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Frank LaMere

Frank LaMere, a local Native American activist, said during the construction of a community sweat lodge Sunday that the Native American community, which faces substance abuse issues and other problems, has a desire to get well. 

SIOUX CITY -- When he was getting sober three decades ago, Chris Denny found going to a sweat lodge was useful on his path to the "good red road" -- a wholesome, healthy lifestyle. 

"The sweat lodges helped me in my recovery," he said. "It helps me deal with my spirituality and my recovery." 

Denny, a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, was on hand Sunday afternoon during the construction of a new community sweat lodge in Sioux City, situated adjacent to War Eagle Park on property owned by Jackson Recovery Centers. 

The small, dome-shaped structure of willow branches will be used in traditional purification ceremonies, also known as "sweats." The ceremonies typically involve stones heated in a fire, which warm the interior of the structure, as well as special herbs, prayers, songs and other rituals. 

Once it's up and running -- the roughly 20 volunteers expected to finish it Sunday, despite a problem with inflexible willow branches -- the sweat lodge will be open to those in the community who want to use it. 

"I think it's a good learning tool, I think it's a good cultural tool," Denny said. "It's good physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually." 

Frank LaMere, a longtime Native American activist, said anyone planning to take part in a sweat should be prepared for an experience far more powerful than a trip to the spa or sauna. 

"There's much more involved -- there's healing here," LaMere said. "Those who wish to heal will probably come this way, and those who wish to heal, Native and non-Native, will be welcome." 

LaMere, who has advocated for substance-abuse treatment and housing for Native Americans and was involved in the yearslong fight against alcohol sales in Whiteclay, Nebraska to residents of the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation, said this sweat lodge is a step in the right direction. 

"I'm going to say, things have never been worse in our community," he said. "We have a Native community saying, 'I want to get well' -- well now our community's going to find out how committed we are to that." 

Ben Nesselhuf, vice president and chief development officer at Jackson Recovery, said that the detox facility has been working with Native American groups since purchasing the culturally-significant tract -- not far from the grave of War Eagle, a 19th century Native American riverboat guide -- to find a mutually beneficial use for the land. 

"This has been a long time in the making," he said. 

Jackson plans to incorporate sweats into some of its healing practices going forward -- in the past, some patients have opted to go off-site for sweats while in the facility. 

"Jackson Recovery Centers has been working with the Native American community for years and years," Kim Wilson, a marketing director with Jackson, said. "We understand that our patients come from different cultural backgrounds. So what we're trying to do is to respect that culture -- to help with their healing." 

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Lifestyles reporter

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