Authorities said between 50 and 60 people were in the sweat lodge structure for nearly two hours -- far exceeding the number who ordinarily would participate in a traditional sweat, according to Bruchac.
In a typical ritual, the leader of the sweat gathers four to 12 friends, family members or guests inside the structure, usually made of willow and covered with blankets or canvas, he said.
"The person running the sweat has to be very aware of the people in the lodge because he takes control of them mentally, physically and spiritually," said Bruchac. "The leader is responsible for them, so he has to be aware of their physical conditions and their motivations, their reasons for being there."
After everyone is inside, a firekeeper heats stones, usually lava rocks, and brings them into the lodge, placing them in a hole in the ground and carefully pouring water over the stones to release steam.
The technique of releasing the heat is done with great care so that no one is injured by the steam, which can burn skin or lungs if someone inhales it, said Father Raymond Bucko, Director of Native Studies at Creighton University.
"Nobody will make it so hot that no one can stand it," said Bucko. "Religious leaders are very careful about people's health in thesweat. If they're not healthy, people can sit outside the sweat and pray and others can go in for them."
A ritual of speaking or prayer may follow, depending on the group's intention for gathering.
"People talk and often there's lot of humor, but at any time if it's too hot, some one can say so and they will immediately open the door and people are encouraged to go out," he said.
The Jesuit priest and cultural anthropologist participated in sweats with the Crow and Lakota people for nearly 30 years, until he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago.
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