Native American tribe's sweat lodge, prayer area damaged

Members of a Native American tribe now say they're the victims of what might be hate crime.

They say somebody went into a prayer area and badly damaged it.

Members say this is the first time something like this has happened in almost 20 years there.

"I was just completely confused, and broke down,” said Ponca tribe spiritual leader Robert Sweeny.

He says he didn't know what to make of the piles of trash and the broken fence he found both when he checked on a Ponca tribe's sweat lodge.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “It's hard to deal with."

He says he soon realized the damage was done on purpose.

"It had to be someone who was big enough to do this damage," he said.

Sweeney says crooks knocked down wooden beams that hold up their prayer site and destroyed their fire pit.

Tribe member John Tate said, "It’s dumbfounding that people want to do this."

Sweeney and Tate say because of the damage, this place of prayer at in south Omaha is now useless.

"If anybody knew what this was and what it meant to us, then they would know what they are doing to hurt us, and they did a good job at hurting us," Sweeny said. "It may just be tarps and wood, but every little thing is a part of our soul. It’s hard to think about where do we go from here and do we have to worry about this happening again."

Tribe members say their ceremonies are now cancelled until the site is rebuilt.

They say they will be increasing security in the nearby buildings.

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