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Sweat Lodge Ok’d as Backyard Activity

Andrew Soliz

A backyard sweat lodge that has fired up the ire of some of its neighbors in Bluebird Canyon for months was approved by a 4-1 vote of the city’s Design Review Board last week. Its owner still needs to clear other official fire rings, while critics continue to question the lodge’s authenticity and neighborhood suitability.

The board permitted the unusual structure at the home of Andrew Soliz, who performs what he describes as Native American Lakota ceremonies, on the condition he thicken his bamboo privacy hedge with more trees. Due to several complaining neighbors, Soliz was required to obtain city approval in order to continue conducting sweat lodge ceremonies under the traditional willow-branch dome.

Only one of them, Cameron Fraser, who lives adjacent to Soliz’s backyard, opposed the sweat lodge at the meeting. Fraser contended that his family’s privacy was at stake and questioned whether the sweat lodge constituted conducting a business, which is not permitted in residential areas according to city code.

In support, 20 other residents wondered why the sweat lodge, which covers 113 square feet of bare earth, was being considered a permanent structure requiring city review when they saw it as a temporary shelter exempt from city inspection.

“I felt this was a structure,” DRB chairwoman Robin Zur Schmiede told Soliz at the meeting.  “Every single one of those posts is stuck in the ground and you plan on keeping it there for a long time.” Zur Schmiede said she sees no need to evaluate how the sweat lodge is used and considers her board’s approval the final step.

“It’s just an activity, like having an outdoor barbeque or a playhouse,” she said Tuesday.  “For the best of everybody involved, it should be left to the neighbors without having the community all involved in it.”

The sweat lodge was reviewed by the board at the discretion of the city’s community development director, John Montgomery, due to complaints about guest parking and an incident when a sweat lodge participant urinated in full view of Fraser’s back windows as well as his daughter, her friend and another neighbor.

“I don’t believe the director of community development issued this to DR because it’s a structure,” said DRB member Caren Liuzzi.  “They issued it to DR to get this issue settled once and for all.”

Even so, the next step is to determine if a building permit is required, said Liane Schuller, a city planner and DRB administrator. Soliz will be asked by a city plan checker to explain how the sweat lodge is built and its use, she said.

Jesse Obrand, a Dana Point lawyer working pro bono for Soliz, told the board that “singling out” his client and the sweat lodge for review “reeks of selective enforcement.” Depending on the board’s decision, First Amendment rights could become an issue, he added.  “It’s really a collection of sticks, leaves and strings and is no different than a child’s tent,” he said.

Other speakers pointed out Laguna’s reputation for diversity that sets it apart from nearby communities that impose strict uniformity restrictions.  “There’s a tone of this that’s frightening to me, that Laguna is turning into something that wants to regulate every kind of freedom of expression,” said 40-year resident Andrea Badger.

Even so, unlikely critics are on alert. The local governing Native American community is unaware of Soliz’s ceremonies and said he is not sanctioned.

“He has not followed proper protocol and come to the indigenous people of this land,” said Joyce Stanfield-Perry, cultural resource director for the Juaneno band of Mission Indians, the original inhabitants of Orange County. “Every Indian knows that’s the first step.”  Soliz, she said, has not sought permission from the chief of the state-recognized Mission tribe, which has jurisdiction over its ancestral homelands and considers Laguna Beach as the “heart” of its sacred coastal grounds.

Fraser, Soliz’s backyard neighbor, argued that the sweat lodge is incompatible with zoning for single-family homes. The structure and ceremony don’t bother him or his neighbors, he said, as long as acceptable etiquette is followed. It’s the number of people who attend, which can be up to 30 at a ceremony.

Soliz maintained that no business is being conducted.  “No money is charged,” he said, adding that his income is derived from carpentry, welding and custom-work contracts.  “There’s no fee to do a ceremony. Traditionally, it’s never been a business. It’s been a place of prayer, a place of healing, a place of health.”

Soliz said he has since eliminated the word “donation” from all printed materials and internet information to assuage any interpretation that exchanging money is required.  “That’s unfortunate because those donations would go out to help the elderly on the Pine Ridge (South Dakota) reservation,” he said.  “In the wintertime, they need wood for their stoves and propane to keep their houses warm.”

