Nez Perce Tribe plans to rebuild sweat lodge damaged by flood 6-30-07

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - A Nez Perce Tribe sweat lodge damaged by a flash flood two years ago is being rebuilt with about $80,000 supplied by the tribe, state of Idaho and the federal government.

“For us, it's really the recognition that the people that believe within the traditional circle of life, they still exist,” Virgil Holt Sr. told the Lewiston Tribune.

The May 2005 flood caused about $40,000 in damage to the sweat lodge and more than $1 million in damage to Nez Perce County roads, bridges and culverts.

After the flood, President Bush signed a federal disaster declaration, a move that provided federal money for repairs.

Holt is working with the Spring Creek Society, a group of tribal members who want to preserve sweat lodge practices.

“It's a place where you go and cleanse, whether its physically, spiritually,” he said.

Taking part in the project are the tribe, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, U.S. Forest Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Work also includes installing a new highway culvert system that will let fish move upstream.

“In terms of this kind of structure, I've never encountered a request from Idaho from one of the Indian nations,” said Bill Bishop, director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security. “I was certainly pleased to support the tribes request in this regard.”

Bishop said the new lodge is designed to be less vulnerable to floods.

The 50-foot by 50-foot sweat lodge is being designed in the manner of a traditional Nez Perce winter lodge. Holt said it will be stronger than the lodge that was destroyed in the flood.

“Flood, wind, this building hopefully will be able to withstand quite an impact from adverse weather conditions,” Holt said.

The area where the sweat lodge is being built has been the site of numerous sweat lodges in the past, Holt said.

“Historically that spring, because of that water quality, has always been the cleansing site for our people,” he said. “Up and down that site are the remnants of countless, countless sweat lodges and mud baths.”

Holt said the new lodge is expected to be finished by the end of August.