Utah Department of Corrections

Native American inmates participate in Fall Powwow

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With song, drum, dance, food and prayer, Native American inmates at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison gathered together Nov. 14 to celebrate their culture and reconnect with their traditional roots.

The powwow, themed “Many Tribes … One Nation” and organized by inmate Wendell Navanick Jr., welcomed Fall and promoted unity.

Volunteers Joe Bennion, Jim Pritchard, Mary Hill, Leslie Christofferson and Elva Christofferson joined the celebration. Craig Burr, programming director, and Corrections Officer Alvin Hatch also participated.

Twenty-five years ago a federal lawsuit affirmed the right of Utah’s Native American inmates to engage in traditional spiritual practices while incarcerated. There are now several sweat lodge yards at each prison, providing inmates an opportunity to participate in spiritual sweats at least monthly. Volunteers also supervise pipe and talking circle gatherings several times a month.

It is the second time in recent years that inmates at Gunnison have put on a powwow.

“This means everything to them,” said Pritchard, a Native American spiritual leader who volunteers at both the Gunnison and Draper prisons. “They look forward to this — being able to present their culture, to be able to interact socially on this level.”

Sometimes the members of different tribes are antagonist to each other, but “today they are not,” said Pritchard, who is Cherokee. “It really helps them as people and it helps the administration on the inside [of the prison] by calming them down, helping them become less stressed in this environment.”

To see more photos, visit the Department's Facebook page. To see videos of the event, see the Utah Department of Correction's channel on Youtube.com

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