Veterans Find Healing in Native American Tradition

Buffalo skull leaning against VA Center sweat lodge, Photo by Taki Telonidis

Deep West Radio Documentaries
05/28/2012 NPR All Things Considered

In honor of Memorial Day, NPR's All Things Considered is airing our Deep West Radio Documentary about an unusual healing ceremony that is being offered to veterans at the Salt Lake City VA Center: a Native American sweat ceremony.  Listen.


Scene from a sweat ceremony at VA Center, Photo by Taki TelonidisAs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, America’s soldiers are returning home by the tens of thousands. Some of them are coming home with physical wounds and will face enormous challenges in their readjustment. Many more are coming home with wounds of the heart and mind, and are struggling with depression, substance abuse and other symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And while doctors and researchers work to develop cutting-edge treatments for this affliction, the VA Center in Salt Lake City is offering a healing ceremony that reaches back to America’s first warriors: Native Americans. Each week, a group of vets attend a sweat lodge ceremony, held in a garden on the VA campus.

Spiritual leader Arnold Thomas: Photo by Patrick BrennanThe sweats are conducted by  Native American spiritual leader Arnold Thomas in a dome-shaped structure called a lodge. Sweats are common in Indian country, and ceremonies specifically designed to help returning warriors heal spiritually have taken place for centuries. Over the past several years, the sweats at the VA have drawn increasing numbers of non-Native veterans who've made them an integral part of their treatment for PTSD.

Media producer Taki Telonidis found out about these sweats while conducting research for a larger project about Native Americans in the military called First Nation Warriors. You'll be hearing more about this project in the coming months.

Visit Arnold Thomas' website:   http://www.whitebuffaloknife.com/.
Visit the Salt Lake City VA:  http://www.saltlakecity.va.gov/.

This Deep West Radio Documentary was produced with support from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.