Juvenile center hopes to reconnect Native youth through their cultureThe sweat lodge is a part of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative program, which seeks to connect youth offenders to their culture as one way to reduce incarceration.
By: Naomi Yaeger, Pine Journal
In sub-zero temperatures one day in January, Steve Thomas was heating 28 large rocks in a wood fire. Then he used a pitchfork to place them inside a sweat lodge located on the property of the Arrowhead Juvenile Center on Arlington Road in Duluth.
Inside the detention facility, American Indian youth serving in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative were preparing for the sweat lodge by staying mentally positive.
Thomas is a community resource specialist employed by the Fond du Lac Band. The sweat lodge is a part of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative program, which seeks to connect youth offenders to their culture as one way to reduce incarceration.
“The kids are supposed to get into the mindset for a sweat four days before a sweat,” Thomas said. That means staying positive and respectful, he said – “Don’t call people names and that type of thing.”
Emilio Hayward, 16, is one participant. He affirmed its calming effects.
“When I come out of a sweat, I’m like a whole new person,” he said. “Every time I’ve ever gotten out of one, the next day I want to go [back] to a sweat. It’s just something that I want to go do.”
Another activity is beadwork.
“When I’m angry, I’ll bead. It calms me down,” said Xavier Petonquot, 17.
Added 14-year-old Keith Javener: “I usually have my beads by me all the time. If I get mad, I just pick up my beads and start beading.”
Babette Sandman, an Anishinaabe cultural coach in the program, said it’s more than just an arts and crafts activity.
“It’s not just beading. They are feeling their own culture,” she said. “That calmness that they’re talking about … we are trying to bring our Anishinaabe youth back home.”
Designed as a way to intervene with young people before they become repeat offenders, the JDAI program was started in 2009, said Sue Lawson, a JDAI coordinator.
“All the people involved in the [region’s] juvenile justice systems came together to look at ways to reduce the secure detention,” said Lawson. They noticed a disproportion of Native American and African Americans in the system, leading to the creation of the program. Supporting it is a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and it’s now in place at the Arrowhead Juvenile Center.
Kathy Trihey, superintendent of the AJC, explained the program’s effectiveness through the numbers showing the potential to reduce recidivism.
“In 2011, about 500 youth were in secure detention at AJC,” she emailed. “Of this group about 27 percent are here on new charges for the first time. … Therefore, the other 63 percent are youth who are been on probation or have not appeared for court.”
Significantly, she added: “Only 7 percent of the 500 came back on new charges and violations of probation.”
Rochelle Norton, 17, is one of those who has completed her time and hasn’t come back. Beading may be one reason why, she says.
“Beading is a way to connect with the spirits. It shows appreciation for our Anishinaabe,” she said. “It’s very relaxing and every single bead is a spirit that holds a thought. Our thoughts should be good and we should wear them with pride.”