A spiritual place to sweat

A Bluebird Canyon backyard has recently become the site of Native American rituals.

Resident Andrew Soliz, an Acoma Pueblo American Indian, is a sun dancer and comes from a line of medicine men. He has a tattoo of buffalo marching down his right forearm, an homage to his Native American name "Tatanka Mani," which translates to "walking buffalo." He ties his long brown hair in a low-hanging ponytail.

Part of his tradition includes sweat lodges, which he's conducted all over for the U.S. for 12 years, including for youth at a prison in the Virgin Islands, adults at San Quentin State Prison and for groups of at-risk teens.

A resident of Laguna Beach for a little more than three months, Soliz, 47, said he told nearby neighbors of his gatherings and informed them of his extensive knowledge of the practice.

However, on Jan. 29, a neighbor reported Soliz to police, claiming a nude man had urinated on his property after participating in Soliz's sweat lodge.

Authorities arrived at Soliz's home, and he explained that he was a Native American holding religious services, which occur a couple of times a month.

The men involved in his sweat lodge that day were not nude, nor are the participants ever undressed, Soliz said. He said the man urinated along a fence on his own property, not on his neighbor's, and he wouldn't let it happen again.

Soliz said he feels there are myths associated with sweat lodges that he wants to dispel.

"People tend to fear what they don't understand," he said.

In 2009, guru James Arthur Ray led a sweat lodge in Sedona, Ariz. that killed three people. The self-help celebrity charged $9,695 for the five-day spiritual retreat, and attendees told reporters they endured fasting and sleep deprivation. It was alleged that Ray didn't allow fresh air in the tent.

Unlike Ray and others, Soliz said the ritual is part of his tradition and, like many religious practices, he would never ask for money from anyone to participate.

In the Lakota tribe, sweat lodges are called "inipi," he said, which means house of life and house of health. He says the sweating purifies the body and releases toxins.

"This is where people come to get healthy, not to get hurt," he said.

Participants cannot consume alcohol or do drugs 24 hours prior to the ceremony, he said. The participants aren't nude; women are almost covered entirely in long dresses, and the men wear shorts.

The ritual takes about two hours and happens in four phases. Between each phase the sweat lodge’s cover is lifted, letting air in, and during the third phase participants are encouraged to get up and drink water before returning. People aren’t forced to stay in, Soliz said. Lava rocks are heated in an outdoor propane stove then carried into the sweat lodge, where they’re placed in a pit. The constant in the ritual is prayer.

The sweat lodge on Jan. 29 happened to be for men only. However, women and children are invited to others he hosts.

Besides the reporting neighbor, Soliz said the majority of his neighbors have been supportive and the community even more so, with most of his participants from Laguna Beach

He doesn't advertise, so participants learn about the sweat lodges mostly through word of mouth.

Soliz said many Native American religious traditions, including sweat lodges, were illegal until 1978 when the U.S. and Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which is intended to protect their religious freedoms.

The city of Laguna Beach was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.


Twitter: @joannaclay

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