FARGO — Less than a year after Fargo leaders closed down a sweat lodge on city property, organizers are hoping to open another location on private property.

Meanwhile, one of the lodge’s users has filed a federal complaint claiming the city violated her religious freedoms when it shuttered the site.

Anne Spiegelberg of Elbow Lake, Minn., filed the complaint Wednesday, Aug. 26, in federal court against Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, Planning and Development Director Nicole Crutchfield and Native American Commission Chairwoman Lenore King. The city closed the sweat lodge located at 39th Street South and 37th Avenue South in December.

Crutchfield cited in a Jan. 30 memo to the Native American Commission “inconsistent operations that pose safety concerns” as one of the main reasons for shuttering the site, which was managed by the Native American Commission.

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The city, which owns the property where the lodge was built, discussed updating operational rules for the lodge and defining the government’s liability and responsibility to the site before potentially reopening it.

Andrew Grant removes items from the the Fargo community sweat lodge site located near the corner of 39th Street South and 37th Avenue South on Thursday, August 27. David Samson / The Forum
Andrew Grant removes items from the the Fargo community sweat lodge site located near the corner of 39th Street South and 37th Avenue South on Thursday, August 27. David Samson / The Forum

“After further discussions with city leaders, we believe a more sustainable organizational structure is necessary, and we need to call on our community partners for more engagement or contract management of the site,” Crutchfield said in the memo.

Spiegelberg claims the city, planning commission and Native American Commission “want to make new rules and tell us how to pray.” She’s accused the city of trying to tear down “our place of worship.”

“They have made accusations with no evidence,” she wrote in the complaint, alleging the city held closed-door meetings without representatives from the lodge and didn’t give them due process. “The city of Fargo and its government entities violated separation of church and state by putting restrictions (on) what we can and cannot (do).”

Spiegelberg didn't specify in her complaint the accusations by the city. She asked the court to intervene in the razing of the lodge, noting there was personal property there. Judge Alice Senachal signed an order to waive filing fees, but an injunction had not been issued as of Thursday afternoon.

The city of Fargo declined to comment on the complaint since it has not been served court notification of its existence, spokesman Gregg Schildberger said. Officials have not scheduled a date for potential razing.

Leona Owlboy  and Andrew Grant practice a morning prayer Thursday, August 27, at the Fargo community sweat lodge site located near the corner of 39th Street South and 37th Avenue South. David Samson / The Forum
Leona Owlboy and Andrew Grant practice a morning prayer Thursday, August 27, at the Fargo community sweat lodge site located near the corner of 39th Street South and 37th Avenue South. David Samson / The Forum

Locals described the lodge as urban, which attracted dozens of people from all walks of live in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Canada for spiritual purification. The dome structure made of willow saplings, canvas and blankets allowed people to gather inside the structure for prayer and healing as water was poured on heated rocks.

Several people involved with the ceremonies met Thursday evening to discuss building a sweat lodge at a private location. Spiegelberg declined to disclose the address of the future site.

The closing of the lodge was not taken lightly, Crutchfield wrote in the memo, noting a number of people used the lodge for health and spiritual practices.

City staff and the Native American Commission have been looking for partners to reopen the lodge on private property, Schildberger said.

In a message, Spiegelberg said she took down the lodge, burned the willows and prayer flags and filled the pit with “the prayer line and alter dirt.”

“I did it with a good heart. … I don’t need a special blessing ceremony to remove the lodge as there was nothing but love, teaching and healing there. They don’t deserve to take it down. They don’t get that privilege,” she wrote.