than 20 sweat lodges,” Sayah said. “We’re trying to get one for each prison facility where they’re permitted.”

The sweat lodges will be built on prison grounds, and they will be just like those found on American Indian reservations in north Snohomish County and elsewhere.

The group collected 160 saplings, Sayah said. Each person was careful to avoid killing any other plant, in respect for tribal culture, he said.

The Venturing crew has collected saplings for sweat lodges for the past five years, Sayah said.

The Venturing program is part of the Boy Scouts of America, Sayah said. It is designed to offer outdoor activities for people between the ages of 18 and 21, who are past the age for conventional Boy Scouts programs.

Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422,

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