The Native American Veterans Healing Center was dedicated at the Spokane Veteran Affairs Medical Center on Wednesday.
VA officials said the structure was built in recognition of American Indian contributions to the U.S. armed forces with the understanding that warriors cannot be healed physically until they also are healed spiritually.
“Not only Native American, but all veterans now have a place to go to get healed,” said Victor LaSarte, a Coeur d’Alene tribal member and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.
The 1,176-square-foot, open-air structure was built on the northwest corner of the medical center’s campus with VA capital improvement funds. It incorporates two sweat lodges, one for women and one for men.
“It’s like moving from a reservation shack to a new HUD home,” LaSarte said of the upgrade.
The new structure, which replaces a nearby dilapidated sweat lodge, was designed by Spokane VA engineer Dean Fowler.
Fowler said he researched the cultural significance of sweat lodges and made a point of visiting some before designing the $170,000 healing center.
Wednesday’s ceremony opened and closed with Native prayer, song and drumming. It was attended by Spokane dignitaries, including Mayor Mary Verner, City Council President Joe Shogan, council member Steve Corker and county Commissioner Bonnie Mager.
Also in attendance were several Native American veterans who honored VA medical center director Sharon Helman with a shawl for her efforts in getting the healing center built.
“As soon as I spoke with a group of our Native American veterans and heard how important this tradition was to them, we put a plan in motion to help create a better facility for these heroes,” Helman said.
Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita of any ethnic group, according to numerous military resources. A VA spokesman said about 150 veterans who receive care at the Spokane VA have identified themselves as Native American, but the true number is likely much larger. The medical center serves about 215,000 veterans in Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana.