University Park, IL,
13:26 PM

Learning more about Native American history

Upcoming workshop and Sweat Lodge Ceremony

A professional headshot of a smiling woman wearing a black top and blazer

Co-authored by Sarah Shoaf, Staff Writer and Dr. Lisa Pennington, Associate Professor

Drawing from her own roots, Dr. Lisa Pennington is organizing a workshop and Sweat Lodge Ceremony for the Governors State University (GovState) community to help dispel some myths people may have about indigenous people and their culture.

Part Native American from one side of her family, Dr. Pennington has always been passionate about indigenous histories and making sure those stories are told accurately.

“My people are the Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy), and we have two reservations in Maine,” said Dr. Pennington. “When I started looking for indigenous organizations in this area it was because I'm so far from my own people, and so it's difficult for me to learn anything about native cultures when I'm not able to easily access ceremonies.”

Seeking some of that connection she missed out on having not grown up on the reservation, Dr. Pennington sought out local indigenous groups in the Chicago area to attend events and get involved.

While searching for local groups, Dr. Pennington received an Intellectual Life Grant, a grant awarded for events that promote and increase awareness of the arts, humanities, and other intellectual topics of universal interest.

It seemed only fitting that she honor her roots with the grant and help others looking to learn more about indigenous history, especially following Governor Pritzker's House Bill 1633 that he signed in August 2023. 

The bill requires all Illinois students from elementary to high school to learn a more complete version of Native American history. Something that is important considering that indigenous histories are often poorly and inaccurately taught, with a focus only on the past rather than including contemporary indigenous content.

“I was excited by Governor Pritzker’s mandate to teach Native American history in K-12 schools and want to support our future teachers in preparing for this endeavor," said Dr. Pennington. “When the opportunity for the Intellectual Life Grant came up, I immediately reached out to one of the groups to see if it was possible to organize a ceremony for students and faculty to help dispel the stereotypes and myths we often have in our heads surrounding indigenous peoples.”

Her efforts paid off and now Dr. Pennington is working with independent contractors from the American Indian Health Service of Chicago (AIHS) to provide an opportunity for students and faculty to learn first-hand about indigenous history and traditional ceremony. 

“I think hand-on experience is one of the best ways to learn, and fortunately they (AIHS) were willing to work with me, so hopefully we’re better preparing our students to teach accurately about native history in their future classrooms,” said Dr. Pennington. “It's also something I’m looking forward to because I can’t make Sweat Lodge Ceremonies with my own people.”

Sarina Thate Othunwaahe DiMaso and Brian Frejo will serve as the experts for the event. DiMaso is a Behavioral Health Prevention Counselor and Native American Cultural Consultant, and a citizen of the Chiricahua Apache and Taino nations. Frejo is a Cultural Coordinator and Cultural Mentor who focuses on traditional-based best practices, and a member of the Pawnee and Seminole nations.  

DiMaso and Frejo will present a workshop on indigenous ceremonies, medicines, culture, and traditions that will be held on GovState’s campus.

To support the workshop, the facilitators will conduct a Sweat Lodge Ceremony in Wilmington, Illinois, that students and faculty may participate in. Anyone in attendance can engage with the full experience or choose to assist with the ceremony, yet not enter the sweat lodge.

As a part of the ceremony experience, participants will be asked to bring a dish to share to end the ceremony by eating together as a family.

Although the workshop and Sweat Lodge Ceremony support one another, they are separate events. Anyone interested in attending can go to one or both.

Dates for the events have not been confirmed, so keep an eye out for further details as they’re announced.