Southern Religion

Abusing Native American Religious Rites to Deadly Effect

James Arthur Ray ran high-end “Spiritual Warrior” retreats which desecreated Sioux sweat-lodge rituals. Until an Oct. 8, 2009, incident in Sedona, Arizona, which resulted in three deaths and 20 other hospitalizations. On Feb. 3, 2010, the Yavapai County Arizona Sheriff’s Dept. arrested Ray, charging him with three counts of manslaughter

Those three were simply the most recent deaths resulting from the “commodification” of American Indian cultural and religious practices, observed Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton University professor of religion and associate faculty in the Center for African American Studies.

Native Americans have not responded passively to the desecration of their traditions. The Lakota Nation has filed a lawsuit under the Sioux treaty of 1868.

Wikipedia says, in summary:

The Lakota Nation holds that James Arthur Ray and the Angel Valley Retreat Center have “violated the peace between the United States and the Lakota Nation” and have caused the “desecration of our Sacred Oinikiga (purification ceremony) by causing the death of Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore”. As well, the Lakota claim that James Arthur Ray and the Angel Valley Retreat Center fraudulently impersonated Indians and must be held responsible for causing the deaths and injuries, and for evidence destruction through dismantling of the sweat lodge. The lawsuit seeks to have the treaty enforced and does not seek monetary compensation.

The Lakota have also published a “Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality,” which does a great deal to clarify the cultural/religious issues involved.

The tony, $9,000 a head retreats are regarded by Native Americans as altogether corrupt. There is, explains Chief Arvol Looking Horse, “19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle,” no for-pay Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate spiritual rite [.pdf]:

When you do ceremony, you can not have money on your mind. We deal with the pure sincere energy to create healing that comes from everyone in that circle of ceremony. The heart and mind must be connected. When you involve money, it changes the energy of healing. The person wants to get what they paid for; the Spirit Grandfather will not be there, our way of life is now being exploited! You do more damage than good. No mention of monetary energy should exist in healing, not even with a can of love donations. When that energy exists, they will not even come.

The issues here are clearly more complex than “buyer beware,” although a visit to New Age Frauds & Plastic Shamans is a good place to begin is you are considering the purchase of such services.

Bottom line? That path is not for sale, either.

[H/T Judith Weisenfeld]

February 9, 2010 - Posted by | Cultural | , ,

1 Comment

  1. Interesting take on this case. I hadn’t put too much thought into the whole Native American religious rite.

    Comment by GaryTell | February 16, 2010

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