Red Lodge Transition Services
Native American First FoodS Ceremony
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility
Red Lodge Transition Services was granted a 2018 ninety-nine girlfriends Impact Award for funding a case worker for two years. The newly hired case worker, Juniper Dyer, will assist women who are staying in the transition house with the many phases of re-establishing a life after prison including: reuniting with children, finding employment, and accessing housing and job training. Juniper was previously at NAYA where she worked as a Youth Development Advocate.
In addition to the many services Red Lodge provides, Trish Jordan, Red Lodge’s Executive Director, organizes Native American spiritual services in prisons throughout the Northwest. One such service is the spring First Foods Ceremony.
On Saturday, May 4, Native American Religious Services volunteers and members of Red Lodge Transition Services prepared and performed a traditional First Foods Ceremony at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF). The ceremony was for all of the Native American women currently confined at CCCF. Diana Velene and Holly Smithwick, the ninety-nine girlfriends Liaisons for the Red Lodge, were invited to attend.
After the celebration, we all sat on blankets on the ground and shared a traditional spring meal of salmon, deer, roots, berries, and fry bread with jam and honey. Having the opportunity to connect with each other and with what is held sacred by their people is fundamental to healing into a better life.
The First Foods ceremony has been celebrated for hundreds of years to honor the new foods of spring. A great example of Native American spiritual expression, the ceremony included dancing, singing, eating, and a sharing circle where everyone was invited to tell any part of their personal story. The invited elders began each section of the ceremony with their stories and teachings.
As the ceremony proceeded, we could see the women of Coffee Creek become less guarded and participate more freely with each other and the visiting elders. They were building stronger bonds with each other and establishing a sense of trust through the connection with their shared community traditions. As we talked with them afterwards they told us the day gave them a stronger sense of belonging to each other and reminded them of the support system they have with family and friends outside of prison. Ceremonies such as these help them look forward with optimism towards the future.
The First Amendment protects a prisoner’s right to practice their religion of choice. The law protects these rights for good reason. Religious communities provide a vital network of support for prisoners and can play an important role in easing a prisoner’s transition back into the community upon release - ACLU
We were disappointed we were not able to get photos to share, however, there was a crew from Oregon Public Broadcasting filming the ceremony and interviewing participants for a segment on Native American Spiritual practices. It’s expected to air this fall and we’ll provide a link as soon as it’s available.
We continue to learn about Red Lodge and the many services they provide to their clients. We are in the planning stages of an open house at the lodge in September and hope you can join us.
Trish and Juniper attended the Engagement Party in June and shared a “CultureCard” with members who visited their table. It’s a Guide to Build Cultural Awareness focused on the American Indian and Alaska Native. Click here for a copy.