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Sweat lodge trial fuels Native American frustrations
Passed on through tribe elders, the ancient sweat lodge ceremony is still sacred to Native Americans.
March 2nd, 2011
09:19 AM ET

Sweat lodge trial fuels Native American frustrations

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Growing up on a reservation in lower Saskatchewan, Alvin Manitopyes learned early to respect the sweat lodge. He was 10 when he attended his first sweat ceremony, and for more than 15 years tribe elders instructed him in his people's ways.

He understands the spiritual mandate he was given as a healer to serve as an intermediary between people and the spirit world. He carries with him the ancient ceremonial songs, passed on through generations.

He knows how the natural elements - earth, fire, water and air - work together to cleanse people, inside and out, and create balance. At 55, he has spent more than 20 years conducting ceremonies in sweat lodges, where water is poured over hot lava rocks as part of a purifying ritual.

"If you have the right to do it, then the environment you're creating is a safe place," says Manitopyes, a public health consultant in Calgary, Alberta, who is Plains Cree and Anishnawbe. "But today we have all kinds of people who observe what's going on and think they can do it themselves. … And that's not a safe place to be."

No example of what worries him is clearer than the case of James Arthur Ray, a self-help guru who led a crowded sweat lodge ceremony that left three people dead. Ray faces manslaughter charges for the deaths allegedly tied to his October 2009 "Spiritual Warrior" retreat outside Sedona, Arizona. His trial began this month.

Ray pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been free on $525,000 bail. Prosecutors say the deaths resulted from Ray's recklessness, an overheated lodge and because he encouraged people to stay inside when they weren't feeling well. His defense team denies those allegations, and attorney Luis Li has called what transpired "a terrible accident, not a crime."

Accidents, in fact, have happened even in ceremonies overseen by tribes. The Seattle Times reported a year ago the death of a 29-year-old Puyallup tribe member in a Swinomish smokehouse ceremony on a reservation near La Conner, Washington. The cause of death, overheating, was ruled accidental by a county medical examiner, the paper reported. And no criminal charges were filed in that case because it was an accident, says Alix Foster, an attorney for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

The Ray case highlights an outrage that's long existed for many Native Americans. They are tired of their traditions being co-opted by others and exploited for capital gain. They resent that a ceremony they view as sacred is now being tied to terms like "death trap." They don't want their ancient ways to be deemed fashionable or inspire impersonators.

In Ray's Spiritual Warrior retreat, participants in a "vision quest" fasted for a few days before Ray reportedly led more than 50 of them – at least 30 more than the number many Native Americans recommend – in a sweat ceremony meant to purify. Each participant paid about $10,000 to take part in the retreat.

After the disaster and criminal charges, representatives of various tribal nations stepped into the legal fray, filing a federal lawsuit last March against Ray and those who run the Angel Valley Retreat Center, where he had leased land for his program.

The plaintiffs, on behalf of their tribes, sought to end the "abuse and misuse" of their ceremonies and hoped to convince the court that their rituals were their property and should be protected under the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Just as a merchant can't claim earrings were made by Native Americans if they weren't, their ceremonies shouldn't be falsely advertised either, they argued.

That suit was dismissed in October. The court held that "the operation of a sweat lodge is plainly not art, craftwork or a handcraft." Services can't be protected like goods, the court ruled.

Amayra Hamilton, along with her husband, Michael, owns the Angel Valley Retreat Center, where the lodge was located. Their business has suffered greatly since the sweat lodge incident. The couple, in fact, has filed a business claim tort suit against Ray for running his retreat, on their property, in what their attorney Kelley Ruda calls "a ridiculous manner."

But a December 2009 letter to prosecutors from defense attorney Li said, “Mr. Ray and his team relied on Angel Valley to provide a safe environment, warned people of the risks, did not force people to participate, did not prevent them from leaving, and did everything they could to prepare for any problems and to assist when problems arose.”

Several civil personal injury/wrongful death suits are pending against Angel Valley, Ruda says, but they are on the verge of out-of-court settlement.

As for how tribe members reacted after the incident, Hamilton of Angel Valley says, “I feel how hurt they are. And I have an understanding of it.”

