The sweat-lodge ceremony is practiced by many First Nations people in Saskatchewan and across North America. A purification ceremony, it can be performed by itself or as a prelude to other ceremonies such as the Sun Dance. The site of the lodge is usually chosen with great care. A fire-pit is dug, where specially chosen rocks are heated. These rocks range in size from 25 cm to 50cm and can hold heat for a long time. A pit, which will hold the hot rocks during the ceremony, is then dug in the centre of the spot where the lodge will be built. The builder then gathers supple saplings, which are bent to form a dome; amongst many First Nations this dome represents the womb of Mother Earth. The saplings are covered with layers of blankets, and sometimes canvas tarpaulins are placed over the blankets (in earlier times furs and bark were used). The opening of the lodge usually faces east. Once the ceremony is ready to begin, one person will remain on the outside to look after the heated rocks and put them in the central pit during the ceremony.

The ceremony usually takes place in the late afternoon, and sometimes lasts until dawn of the next day. There are two styles: one where only heated rocks are used, and another where water is poured on the rocks. Either will produce the desired effect of sweat. When the rocks are heated to the point where they are considered ready, the participants strip naked or to light undergarments. The host then enters the lodge on hands and knees; the others follow in the same manner and sit in a circle around the centre pit. Once all the participants are inside the lodge, the fire-tender begins to pass in the heated rocks, which are placed in the pit. The number of rocks used vary from as few as sixteen to as many as sixty-four. The number and placement of the rocks are as important as the overall ceremony; each First Nation will focus of different aspects as they relate to different needs. Once a number of heated rocks are passed into the Lodge, the entry is closed and the host begins to pray. Participants can say prayers in their own way during this time. After some time, everybody leaves the lodge and then comes back in so as to prevent any health hazard. This process can be repeated as many as four times, depending on the needs of the participants. At the end of the ceremony, everyone wishes everyone else a good life. After the ceremony is over, a traditional feast is often held by the family of the host.

William Asikinack