March 9, 2011
Posted: 04:23 PM ET
Canton, GA- The ground had just begun to turn to mud when we arrived at the Canton, GA, log home. Rain soaked the grass and shoes trampled it, as the participants of the days’ sweat lodge ceremony made preparations. HLN/In Session anchors Ryan Smith, Christi Paul, and Jane Velez-Mitchell were on their way to join the group, and share the experience.
I was there not to participate, but to make sure the shoot went off without a hitch – and there were a few too many unknowns for my liking. My colleague Adam Blank has participated in a sweat lodge ceremony himself, and was the driving force behind our project. But I had only the murkiest idea of how the day would unfold; the answers we received about specifics seemed, to the mind of a producer, pretty vague. There were technical questions too: Would the metal microphone clips burn our anchors’ skin once the heat rose? Would the steam deal a deathblow to our camera before the first frames of footage were even captured? And the mud – there was lots of mud. Someone, surely, would slip and take a spill with expensive equipment in tow.
As we were welcomed, a contagious spirit of anticipation and camaraderie spread. Lupe, the gracious mistress of the house, held out hope for a “donut” – a rain-free spot above her backyard. Gary Adler FourStar, the leader of the ceremony, said the cameras would work if the spirits wanted them to. The fire was built, the lodge was covered, and our veteran cameramen followed along to be the proverbial fly on the wall.
FourStar is of Assiniboine lineage, and the founder of the Many Horses Foundation. He said that rainy morning he’d be denounced by some for allowing filming of the sacred ceremony, and the criticisms have come. FourStar is an insightful guy and doesn’t need my help in defending his decision, nor is it my place to defend it. Native American heritage and tradition, like all other, is a complicated, multi-faceted thing, and reasonable minds can passionately disagree. Our job is to document what we can.
As it turned out, the infrared camera rolled unencumbered by the steam for some 40 minutes inside the hut before our photographer turned it off to allow privacy for the hours that followed. We show only Jane, Christi, and Ryan’s images from this footage, and not the intensely personal moments of others. The group emerged after three hours; some legs didn’t bear up after the physical and spiritual chore. Hugs were exchanged, water bottles drained, and one young couple wandered off to sit among trees surrounding the site.
As I’m scrubbing my sneakers and Adam is nursing a cold, we are immensely grateful to FourStar and the others for allowing us to attend. The images and insights of Christi, Ryan, and Jane, however controversial, will illustrate the sweat lodge experience and its spiritual purpose in a way even four months of testimony in an Arizona courtroom can not. As we watch the trial of self-help guru James Ray on charges he caused the deaths of three participants in his own version of the ceremony, we know that agendas differ and each lodge is unique. At the end of the day, we, and our viewers, know a little bit more about the world around us.
-Lena Jakobsson, In Session Field Producer
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