In a letter to the Indy last month, Indian-activity watchdog Al Carroll questioned Soliz’s legitimacy. Carroll, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College and Fulbright Scholar, runs an online group called newagefraud.org that exposes groups asking people to “pay to pray.”

To authentically practice Native ceremonies, Carroll said a person needs to live in the Indian community with a blood or marriage bond and speak the indigenous language fluently.  “I live in Sterling, Va., thousands of miles away from my community, so it makes no sense for me to practice,” Carroll said, who describes himself as a Mescalero Apache.  “He has no right to do it, because Andrew Soliz is not Lakota.”

Native Americans do not convert others to their way of life or religious rituals, Carroll explained.  In his letter to the Indy, he wrote that Soliz should “quit inviting white New Agers to his imitation of a sweat lodge and quit annoying his neighbors.”

Soliz claims Mexico’s Mayan and New Mexico’s Pueblo heritage, but personal ties with the native people of South Dakota, where he says he has trained and studied. “We are all related, no matter the color,” he said.  “Everybody needs help in this world.” He added, “everything I do, I get permission from the medicine men at Pine Ridge,” a reservation governed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Carrie Woodburn, Soliz’s partner who runs an online company of retreats, workshops and trips called Alchemy of the Heart, requested a refund at the meeting for the more than $1,000 in fines and fees incurred so far.  Board member Liuzzi suggested that Woodburn appeal to the City Council for reimbursement.

Ilse Lenschow, the dissenting board member, disapproved of the structure as not in compliance with city code regarding privacy and neighborhood compatibility.

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  1. Laguna Lover

    Anyone who takes the time to research Al Carroll will get a good dose of what this guy is about. I am surprised at the Indy for how quickly they legitimized this guy and the lack of basic reporting research. I suppose these days anyone can say anything about another and it is given power. Hmm….

  2. lbdad

    Al Carroll has a very good point, and his expert opinion should be invited. I challenge Mr. Soliz to debate him publically, but i doubt he ever will….and last I checked, no one at the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Tribal Govt. has ever heard of Andrew Soliz, maybe the Indy should write about that.

  3. Mary Dolphin

    On the subject of bad neighbors, the kind who think its ok to regularly disrupt their neighborhoods, I’d like to weigh in.
    I live on Skyline. There is a small cul de sac street running off Skyline about half way up. On the bluff in this cul de sac is a monstrous property ( I believe the families name may be Cahill). On a more or less regular basis they hold huge gatherings at which they often employ teams of valets. At least a quarter mile of the street on both sides, cars will line up. The valets go speeding up and down Skyline turning the place into a disaster waiting to happen. On the day before and the day after these status-fests, there are giant trucks hauling in and hauling out the party stuff. The hubris of these people is astounding. It is part of the “it’s all about me” times that we live in. When their valets have blocked the road or driven by my house at 60 miles an hour I’ve called the police. I hope other neighbors will do the same. Shoot, I’d rather put up with 30 people sitting around a sweat lodge then having to dodge all the Bentleys and Rolls’s and other “look at how rich I am” cars as I’m just trying to go home.
    Mary

  4. Billy Fried

    I don’t understand the relevance or significance of whether Mr Soliz is sanctioned by some ersatz Native American group to perform sweat lodges. The value of his teachings is in the eyes of his beholders, and there are many who take refuge and sanctuary in his ceremony. That is all that matters. The responsible story here was about whether he has the right to gatherings in his yard, and use of his structure. DRB ruled that he does. There was simply no need to dredge up sensational angles to inflame his detractors.

  5. Laguna Beach Native

    Andrew holds gatherings once a month and the majority of that time is spent in the house or in the lodge praying. Rather than make an accusation regarding whether he has permission from the Juaneno Tribe, perhaps Rita should have asked him more about the traditions. I am so disappointed that she printed all of this information without actually checking the facts. It’s very sad that he now feels the need to defend himself and prove the truth but you had no problem printing accusations and untruths. Rita, perhaps you should have googled that “expert”, you would find that most consider him a quack. I couldn’t find any proof of his “doctorate”, but I did find many sites debunking his claims. He was a Fulbright Scholar, but that actually sounds more impressive than it is. He got paid to go overseas and teach, that’s what it boils down to.