Just as many Native Americans feel stung by what Ray allegedly did, Hamilton says so does she.

"Our focus here is on transformation, growth, sensitivity and creating a safe space," she says. "When something like this happens, is it a violation? Yes, it is."

The takeaway lesson for the couple, Hamilton says, is to make sure programs on their property are aligned with their intentions.

"We were removed" from Ray's program, she says. "We are more critical of who we allow here to do their work."

James Arthur Ray’s sweat lodge ceremony in this structure left three dead and became a crime scene.

But even if she gets why Native Americans might be offended, Hamilton believes sweat lodges have a place and purpose beyond sanctioned tribal ceremonies. She says she and her husband suggested Ray split his retreat into two smaller groups and that the lodge had been used before Ray arrived, effectively and safely. Plus, the practice of doing sweats does not belong exclusively to anyone, she says; similar ceremonies happen worldwide.

That's a point echoed by Ruda, the attorney for the Hamiltons. She points to sweat structures and traditions dotting the globe: the Russian banya, the Finnish sauna, the Hindu fire lodge.

But Floyd "Looks for Buffalo" Hand, 71, doesn't care about the traditions of others. He's worried about the sweats that seem blatantly modeled after his people's practices.

A member of the Oglala Lakota Delegation of the Black Hills Sioux Nation, he was among the plaintiffs listed in the now-dismissed complaint against Ray. A grandson of Chief Red Cloud and a descendant of the Crazy Horse Band, he was reached at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he has lived his whole life.

"I sat back two weeks watching the news (about Ray's sweat lodge incident), waiting for another tribe or individual to say something because they violated the way of life of the Lakota people," he says. "It is a way of life, our language, our custom, our culture. It's the way we live."

Adding insult, he says, was how Ray benefited, "making over $500,000 off of our way of life," charging for what is sacred.

This disbelief and frustration spans generations.

Autumn Two Bulls, 29, also lives on Pine Ridge, and just thinking about the dream catchers that hang in trendy gift shops, the non-Native Americans who make money off her people's artifacts, makes her cry "rape."

"Haven't native people been through enough?" says Two Bulls, a writer who created Reservation H.E.L.P. (Helping Every Lakota Person), an organization to help impoverished families.

"It's a fad to be Indian today. … They envision us like a fantasy culture," but the harsh reality is one they helped create and won't face, she suggests.

She says this from her reservation, where there's 80 percent unemployment, suicide rates are reportedly 300 percent higher than the national average and alcoholism ravages her community. Two Bulls says she was 18 when her mother died in her arms from cirrhosis.

"In America, you are an individual. You can be whatever you want to be. When you're Lakota, we belong to each other. So when you take our way of life and put a price tag on it, you're asking for death, you're asking for something to happen to you."

It's not that she believes anyone deserved to die in Ray's sweat lodge; they were victims of his "wannabe" ways, of his playing with a tradition that wasn't his to claim, she says.

"But honestly, I think the spirits went and did something there," Two Bulls says. "He has taken the deaths of our ancestors, the slaughtering of our babies, and he sold it. And it came back on him and killed those people."

Less than a week after the Ray ceremony turned deadly, Valerie Taliman, a Navajo journalist and columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, penned a scathing column with the title "Selling the Sacred."

She called out Ray for his actions, including that he fled Arizona after the ceremony.

"Who does that? Only a huckster posing as the real thing," she wrote.

Taliman, 53, also wrote about long-standing efforts by Native Americans to stop the "appropriation and exploitation of sacred ceremonies," pointing to a 1993 international gathering in South Dakota of 500 Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nation representatives. Together they "passed the 'Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality,' denouncing individuals involved in the New Age movement, shamanism, cultists, and neo-paganists and others who promote 'intolerable and obscene imitations of sacred Lakota rites,' " Taliman wrote.

Ray is a symbol, the latest and most horrifying example of what this trend purports, she says by phone. And the double standard in how he's been treated is glaring, she says.

"If an Indian man, a traditional person, killed people in a sweat lodge, he'd be in jail," she says, not free on bond. "And if I went out, and I impersonated a Catholic priest, and charged people to attend ceremonies, they'd arrest me."

