Hunger Strike for Religious Rights for Native Americans

Update March 14th:
The hungerstrike ended in victory, having met some demands. A petition with 800 signatures was presented and that too helped put pressure on the authorities.

Update March 5th, 2011: 


As of word received this morning, when Native American hunger striker Jason Campbell was moved to segregation (the hole) after refusing his ninth meal, the authorities confiscated a religious necklace he has had permission to have for years. Please protest this injustice and support his right to have simple objects that he needs for his religious worship. See contact info below.

The following is a statement from Jason Campbell, an inmate in Ohio State Penitentiary where Lucasville uprising prisoners Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Bomani Shakur and Jason Robb recently won significant improvements in the terms of their confinement through a 12-day hunger strike and an international campaign of support. Campbell chose Feb. 27 to start his hunger strike because it is the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement.

Thank you for your interest in my current plight. I am grateful that there is at least one voice still willing to speak up on behalf of those in my position.

Since my incarceration in 2003, I have diligently fought for the religious rights of incarcerated Native Americans in Ohio prisons. I feel – seeing that I have the ability, that it is my responsibility to insure that we have the same protections under the law that other faith based groups generally enjoy. Personally, I have requested everything I could think of, trying to get as much approved as I could – as I know it would set the tone for what others will be allowed in the future. Basically, I am being prevented from practicing my Native beliefs in every way. I have requested and been denied all of the following: Tobacco, tobacco ties(twists), moccasins, feathers, beads (sewn into objects like a head band or medicine bag)), fur, animal hair (such as horse and buffalo), head band (of a color other than white – where beads are concerned), sacred objects (for Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle), Native American flute, hand drum, rattle, access to sweat lodge (for purification), and to have a ‘Sun Dance’ ceremony.

I also have requested and have been approved for: A ‘prayer pipe’, Medicine Bag, and a Medicine Bundle, but I must point out that these are useless without: tobacco for the prayer pipe, and sacred objects for the Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle. Without tobacco, I am unable to pray. Without sacred objects for the Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle, they are just empty vessels – void of their purpose.

One last thing. My hunger strike is not considered “official” until after I refuse my ninth meal – which will be Wednesday, March 2nd, at breakfast. When I get to the ninth meal and refuse to come off of the hunger strike, I will be moved to the segregation block (the Hole). I’m told it is to prevent other prisoners from giving me food. In fact, I believe that it is to punish me into coming off of the hunger strike by putting me in a cell with no electricity. If you can find a way to address this as well, it would be much appreciated.

I hope – fervently, that this information can help you in assisting me – and through me, all other Native Americans in Ohio prisons. Present and future. Thank you again for your help. – “Mitakuye Oyasin” (to all my relations)

Sincerely, Jason Campbell #476-229

Please express your thoughts about this situation to:
Governor John Kasich, Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 South High St., Columbus, OH 43215-6117,
614-466-3555, http://governor.ohio.gov/ShareYourIdeas.aspx

Gary Mohr, Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 770 West Broad St., Columbus , OH 43222, 614-752-1164, Gary.Mohr@odrc.state.oh.us

David Bobby, Warden, Ohio State Penitentiary, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd., Youngstown, OH 44505,
330-743-0700 or fax 330-743-0841 or email JoAnn.King@odrc.state.oh.us

governor.ohio.gov

Prison smoking ban won’t apply to religious ceremony

Las Vegas Sun

By Cy Ryan
Friday, July 24, 2009 | 1:50 a.m.

CARSON CITY – Despite a newly imposed ban on smoking at Nevada prisons, American Indians will still be able to puff tobacco in their ceremonial pipes during their religious ceremonies.

Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections, has told a state advisory Indian committee that the pipe smoking practice will be allowed to continue as long as there are not abuses.

Skolnik and Senior Deputy Attorney General Janet Traut expressed concern that many non-Indians would invade religious ceremonies in the sweat lodges just to get a smoke.

There’s a rumor at the prison that a single cigarette is going for $50, she said. “Inmates really value it.”

The smoking ban applies to both inmates and staff.

Regulations allow only those who have ties with Indian tribes or groups to participate in the sweat lodges ceremonies.

Concern has been expressed that some non-Indians have participated in the religious ceremonies for a long time. Skolnik told members of the Advisory Committee on the Treatment and Religious Freedom of American Indian Inmates in Nevada Correctional Facilities that he is willing to consider those individual cases.

Rocky Boice, a member of the advisory committee, said after the meeting that the prison system has been trying for several years to dissolve the sweat lodges. Boice, a sweat lodge leader who visits the various prisons in Northern Nevada to conduct ceremonies, said he feels the prison is in violation of “a lot of federal laws” involving freedom of religion.

“It’s something that we have got to keep working on,” said Boice. “We have got to keep these ceremonies going. It’s all the Native Americans have in there, the right to practice their native spirituality.”

The sweat lodge is a circular structure in the prison yard, covered with blankets or other materials. Rocks are heated on the outside by fires and then brought into the lodge and placed in the center. Water is poured on the rock to produce steam.

The Indians sing and pray and at the end of the ceremony smoke the pipe. Boice said the smoking of the pipe releases the prayers of the inmate. And these are “purification ceremonies” says Boice.

“The Native American religion is the oldest in the United States and we have to defend it,” said Boice.

Boice also complained that the raw food at these ceremonies was banned. But Skoknik told him this was done by the state Health Division. Cooked food is allowed in these ceremonies where the Indians sit around the heated rocks during the religious offerings.