  6. Andrew Soliz

    lbdad,

    I would welcome a debate with Al Carol however he has ignored all of my invitations to meet in person or by phone. I have invited him to sit together in ceremony. I would gladly debate you as well.
    Do a simple Google search on Al Carol and you will find numerous pages that expose him as a fraud. His website has been banned from every hosting company in America due to many lawsuits of slander and libel.

    My ties with the Lakota people are not with the tribal government. It is with the families whom adopted me as their own. One of the seven sacred ceremonies is called “Hunka”. It is the taking of a relative which is a stronger tie than that of blood. There is much you don’t about the native ways of life and I am happy to share with you so perhaps you could have an understanding before you speak out.

    It’s easy to make accusations when you hide behind anonymity. My name is Andrew Soliz and my phone number is 805-215-5465. I welcome an intelligent conversation with you or anyone with an ear to hear.

    Peace,
    Andrew

  7. patti

    i’ll weigh in on bad neighbors mary…a trampline outside my 2nd floor apt in yard across the alley…young teens screaming for no apparent reason other than to scream…climbing in the trees to look directly into my windows which even when closed do not keep out the sound…i’ve lived here for 17 years…other neighbors are unhappy as well…give me a sweat lodge instead…please!

  8. LB Local '65

    Andrew, according the all four Lakota sioux nations, being “adopted” into a Lakota Sioux family, as you claim, does not give you the right to hold ceremonies, nor does it give you the right to call yourself a “healer”, “Medicine man” and “pipe carrier” as your website claims… i’m sure you do good work, and you sound like a good man, but you claim Mayan (mexican) and Pueblo (Arizona) lineage, which has little or nothing to do with sweatlodges, Yurts and Teepees,,,indians of your heritage used much different lodgings….and yes, unfortunately some of us have to hide behind anonomity because you made it very clear that anyone who opposes you, you will turn them into Design Review, and the city code enforcement, so much for free speech. welcome to Laguna Andrew and Carry (aka: Laguna Lover,,,Laguna Beach Native).

  9. Mary Dolphin

    It’s narcissism. Me, Me, Me!!! Look at how people drive! I’m thinking every resident of Laguna Beach should have a bumper sticker that says “I’d be in Paradise if it Weren’t For You”.
    I think people should not gang up on Rita. There are two newspapers in this town, and I use the term loosely, and they both do an absolutely horrible job. Call Firebrand Media if you’re upset about the reporting. It appears to me that they view “news” as filler for the advertising. They don’t care whatsoever about the extent or quality of coverage regarding current issues. To them it’s superfluous but necessary window dressing. . There’s enough going on in this community that we could have a several page daily full of interesting items. That’s just a dream though.
    You guys all ought to get together and call the Neighborhood Congregational Church and ask if you could put on a community forum to talk (or pow wow?) about this issue. Maybe it would be a very enlightening experience. The local press would even show up. Oh boy!
    Mary

  10. Mary Dolphin

    And I have tried to be employed at Firebrand. They don’t want me!!!

  11. andrew soliz

    LB local 65,
    Your absolutely right that the adoption ceremony in itself doesn’t give me or anyone the right to hold (inipi) sweat lodges. It’s the four years of learning the ways of the lodge fire and the many sacred songs. It’s another four years of sitting with ceremonial leaders in the lodge learning how ceremony is ran. It’s another four years of Sundancing and four years of Vision Quest (Hemblechya). Again, there is so much that you don’t know about our culture and I am happy to share with you. Unfortunately every Native of this land has had their ways taken or destroyed so we must hold on to anything we can. Sometimes it is the ways of other tribes. We are all related and need to share what is good.
    I’m not interested in turning anyone in to the city. And if your not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t have anything to worry about anyway. Actually, I am embarrassed that I have engaged in this platform which seems like so much Junior High verbal banter.
    I’m sorry that my life affects you. Perhaps there is a bigger lesson for us all and thats what I am interested in. The elders say, ” Don’t just get old, learn something”. Since we are all here together lets see what we can learn. Lets teach our children another way.