Perhaps no one feels more troubled by what happened during Ray's retreat than David Singing Bear.

He was enlisted by the Angel Valley Retreat Center to advise on the construction of the sweat lodge Ray would use, a point the Hamiltons' attorney, Ruda, also highlights.

"To the extent that they (Native Americans) think it was a bunch of white people tying sticks together, that's not the case," Ruda says.

Singing Bear is a 60-year-old Eastern Band Cherokee who calls himself a wisdom keeper, ceremonial leader and healer. He says he spent 20 years learning from tribal elders on reservations across North America.

So when he was asked to offer advice in creating a sweat lodge outside Sedona, where he lives, it mattered to him that it was done right. He says he selected the blankets and canvas covering that would breathe and offered the space traditional blessings and prayers, at no charge. And he says he worried when he heard how large they said Ray wanted it to be.

He says he told higher-ups at Angel Valley that what Ray wanted was too big and that only trained facilitators should lead ceremonies. Hamilton says, "I do not know what he said at the time."

Singing Bear, who’s been named a witness in Ray’s criminal trial, says he doesn’t allow more than 20 people in a sweat because each person needs to be looked out for and protected. Others add that Native Americans would never pressure anyone to stay. The allegation that Ray did this, again, is one the defense team denies.

With or without him, Singing Bear says, that lodge was going to be built because it was what Ray wanted. And he says he had no reason to believe the structure he was consulted on and his nephew built, one meant to represent the nurturing "womb of Mother Earth," would go on to become a crime scene. Now, though, he'll stay away from these kinds of requests.

"They don't care about our ways. It's a dollar sign to them," he says. "I'll never mess with colonialists again."

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Courts • Culture wars • Interfaith issues • Sacred Spaces • Traditions

soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. haha

    this will all fall back on the ppl who abuse our sacred ceremony! for those who helped this man in the sedona incident time to pray hard for yourselves and your family, the spirits will show him.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Welljus

      So HOW did the white man obtain the sacred, secret rites of ceremony?? Who passed it on to him? And please don't say they stole it, because back in the day, the white man was soooo not into that.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  2. Reality

    Simply another pagan ritual/item analogous to curses, spells, voodoo dolls, maypoles, black magic, covens, witches, the Triple Goddess and the Horned God.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Loren

      The Host, communion, crucifixes, saint medals...

      If symbols of the Older Religions have no power, why did Christianity co-opt so many of them?

      You don't believe in the power of other people's religions? Fine. You don't have to. They work perfectly fine for those who *do* believe. Your belief is not necessary.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  3. Richard Clayton

    I have done ceremony with medicine people from four different tribes so far. Over 15 years ago my Navajo brother said to me, "One of these days someone is going to die in a vision quest, their are people who charge money and take them out in the desert, leave them for a few days with no food or water until their toxicity levels build so high in their blood that they have hallucinations. These are not visions". Put Ray on the stand and ask if he knew that 24 hrs with no food or water followed by a sweat would do this "proving" that his customers were getting their moneys worth. if so it's murder.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • kritterkat

      Richard – if you read the article it says that Native Americans have died in this ceremony too. It's a risky ceremony, no matter how experienced the person leading it.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • lwatcdr

      I guess I have a lot of mixed emotions on this. I see people trying to take the things that are sacred and use them as the but of jokes and or make money on them. You see people trying to force that they be included in things and that things are changed to make them comfortable all the time.
      Heck I can not even say Merry Christmas sometimes without people giving me strange looks. But I also get sick when people say that I killed Native American children. Guess what I was born in 1965 and I have never killed a single person. My family showed up in the US in the 1880s and lived in New York for the longest time. For the record my great grandfather's store was burned to the ground during WWI because he happened to have the last name of Bosh. So no collective guilt folks.

