Four Winds: Interview with LaVonne Roach

LaVonne Roach is a Lakota Sioux woman from South Dakota currently serving a 30 year sentence for Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamines. She has been here at FCI Dublin since March 1998 and has been involved with the Four Winds Group since then. She has been the spokesperson for the group for several years.
FI: How did the Four Winds come about?
On August 11, 1978, [as a result of struggles mounted by Native American peoples] Congress enacted the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act (AIFRA), (Public Law 95-341 95th Congress) which guaranteed Native Americans freedom of religion and acknowledged that religious practices and beliefs are an integral part of our culture, tradition and heritage, forming our identity and value system.
The Four Winds Group is a “religious” group. Our goal is to establish or re-establish a strong spiritual foundation. Unfortunately, many of the sisters who come into the system are victims of cultural genocide and do not know our way of life. It is essential to our healing to be able to identify and establish our spirituality which is necessary to initiate a change in our lives and begin the healing of our body, mind and spirit.
There is no difference between spiritual life and cultural life. The Four Winds promotes, motivates and encourages the Native Way of Life. The Four Winds represents the four directions which is where many of the sisters come from. We have sisters from many of the different Great Red Nations across the country.
FI: What kind of activities do you do?
It is important that you understand a little of the spirituality of our people. So I will do my best to share what I have learned in order for you to fully understand the groups purpose and what our way of life teaches us.
The group has a Canupa (Sacred Pipe) and Inepi (Sweat Lodge). The Canupa is the cornerstone of the spiritual teachings of most tribes. Chief Arval Looking Horse is the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Pipe for the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Great Siouz Nations.
The Canupa is a symbol of life. We were taught as a people to carry on the ceremonies and songs she taught so the people could live in balance with all life in peace and happiness. Every canupa made and used in the right way would be connected to the original canupa, the great pipe of pipes. She also taught us that the Sacred Canupa should be carried in our hearts, with love and compassion praying only for health, protection, guidance and wisdom. When the Canupa is filled our spirits should be pure, with no other influence of other medicine or bad thoughts toward one another.
The Four Winds has Inipi Ceremonies when possible, which has been very sporadic in the almost 5 years I’ve been here. The Sweat Lodge is also universal to all tribes. When we crawl into the Lodge, it is as grandchildren entering back into the womb of mother earth. It is a purification rite of the mind, body and soul. When we leave the Inipi we leave behind all thoughts of impurity and ignorance. The Inipi brings unity.
The Four Winds has an annual Pow-wow which is a centuries old tradition and a time of happiness, thankfulness and great feelings of pride in the honoring of friends and elders. It is a cultural ritual, social and spiritual gathering. We encourage outside guests to come in and share their wisdom and knowledge with the many sisters who are on the Red Road healing and learning our traditional cultural and spiritual way of life which has been lost to many of us because of the assimilation our parents and grandparents were subjected to.
FI: How hard is coordinating the group in prison?
It has been a struggle to coordinate ceremonies and cultural activities. Because of the limited access to outside sources, we are dependent on the Chaplains to facilitate/organize the ceremonies. Because of being “understaffed” it has affected our ceremonies which we may have once a month, if that. We meet once a week and share with each other and hope for a sweat. In my opinion, there has been a minimal effort put forth and there is not a strong sense of commitment to our religious/spiritual needs. I also feel there is a lack of understanding or rigid understanding of our way of life as well as a lack of consistency and equality.
FI: How do the ceremonies and activities support the Native communities inside and out?
The Native Way of life allows us to discover or rediscover our spiritual strength to being the changes in our lives which are necessary in order for us to bring emotional stability, social awareness, and responsibility prior to re-entering society.
The group gives us the opportunity to learn and understand the Native spirituality. Our Spiritual Leader shares the many teachings of our people. He shares the gift of wisdom, sharing the ways of our ancestors which strengthens our body, minds and spirit bringing into balance and unity the greater Circle of Life which is essential to our survival as a people.