A Democrat from Window Rock has filed a bill to regulate the use of traditional Native American rituals, such as sweat lodge ceremonies, off of tribal lands.
The bill stemmed from the deaths of two people who participated in a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona in October last year. Nineteen others became ill.
Sen. Albert Hale, a former president of the Navajo Nation, said he the state needs to require certification of all individuals and businesses who charge people to participate in what they claim to be traditional Native American rituals.
His bill, S1164, would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to adopt rules to regulate the practices in consultation with the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs.
The bill would not apply to practices on tribal lands.
Hale, who participates in sweat lodge ceremonies, said he was mentored by medicine men about the proper way to do it. He knows the songs, the prayers, and how long people should be in the lodge, he said.
His reaction to the Sedona incident was that people were misled into thinking it was a real Native American cleansing ceremony.
“(But) just the fact that we have about 60 people in there tells me it was all done for commercial purpose,” he said. No more than six to eight people are usually inside a sweat lodge, he said.
“(The bill is) saying to the people who have no knowledge about this process, this ceremony, that it is safe because the state has stepped in and regulated that, and has come up with some of certification that protects their health and their safety,” he said.