  12. andrew soliz

    For the record, I don’t call myself a Medicine Man and I never have. I am just a common man and always will be.
    Unfortunately there are people on the internet who have referred to me as a Medicine Man but clearly I don’t have control over what others say.

    Peace,
    Andrew

  13. Carrie Woodburn

    I wonder, in these times where everything feels accelerated – “Is there more “tension” occurring in the universe?” I am no scholar but that feels right to me. I believe the nature of our universe of duality is teaching humanity a great deal in these times. Feels like a micro version experience of it here. The beauty of these times is the duality is heightened. The sadness of these times is the duality is heightened. I choose to be in creation. I’ve tired of the spinning threads of distraction. Don’t we have a more fulfilling purpose for our energies?

  14. Get Connected

    Don’t be embarrassed to participate in this forum Andrew. It serves the same important purpose as your sweat lodge- it’s a way for people to connect and share. You think that by participating in this forum it signifies something negative about you, like maybe these kinds of forums are for the disconnected, the losers, the ones who have no other outlet for speaking their minds. We’re supposed to believe that and that the “movers and shakers” are all way too important to be part of something like this (or, I’m sure, like a sweat lodge). By believing that lie you are giving in to the thinking and pressures of the same dominant culture that destroyed the ways of indigenous people in this country. You can rise above that and be proud to have taken the time to engage with other people in this way. It shows a degree of humility.
    Sure, to engage here means you are not hip slick and cool but I’ve always had the impression that the indigenous people’s way was a way of greater humility and not of braggadoccio and self importance.
    Mary Dolphin Go Occupy!

  15. Laguna Beach Native

    LB Local ’65, so much for freedom of speech is right. My comment was censored due to the facts I posted about a neighbor of theirs and their business, parties and the right to have both. No, I am not Carrie or Andrew. My name is Karen and I went to school with their neighbor, graduated with him in fact. (I can almost hear him pulling out our yearbook)My parents still live at T.O.W. If you were born in 65, and graduated from LBHS we might know each other. I’m troubled by the fact that he called the indy to have my comment censored yet he felt it was o.k. to post very personal information about Carrie and Andrew on an international website, run by the “expert” Al Carrol. This extreme violation of Carrie and Andrew’s privacy is far worse and more invasive than the privacy that the neighbor is worried about. Carrie and Andrew are very peaceful and kind people who want nothing more than to live their lives in harmony. I wish the neighbors would try to get to know them rather than attack them, they would be surprised at how gracious and forgiving they are.

  16. DivineV

    It’s interesting to me to note that the title of this article is “Sweatlodge Ok’d As Backyard Activity.” Were you at a different city design review meeting than I was? Because the meeting I was at was about the question of whether a structure would be allowed on a property and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the use of that structure. What kind of reporter are you? I thought journalism was supposed to be objective and report from both sides of an issue. The title should have been “Sweatlodge Ok’d as structure in backyard.”

    This article is clearly slanted anti-Andrew Soliz in terms of tone and adjectives chosen. Even the headline is incorrect. Who did your fact-checking for you?

    Let me give you some examples: “performs what he describes as Lakota ceremonies.” Did you check your facts to understand that these are indeed Lakota ceremonies. He doesn’t describe them, he performs them.

    “Soliz was required to obtain city approval in order to continue conducting sweat lodge ceremonies under the traditional willow-branch dome.” No, Soliz was required to obtain city approval in order to have the structure located on his property. Although Robin Zur Schmiede commented on the activity, that is not what was being questioned via city approval, the structure was. Her discussion on activity was irrelevant and it was quoted in the meeting. I have that on camera – cause I was there filming the meeting.

    Cameron Fraser who contended the sweatlodge activity was analagous to conducting business in the backyard runs a daycare center (a business) out of his yard. Why didn’t you report on that. Fraser is a hypocrite.

    If you are not slanted anti-Soliz, why as a reporter did you feel the need to bring up the public urination issue? It’s been covered multiple times in prior reports. It’s simply disrespectful Mr. Soliz and Ms. Woodburn to bring it up again.

