COVID-19 Advisory on Sweat Lodges and Potlatches


A reminder that gatherings, including sweat lodge ceremonies, should not be held during the COVID-19 pandemic​​


We must practise other forms of culture and healing for now

A message from Dr. Shannon McDonald, FNHA Acting Chief Medical Officer​

Hello everyone. I hope this message finds you and your loved ones well even in the midst of this pandemic. I commend you for all the safety measures you are taking to avoid getting or spreading COVID-19.  Let's continue staying strong and staying the course. What we are doing is working, and we will get through this together.

I'm writing this to remind everyone that the FNHA continues to strongly advise Indigenous communities in BC to postpone all gatherings until the pandemic has passed. This includes sweat lodges and potlatches, even though they are key spiritual and cultural activities.

The FNHA acknowledges their significance to our health and wellness, as well as the trauma caused by past banning of these activities. However, there is a time for everything, and now – during the COVID-19 pandemic – is not the time to hold or participate in these or any other kinds of group activities. Any gathering where close contact can occur can cause transmission and none of us are immune. Even if we are healthy, we should be thinking about not transmitting the infection to others around us – our Elders and those with underlying health issues.

It only takes one person – who may have no symptoms – to pass on COVID-19. A recent example of COVID-19 transmission at a gathering comes from the Tla'amin First Nation: see this cautionary news story.

I encourage communities to consider alternatives – for example, while we postpone sweats and other gatherings, we can still connect to the Creator through prayer or being on the land and focusing on our hopes for our future generations.

The following are some risks associated with sweat lodges and potlatches, as well as some alternatives. 


 Going into a sweat lodge during COVID-19 would mean being in too-close physical contact and possibly breathing in the droplets in each other's breath.

 Even gatherings of fewer than 50 people require an assessment of risk -- especially if the event will entail travel and people sharing accommodations.

 Being in a hot enclosed space, sweating in close contact with other people, is the perfect way to spread a virus. 


 Getting outside and spending time on the land and water (think “fewer faces, wide-open spaces") is one of the most powerful ways to nurture health and wellness.

  Consider holding smaller events for now, with the larger event at a later date (when it's safer to gather again).

 If you are holding a smaller event, consider having bag lunches rather than shared meals, ensuring there are opportunities to wash and/or sanitize hands, and to practise physical distancing.

 ​Modify any ceremonies and cultural practices with public health recommendations, or conduct them just with the family you live with / your “bubble." Your bubble should always be the same 5 or 6 people – those in your hous​ehold for example, and they should not be in other bubbles with other people!

For more information about COVID-19 and resources for your community, visit​

"Fewer Faces, Wide-Open Spaces" - A guide to gatherings and events during COVID-19
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