Inípi Ceremony Connects Students to Their Culture and Each Other

Inipi participants purify themselves by smudging before entering the lodge.

The Lakota (Sioux) culture is rich with tradition and St. Joseph’s Indian School looks for ways to honor and connect our students to their culture as much as possible. One of the ways we do this is by providing an inípi.

Inípi, also known as a sweat lodge, is a basic purification ceremony of the Lakota (Sioux), as well as other Native Americans. It’s a ceremony offered several times a year for students, and holds great depth of meaning.

Students help construct the inipi sweat lodge on the north end of St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus.

The inípi lodge takes the shape of a dome and is constructed of 16 tree branches, preferably from the willow tree, and a canvas or hide cover. Due to its shape, some describe the lodge as a symbol of Mother Earth’s womb.

Before the ceremony takes place, prayers are said and the lodge is purified with the burning smoke of sage and cedar. Participants also purify themselves by smudging with the smoke before entering the lodge.

Chaplain Fr. Greg and Lakota Studies Lead LaRayne Woster prepare to build a fire to warm the rocks.

During inípi, participants sit in a circle. Heated rocks, also referred to as “grandfathers” because they are the oldest entities on earth, are placed on a fireplace in the center. Water is poured over them to create steam and warm the lodge.

While participants sit in the darkness with steam from the grandfathers, they all pray and ask for guidance. Songs are sung and participants offer prayers to Wakȟáŋ TȟáŋkaGreat Spirit.

The door to the lodge is opened four times. On the fourth time the door is opened, all participants emerge from the lodge, leaving behind all that is impure.

“It becomes very hot in the lodge. By the time you leave, you are soaking wet; however, you feel so refreshed and alive and cleansed!” said Amanda, a Family Service counselor who participated in a past inípi.

A student shared their feelings after participating:

“At the inípi, I thought it was going to be a weak sweat (not very warm), but never judge the seven grandfathers. I enjoyed all of the four rounds and it was really good. I hadn’t been in a sweat lodge in a while and enjoyed it very much.”

Another said:

“Inípi is a way for me to pray in my Lakota way. I learned about it in Native American Studies class. The ceremony was cool because I got to watch and help build the lodge. Lila wóphila — I am grateful — because when you give to our school, you are helping to make cultural events like the inípi happen.”

Typically after inípi, the group moves to one of our campus homes for a meal, where once again they gather in a circle — only this time around a table. Conversation radiates around their recent experience, and drifts to the future when they can take part in another ceremony.

The feeling of connection following inípi is strong. On typical nights, our students eat quickly and rush off to other activities, but the time of prayer bonds them and they all stay longer and talk — more grounded in the moment.

Philámayayethank you — for your support to connect students to this rich tradition. Watching them grow spiritually stronger in their faith and connect to their culture is gratifying, and possible because of you.

To learn more about how culture is emphasized at St. Joseph’s Indian School, visit

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

13 thoughts on “Inípi Ceremony Connects Students to Their Culture and Each Other”

  1. So appreciate the explanation of ceremonies, a long time supporter of St. Joseph’s….. bkesdings always around you all,,,,

  2. I am so glad to see how St. Joseph students learn Lakota culture. I view our monthly gift as an antidote to the harm done by the US governments efforts to destroy it.

    1. Thank you so much for your monthly support. Our DreamMakers mean so much to us. Thank you!

  3. This brought back so many memories I was invited to a sweat lodge back in the 90’s It meant so much. I remember that there was snow on the ground and walked out of there with barefoot and a tank top and sweat pants and wasn’t cold at all. Thank you for all you do. I don’t have much money I am old but when I can I will send something

  4. As the body sweats and you are thinking and praying about cleansing your soul, so the Spirit washes away those impurities. Your ritual is very beautiful and Spiritual.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. how absolutely so sacred and grounding! i completely love this and i so wish i had this kind of community and culture to lean into.. traditions and ceremonies like this, make life rich and compelling and sacred… beautiful beautiful beautiful

  6. for me, it gives my heart great joy to be able to help the LAKOTA SIOUX community and student to maintain their culture and heritage. my giving is small but is done with a devotion to you. i have tried to read as much as i can get on books to try and understand the ways of your culture, but some how it seems that it is not enough! i wish i could sit beside an elder or a student and just bore them to death with questions, i have so many !!! someday, maybe someday it will happen . say Hi to everyone , stay safe, and continue on, you are doing GREAT !!!!!! your friend jim and max, my dog

    1. Thank you so much, James! You wouldn’t bore anyone, we can promise you that! From time to time, we host donor luncheons at various cities across the country. Perhaps one day we will be in your neck of the woods and you could attend and meet our staff and students and ask all the questions you’d like! We also host a powwow each year that is open to the public. This event is special because donors can tour our campus homes, school, health center, equine therapy center and more! If either of these opportunities intrigue you, visit or for more info. Thank you!

    1. Hi there! While it would be special to experience a sweat lodge ceremony with donors and the public, we can only hold so many each year due to scheduling and it’s imperative the available spots be used by our students. At this time, we do not hold sweat lodge ceremonies for anyone outside of St. Joseph’s.

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