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.

4 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!

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