      The root of the problem is are the spiritually fashionable. You have so many spiritually bankrupt people trying to buy spirituality trying to buy a soul. That collective guilt is a great tool btw to use on those people. By playing at being a native American you are told that you absolved of your collective guilt. You are are not their oppressor you are their brother. Thing is that my spirituality also teach me that they are my brothers and sisters without any pretending. Do not get me wrong. If you really do believe then great. It is that odd desire to pretend that is the root cause and people will exploit it to make money.
      And to some of the haters. No it is not fair to say that no Native American should take offense because some have sold out. It is wrong to group people like that.
      The solution is for all of us to learn you can not buy spiritual peace. If someone says different you are buying lies.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • JustAThought

      @kritterkat ... Yes Native American's die on rare occasions in these ceremonies BUT the families of the person that died doesn't try to sue the person running the ceremony or charge them with manslaughter because when someone dies for example in the Sun dance ceremony, which happens more often than in sweat lodge ceremonies, it is looked at as it was their time to go and they are a sort of a sacrifice. Don't start saying it's like a cult because I said sacrifice b/c that's not what I am saying..It is just different and I can't put it into words. No one else will understand that ..which is why they are charging that man with manslaughter. That is why they shouldn't practice it if they don't even know why they are doing it or how to.

      March 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  4. kritterkat

    Native Americans – you don't like us to experiment with elements of your culture, so put down the bottle of bourbon you're so fond of and stop experimenting with ours!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Nonimus

      Ah, finally brought out the oldest stereotype known for Native American.

      Bigot.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • kritterkat

      It's not bigoted if it's true. A 2008 report from the CDC said that 1 in 10 Native American deaths is alcohol related. For the whole US population only 1 in 30 deaths is alcohol related.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Nonimus

      @kritterkat,
      So you're saying that 90% of Native Americans die from causes *not* related to alcohol, but that ent.itles you to imply that *all* Native Americans need to "put down their bottle of bourbon."
      Hmmm, generalizing from 10% of the population to 100%. That seems appropriate.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • kritterkat

      If they can judge every white person who owns a dreamcatcher, then I can judge every Native American who drinks bourbon. Fair is fair. And three times the national average for alcohol related deaths? You can't ignore that.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:15 am |
      • mshabazz

        Who gave them that alcohol bottle, kat? who introduced the alcohol that has destroyed many lives on the rez? take a wild guess.

        November 24, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Motay

      why show, and you stop digging and drilling. Lets call it a deal. No treaty please.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @kritterkat: Two biased statements dont' make a truth.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  5. MJ

    Well maybe if they started paying taxes like the rest of us they would have a right ot complain that their traditions are being co-opted. But since I pay for all that stuff i have a right to it then. And if their heritage is soooo sacred – give up all those horrible casinos. Can't have it both ways.

    And – I'm very sorry that over 200 years ago people came to this country and took your land. But I think it's time to get over it and become a citizen with all the same rights as the rest of us.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • ObammaAlabamaSlamma

      Uhh, Native Americans do pay taxes. The only ones who don't are the ones who both live and work on a reservation, which is actually a pretty small percentage.

      Also, since you pay taxes, you have a right to other peoples' traditions? Seriously, does that make sense to you? You might have a mental illness.

      And finally, not every tribe operates a casino.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • kritterkat

      Amen MJ! Not only do they not pay taxes, but they get free college tuition, and tons of other perks. It's time to give up the guilt trip already. All of our ancestors at one point in time were the victims of invasion and forced cultural takeover. They like to take the best parts of our culture, so who are they to say we can't dabble in theirs?

      March 2, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • tom

      You make it sound as if Native Americans have it made. Growing up on the resorvation is not ideal. You expierence every type of drama. Oh by the way, Native Americans do pay taxes, only those who work on reservation owned property or companies do not. Native Americans only get free tuition at a few colleges but they still have to pay for books, fees, and room and board. It's not like everything is handed to them. You ought to do some research and get your facts straight before you make a judgemental comment!

      March 2, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • kay fogleman

      AMEN!!!!!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • V

      I think that you should ask for your money to be dumped into public school because your ignorance is proof of the garbage they teach in public schools. I fear for your kids.

      1) Natives pay taxes
      2) Natives are citizens. In fact due to certain Lousiana Purchase Terms are limited to travel in Canda. (that's a freebie). So Rejoice your far more advantaged than that.

