New Sweat Lodge Provides Balance and Clarity for those in Treatment 1,800 Miles Away
“My coping mechanisms no longer served a purpose,” said NHBP Tribal Member Thomas Foerster, 55. “Growing up in foster homes, there were so many things I never learned as a kid. The stuff I did learn, like hypervigilance, caused me to start using alcohol and drugs as a way to deal.”
Feeling “a huge emptiness and hopelessness” after the aftermath of not only two years of a pandemic but also violently losing his best friend, Foerster packed up in March 2022 and admitted himself to the Hope & Healing Center in Arizona, a rehab center specially designed for Native American men.
As “many Native American communities have limited access to substance abuse programs,” the Hope & Healing Addiction Center’s mission is to “help eliminate barriers to care and increase treatment engagement…with strategies that blend traditional Native teachings with evidence-based practices,” according to its website.
“We opened in June 2020 and the intent was to build a Sweat Lodge to incorporate that healing aspect into our program, but it hadn’t happened yet,” said the center’s Program Director Dwight Francisco.
Thanks to the knowledge gained through his Elders about traditional ways and healing, Foerster helped Francisco and the center’s clients as they built the Sweat Lodge together in April and May. They personally tilled the soil, traveled to acquire the lumber from the nearby Salt River Reservation and gathered the rocks for the lodge during hikes every Thursday night.
“I started putting the Lodge together, this was part of my heartbeat,” said Forester.
About a week into construction, after the men laid Cedar down on the tilled soil to bless the land, two eagles landed for about ten minutes on that very spot reserved for the Lodge.
“It was our sign,” said Foerster.
“The center and the land had everything out here to build a Sweat Lodge, we just needed a tarp,” Foerster said. Although his physical person was located hundreds of miles away from his Tribe, NHBP was never that far from Foerster’s mind.
“Thomas called the Culture Department, seeing if we could help,” said NHBP Culture Department Manager Fred Jacko. “I immediately responded, ‘Of course.’”
Fortuitously, Foerster’s family members were on their way to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the largest Pow Wow in North America, and personally delivered the tarps to the Hope & Healing Center in a matter of days.
Jacko acknowledges that the three tarps weren’t a “big donation, we were going to buy new tarps for our Sweat Lodges at NHBP. But if they could use them, we were happy to pay them forward.”
But for Foerster, the gift of the tarps meant everything.
“I feel honored the Tribe would respond in such a positive and helpful way,” said Foerster. “The Culture Department also sent us some Medicines, like flat Cedar and Sweetgrass; Fred even sent us some Maple Syrup for Medicine.”
According to the Center, “the first part of treatment focuses on the quest for the true self… finding the balance within by looking inward and learning about your true self.”
Since its Lodge opened in early May 2022, the center has been able to host a Sweat every Thursday at sunset.
“We have as many as six different Nations represented each week,” said Foerster. “All our Ancestors are talking together, praying, it’s so powerful. What makes this Lodge unique is that usually one is built to serve a specific community and their guests, but this Lodge serves so many, all working on ourselves, finding that peace, that tranquility.”
The Lodge holds approximately 15 people, who sit in a circle, praying or verbally expressing the issues that are bothering them.
“No one is more powerful than anyone else in that circle,” said Foerster. “You come out of the Sweat lighter, something that didn’t belong there will be removed. You will get clarity.”
His healing and addressing his issues help Foerster to move forward with more clarity. As does his gratitude to NHBP:
Foerster also wishes and prays for the healing of other Tribal Members who may be dealing with intergenerational trauma and conditioned thinking.
“I hope Tribal Members realize they can come out here and get healing in this way,” said Foerster.
The Hope & Healing Center serves as a 16-bed inpatient rehab facility for Native American men, and its sister facility, Park Place, is a ten-bed inpatient facility for Native American women.
If you would like to seek help for a mental health or a substance use disorder at a facility like the Hope & Healing Center, please contact the NHBP Case Manager Dave Beatty by call or text at 269.986.9019 or email at email@example.com. Beatty can assist Tribal Members in securing placement at centers across the country, depending on the Tribal Member’s preferences and individual needs.