Boulder City Council last night once again took up the issue of adopting an ordinance that will amend the city’s fire code to allow “open fires” – specifically those used in sweat lodge ceremonies commonly used by Boulder’s Native American community for religious practices. KGNU’s Roz Brown says the issue of open fires on private property inside the city limits only recently became an issue.
In January, a resident was alarmed by an open burn fire adjacent to his University Hill property and alerted the city. The city contacted the homeowner, David Atekpatizin Young with the Genizaro Apache Tribe of Colorado. Young explained that the fire was part of a Native American religious ceremony, and the city backed off from issuing a citation. Since that time Young and others have met with city officials and the fire marshal to draft an agreement that would allow such fires as long as organizers have a permit. Young says future ceremonies will include a fire pit or chantico.
“Chantico is a word that means hearth,” said Young. “But it also can be translated as little house, so it has a double meaning but it also references the energy of fire, some people say God, but it’s not God, it’s the energy of fire and how we use fire.”
Young says fire inside the chantico will allow stones to be heated and later transferred to a sweat lodge for a Native healing ceremony.
“It will look just like a fire pit used for grilling, only bigger in order to hold the stones and fire so I think it’s an appropriate name for this.”
About a decade ago, the city forced a Native America group to extinguish a ceremonial fire at Valmont Butte, a unique rock outcropping on Valmont Road just east of 55th Street. That led to a certain amount of antagonism between the Indigenous community and the city because as Young notes, Native Americans had used the site for spiritual practices long before settlers arrived in the Boulder Valley.
“The whole Boulder Valley is a place where many tribal communities came, because it’s a sanctuary and it’s a great hunting area and there was an abundance of food so many tribal communities came here at different times,” said Young. “The top of the butte sits at the center or the heart of the medicine wheel and that makes the butte sacred.”
After the settlers arrived in the Boulder Valley, hard rock milling operations occurred at Valmont Butte, and parts of it became contaminated with radioactive mine tailings. Nonetheless, Young says the indigenous community may want to use the site for ceremonies and will continue discussions about that with the city.
“We were holding ceremonies at Valmont Butte before, so this is not new to us, but we are concerned about the contamination, even though only parts of the butte are contaminated so it’s still a potential good site for ceremonies as long as we make sure no one will be adversely affected by the contamination.”
After the Valmont Butte incident, Young says the city promised it would find another lodge space suitable for indigenous ceremonies on open space; a promise Young says was never fulfilled. But the current city council is determined to make things right. Young says he is pleased with the support that is being shown and hopes the agreement reached in Boulder can serve as a template for other communities across the state and country to be able to address similar issues.
“I’ve been at this for 20 years, so every step we take is a step forward,” said Young. “Perhaps in a few years we’ll be able to hold ceremonies there and that will be soon enough. I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for the future and for our grandchildren and their grandchildren so hopefully they will have a place to pray.”
Last night, Boulder City Council unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance they feel addresses the city’s fire safety concerns while also allowing native ceremonies to continue without interruption.