      3) 200 years ago – yes . 1960's Indian Relocation Act, 1970s continuum of Indian Relocation Act, 1980's Relocation ; this means that as early as 21 years ago – children were still being placed with "white" families with the hopes that they would turn away from their culture and people so that no more tribes would exist. Which has been moderately successful and continues drip into lower generations. Now this might not matter to you if you can't relate because you don't have stock in your own history. For that matter – there's really nothing to say on that but I'm sorry. However, attempts to wipe a specific demographic would seem genocidal.

      4) College tuition is not free – what scholarships are available are funded through tribal endowment funds.

      5) The existence on Casinos was a means for faltering tribes to be self sustaining and determining so you won't have to cry about where you think your taxes go and I doubt what you pay manages to fund the gov't the military and the indians..remember Natives are low on the totem pole so according to last calculations it was 2 cents per head. Casino money contributions have often been the savior in state budget crisis. So which is it? Do you want to give up your two cents or do you want Natives to play the "white man's" game and you can keep your 2 cents?

      March 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • kay fogleman

      To MJ AMEN !!!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Loren

      I'll make you a deal: As soon as the United States pays fair compensation to Native Americans for the 99+% of this continent we stole from them, then I grant you the right to be unhappy about whether they pay taxes or not.

      If the government took you from your house, crammed you into a closet, and told you that you could no longer practice your own religion or speak the language you grew up with, I doubt very seriously you'd want to pay them squat for that privilege. That's what's happened to the Native Americans. Until you've walked a mile in *those* moccasins, you don't have the right to beeyotch.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Frogist

      @MJ: No religions pay taxes, so I guess that means I can make fun of them all I like without any Christians or muslims or scientologists getting angry right? After all, I pay for all their stuff. Your statement reeks of imperialistic tendencies.

      @Loren: Well said!

      March 2, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • JustAThought

      Once again..someone being stereotypical. I am Native American and I am in college..do I get to go to college for free? No I don't. I had to take out loans..Yes I did get scholarships but that is because I have good grades and only 1 of them was a tribal scholarship and it is the smallest one I have the rest is loans.
      Oh..and I pay taxes also. So does most of my family. No they don't get taxed if they live on reservations but a large percentage of Native Americans have to go to other cities or towns that aren't on the reservation to buy the things they need because there isn't any Wal Mart or Target on reservations. Also everything is overpriced on reservations.
      You're argument that says Native American's shouldn't say anything until they start paying taxes really shows how much you know. I heard that someone went up to my Native american friend and said, "My mom said you guys were instinct." ..your parents must of been as stereotypical as that persons mom. Get your facts straight.
      And for those who think Native American's have such a huge drinking problem...there is a larger percentage of white's that have a drinking problem..the only reason it's so much worse for Native Americans is because there is so much fewer in proportion the white or any other race.

      March 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  6. Frogist

    Fascinating story. It was very interesting to hear about this clash of culture from the Native American viewpoint. I can somewhat relate to their frustration about their culture being exploited. I'm West Indian. And it irks me to no end to see things that were created by my people replicated by other cultures with no recognition of the tradition from which they came. It's like signing your name to someone else's art. What gives me solace is the fact that the culture must have grown big enough or popular enough to be recognized as important in order for there to be imitators. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

    But when you come to someone's religion, I think it is fair to say, replication without sincerity, can be tantamount to mockery. It's like Valerie Taliman said, if she were to impersonate a catholic priest the result wouldn't be the same. I do not buy into Autumn Two Bulls words about the spirits killing those people or the frightening way she spoke them: "So when you take our way of life and put a price tag on it, you're asking for death, you're asking for something to happen to you." There is a tinge of threat in that sentence that makes it very unnerving. But if the spirits were angry, why wouldn't they have killed Ray instead? Gods do work in mysterious ways.

