Wash. DOC Pledges to Restore Indigenous Religious Freedoms

Jun 21st, 2021

In response to repeated demands from the ACLU of Washington, Galanda Broadman, PLLC, and Huy this year as COVID has waned, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) has pledged to restore Indigenous prisoners’ religious freedoms as well as enhance those relatives’ opportunities for spiritual rehabilitation.

On June 17, 2021, that coalition wrote new DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange:

Native American prisoners have not been able to worship in a traditional group setting within the Department of Corrections since March of 2020— for the last sixteen months. They have been denied access to Inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony, most notably. Coupled with cancelled pow wow celebrations last year and thus far this year, and the lack of any human contact with loved ones, this is an inhumane and untenable situation. Immediate change is necessary.

The DOC responded the next day with a plan for change.

According to a June 18, 2021, email from DOC Correctional Program Administrator Lisa Flynn:

Sweat Lodges

  • We will be creating callouts for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to support sweat lodge activities
    • Vaccinated individuals will have the ability to participate in inipi sweats by first being confirmed of their vaccinated status and then being placed on call for service.  This will be done by a designated medical staff person.
    • Once at the sweat lodge they will still be required to mask up and remain socially distanced in line with current process while in the inipi, but will have access to full sweat lodge services
    • As has been occurring under modified sweats, they will have the pipe ceremony but it will remain modified with the passing of the pipe and no physical touch to the face/lips
  • Modified sweats will continue for unvaccinated individuals per the existing process as we continue to encourage an incentivize our population to get vaccinated
    • Unvaccinated individuals will be placed on a separate callsheet and will not attend at the same time as the vaccinated to ensure the processes are kept separate for health and safety.
  • Next week we are finalizing the process and lining up the callsheets, as well as working with Winona to deliver a message to affected individuals in our care.

Drumming

  • Drumming ceremonies have continued for facilities with access to sponsors and even at some locations where staff are nearby and just monitoring.  This remains challenging as staff are still stretched very thin….

Pow Wows

  • As noted in our previous meetings, we are already working with Religious Coordinators to schedule fall Pow Wows, providing two options based on if visitors are allowed to attend or not attend.  That way we have already screened the processes through health services and do not have any delays.

Medicine Garden Expansion

  • Manager [Dawn] Taylor has already reached out to gather initial information regarding medicine garden expansion, requesting information from the successful programs at WSP and AHCC.  We will then be working with Nancy Dufraine, Winona [Stevens] and other stakeholders to develop steps moving forward.

Sweat Lodge Rebuilds

  • Additionally, we are developing the plans to prioritize sweat lodge rebuilds and create plans to move forward once a calendar is developed and Manager Taylor works with Winona for site-specific resources to engage the circles at each impacted facility safely.