The Boulder County Sheriff's Office began investigating the destruction of a American Indian sweat lodge on Valmont Butte on Thursday afternoon, following a report of damage to the historic site.
Spiritual leader Robert Cross -- who was informed Wednesday by the city of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks about the damage to the ceremonial lodge -- filed the police report.
The Valmont Butte site, considered sacred by American Indians, is owned by the city of Boulder.
Cross, an Oglala Lakota, expressed frustration that no one had reported the destruction of the spiritual site to police before he did.
"If this had happened to a church, it would have been all over the country," he said.
Participants have used the butte on Boulder's eastern edge for regular prayer ceremonies and have access to a city shed where they store equipment for the sweat lodge.
Cross had not seen the site Thursday but was informed that the wooden sweat lodge had been torn out of the ground and that all of the equipment used during the ceremonies was missing.
"Somebody desecrated my spiritual area," Cross said.
In a sweat-lodge ceremony, water is thrown on rocks that have been heated over fire. The steam created cleanses the body of toxins and heals the body emotionally and spiritually, some American Indians believe, and the practice can be traced back thousands of years.
The destruction was discovered by Boulder's facilities and fleet manager, Bill Boyes, Wednesday while he was meeting with a contractor on Valmont Butte.
He noticed that the door to the butte shed was open and, when he went to investigate, saw that it had been broken into. He reported the break-in to Doug Newcomb at the Open Space and Mountain Parks department.
"I looked inside and saw rags and rodent droppings," Boyes said. "There was nothing there."
He said the padlocked gate blocking the entrance to the upper area of the butte was undisturbed.
Cross said he finds the circumstances suspicious because there are a limited number of people with keys to that upper gate.
The city of Boulder has tentatively agreed to sell off 71 acres of the 101-acre Valmont Butte site to the nonprofit Trust for Public Lands Valmont Butte, which hopes to then sell the property to community groups and tribes. But earlier this month, the City Council said the sale might not be the best option because the city could lose a substantial amount of money based on a new appraisal of the site.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Jennifer Bronson at JEBronson@gmail.com.