Law | National

Native Sun News: Indian inmates segregated for ceremonial tobacco use

Howard Burritt, left, with his father, Tom Poor Bear, who serves as vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Photo courtesy South Dakota State Prison

Springfield inmates segregated over ceremonial tobacco use
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD –– On Friday, April 8, inmates Howard Burritt, David Pauley and Travis Blaine were placed into the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU) at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield for violations related to botanicals used during ceremonies in the minimum security prison.

According to Burritt, these three inmates are fire keepers and they were told by Officer Sestak that “all sweat lodge workers were to be taken down. We were a threat to the institution. They said we’re being investigated for stealing tobacco and reselling it in the prison compound.”

The inmates sat in the SHU through the weekend and on Monday, April 11. During the investigation, officers had asked the inmates about the cincasa (red willow bark used in ceremonies) out near the sweat lodge. To which the inmates responded, “We have a locker out there and it has all our botanicals; it has sage, cedar, bitter root, cincasa. We keep them out there because we run the sweats and pipe ceremonies out there.”

On Monday, April 11, prison officials wanting to round up all botanicals for the investigation had gone to the pipe-carrier, Stacey Brandt and confiscated his pipe bag and physically removed his ceremonial pipe from Brandt, according to Burritt. These items were to be taken to the Security Housing Unit to be investigated.

At this time the cincasa (red willow bark) was removed and taken from the ceremonial leaders. The confiscation of this religious item was in part due to prison officials believing the mixture of cincasa and tobacco was being separated so these four inmates could sell the tobacco to other inmates, according to Burritt.

In November, 2015, Mike Durfee inmates were allowed to order tobacco for the purposes of Native American ceremonial practices. “I actually signed the slip to order our first pouch of tobacco, when it was allowed back in November,” Howard Burritt told Native Sun News in a phone interview.

The allowed amount of tobacco/cincasa mixture sanctioned by prison officials is one part tobacco to every one hundred parts cincasa. “Every cup of cincasa, they’re supposed to put in one teaspoon of tobacco. We’ve only had tobacco since November,” said Burritt.

Read the rest of the story on the all new Native Sun News website: Springfield inmates segregated over ceremonial tobacco use

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News