FARGO -- Fargo police will undergo cultural sensitivity training after an officer arrested a man late last week for legally using a Native American sweat lodge in southwest Fargo.
Mayor Tim Mahoney said a man was arrested Thursday night at the sweat lodge, which is on an open patch of land just west of 39th Street South between 36th Avenue South and 37th Avenue South near a city salt and sand storage facility.
He said the Fargo Police Department officer, Jacob Rued, saw what appeared to be a large fire at the site and didn’t know about the sweat lodge, which has been there for three or four years. Mahoney said participants use a fire outside to heat stones that are then moved inside the makeshift shelter lined with blankets. It’s shouldn’t have been an issue, the mayor said.
Rued went to check on it and he questioned a man who didn’t want to comply with his orders because he said he had the right to be there, Mahoney said.
The man arrested is Zebadiah Gartner, 20, Mahoney confirmed. He was booked into the Cass County Jail at 10:24 p.m. Thursday and released at 1:41 a.m. Friday, according to jail records.
Gartner was charged in Fargo Municipal Court with resisting a police officer, a Class B misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor in North Dakota. But the charge was dismissed the day after his arrest, according to online court records.
The Forum was unable to get in contact with Gartner for this article. Court records say he is a Horace resident.
Willard Yellow Bird, a cultural planner with the city of Fargo and liaison to the Fargo Native American Commission, posted to his Facebook page Friday about the incident. The Native American Commission helped find a spot for a community sweat lodge.
Yellow Bird wrote that the Fargo Police Department wants to work with the Native American Commission on cultural competency training, which will also include the Fire Department.
Mahoney said the goal of this training will be to explain to officers what the sweat lodge is and that its use as the site of a religious ceremony should be respected.
But he said the incident also shows the need to make some changes at the site, which had signs up before but is no longer is clearly marked after the signs were removed during a street reconstruction project.
On Sunday, the site was surrounded by several logs, as well as stones and seats near the large, low sweat lodge that is covered in blankets.
“We’re going to talk to the Native American Commission and see what they can do, too, because it’d be nice if this is a little bit taken care of in a better manner,” Mahoney said. “We want to clean it up a bit and do it so it can be handled easier.”
Minor changes could improve the site while also making it more obvious why it’s there, he said. He said the city will work to correct this incident and prevent more problems in the future.
“We’re sorry it was a misunderstanding,” Mahoney said.