    “Unlikely critics are on alert. The local governing Native American community is unaware of Soliz’s ceremonies and said he is not sanctioned.” There are more than one tribe of indigenous cultures on these lands. What makes the people you interviewed considered to be the “governing Native American community?” My understanding is that the Chumash were the first people on California lands. At what point did the Mission Indian’s take over?

    “Fraser, Soliz’s backyard neighbor, argued that the sweat lodge is incompatible with zoning for single-family homes. The structure and ceremony don’t bother him or his neighbors, he said, as long as acceptable etiquette is followed. It’s the number of people who attend, which can be up to 30 at a ceremony.” Have you ever tracked how many people go in and out of Fraser’s house to pick-up children from daycare? Or how many people he has at parties at his house? I have documented footage where Fraser himself has more than 30 people in his backyard. What’s the difference?

    “Indian-activity watchdog Al Carroll questioned Soliz’s legitimacy.”
    OMG, I snorted out-loud laughing when I read this. Seriously, you used Al Carroll as your subject-matter expert? REALLY? Did you do any research to understand the scandalous nature of his work and his fraudulent activity online or try to figure out why every ISP hosting agency in the US has disallowed him to host his websites? Surely, if you had done your homework you could have found a more legitimate subject-matter expert than this.

    Wow. Maybe you might want to go back to school and learn how to do your homework before you report on subjects as sensitive as this one.

  17. bluebird

    DivineV, fact check yourself dude,,,,The Frasers do have a business ( a daycare) they applied for BUSINESS LICENSE and reccived one, Andrew runs a business, you can coat it anyway you want, he entertains people, mostly from out of town for money and “donations” he sells crafts on his website that he makes in his garage and his wife hosts over-priced womens retreats in their backyard teepee,,,bluebird canyon is a quiet, low-impact place, we don’t need naymore cars and people here, it’s a quiet residential neighborhood, something you people cant grasp.

    and by the way, the Frasers parties have been going on long before you and the solizs were here, and no one ever made a peep, your just bitter becase you never got invited. he doesn’t charge, and there’s no overts online and he doesn’t sell $250. trinkits.

  18. Alex

    Attention: Alton Carroll or Al Carroll aka “educatedindian” and the website http://www.newagefraud.org (NAFPS) is a fraudulent website of self appointed fraud hunters in reality they are the frauds. He is not an Apache Indian like he claimed in the past. He now states he is not an enrolled Apache because he got caught in his lies but still claim he is an Apache. In reality, his background is Spanish and Irish. He is a clever person to fool people with his lies claiming to expose frauds. After a lot of research, he is a jihadist that was radicalized in Indonesia back in the 90’s. The Islamic nation is very afraid of the Native American spirituality because it is so strong. He was sent back to America to cause harms to the Native people. He and his group are trying to disrupt the balance of the Native spirituality. Most of his group is unaware of his ties to Islam. Somehow he fooled the IRS in giving him that status of non profit. ONLY A MEDICINE PERSON APPOINTED BY THE TRIBAL PRESIDENT CAN SAY WHO IS A FRAUD. If you read through his website, you will discover that he does not know nothing about native spirituality. He keeps changing the post as he learns more. He deletes any topic that is not to his way of thinking. All of his knowledge comes from books. He even fooled the Northern Virginia Community College where he currently works. http://nvcc.academia.edu/alcarroll His applications to the major universities were denied. He has written a book from other’s people work. Native People magazine found out about his fraud activities and banned him. Even Amazon has refused to list it. If a person wanted to find a fraud all you would have to do is search for ceremony and donation. This will give you a list of frauds. A medicine person does not charge for ceremony. When someone sends NAFPS a letter about a person being a fraud, he post it without researching it. A lot of the emails they received on the website is from people who was told to find another spiritual path by the medicine person or they fell in love with the medicine person and was rejected by them. The people feelings were upset and they want to hurt the medicine person. The frauds will pay him money to take them off their website or take him to court. A lot of the people listed there are poor Indians living without the funds to take him to court. We are asking people with the funds to shut down his fraudulent website and to contact the IRS about his fraudulent activities. He receives a lot of money from his website and his lectures. Help is needed to stop this Jihadist activity against the Native American spirituality.

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