    To me, I think Ray is responsible. He was leading the ceremony in an improper manner, and as a result three people died. And I think the Native Americans are right to be angered that their religion is being used as a money-making device by irresponsible outsiders giving their sacred rituals a bad name. But to want to ban all outsiders from practicing their rituals, is dangerous in and of itself, to a culture that is dying. Besides, it's not like religion hasn't been used to make money, or grab power or any number of insidious acts in Abrahamic religions

    Fun side note: My husband made me a dream catcher from one of those kits you get from Michael's. He knew I had trouble sleeping and very bad dreams. He wove my engagement ring into it and gave it to me on our anniversary. I doubt his father being able to trace his lineage back to a Native American ancestor had anything to do with it though.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  7. JonathanL

    Fasting for most of a day has proven long health benefits even if done only twice a year. But fasting for 3 days is almost as unhealthy as not drinking water for 24 hours (wherein certain processes begin to shut down – yes you also begin to hallucinate and enter a state of self induced psychosis). This is for stupid people who want to hurt themselves. If you want to become a vertified psychopath, go into the desert and fast for 3 days – you might even have visions of angles or demons, or ghosts and withces, or wizards, or even elephants riding on snails. One problem with fasting fro that long is that you can kill yourself just by eating a big meal at the end of the fast. Me? I think I will do the known healthy thing and skip the risky unhealthy self induced state of psychosis.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  8. Lady Gag

    This is more of a scientific issue than anything else....but not rocket science. There was too many people in the lodge. Bodies increase room temperature as it is, then you add hot air and steam from the rocks it gets hotter faster. This is just like locking people in a sauna. End of story.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • yeshua1

      Yes, and after those same bodies had fasted for several days. If you're weak and dizzy from hunger, imagine the heat, steam, and lack of fresh air compunding that. The victims put their faith in the people leading the sacred "cere-money," but should have had the sense as individuals to say "My body can't do this." But they were under the "gurus" influence, they were brainwashed. Ray was after money, and the victims were after enlightenment. Never the twain shall meet.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  9. Nonimus

    I have a tendency to support Native American / American Indian causes, perhaps because of a feeling of national guilt, sympathy, or maybe just to honor an ancient and proud way of life, but I have to disagree with one aspect of this article, that the Lakota's, or any tribe/nation, owns a "spiritual" rite or practice.

    First of all, trying to stop the "appropriation and exploitation of sacred ceremonies," and the 'intolerable and obscene imitations of sacred Lakota rites,' sounds an awful lot like the ban on religious defamation rules that some tried to pass in the UN, which is a violation of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from offense or insult.
    Second, this is a spiritual rite or ritual, so how exactly does one tell if it is being done correctly or not?

    If they want to protect their rituals, form an organization and copyright a logo for "Approved by the Lakota Nation" and then advertise the idea that "If it's not Lakota, it's not rite!" or some such nonsense.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Nonimus

      Oh and this Ray guy should be charged with murder or manslaughter.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Frogist

      totally agree, Nominus.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  10. Loren

    Mr/ Ray does sound exactly like the wrong person to be in charge of anything more complex than emptying bedpans. I understand the anger of his victims' families, and of the Lakota and other Native American elders toward him and those who consider sacred traditions of any people to be a source of income.

    That said...I have studied with Native American elders. I've been in the Stone People's lodge, and I've been taught and given permission to lead and practice certain ceremonies. I do them with respect, and try to honor the spirits and ancestors who were here before my ancestors arrived on this continent. They speak to me; they sing to my heart. To tell me and other whites that I should not practice in these ways because of the color of my skin is as racist and wrong as the signs that used to exist in places throughout the West that said, "No Indians or dogs allowed."

    The Circle of Life is broken enough. In the ceremonies of Natives on this continent, one can learn to repair that Circle within ourselves and how to caretake this continent on which we live. What's so wrong about that? If Natives were more willing to teach those Whites who come with respect, then perhaps there wouldn't be as much room for the hucksters.

    If Mystery and the spirits wanted to punish someone for doing that lodge without respect, it should have taken Mr. Ray, not those who may have been in there with an honest desire to learn.

    I hope that Mr. Ray has many years to contemplate the error of his ways, once they throw his derriere so far back into the jailhouse that it takes three maps and a search engine to find his cell to feed him.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Kristine

      Great post Loren. Well said. This can really be taken as an opportunity for native people to teach, not to judge. And even then, there are those native people who are lost, just as Ray is.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  11. Todd E.

    This highlights what I despise most about new-agers; that being the cherry-picking of the customs of Eastern and Native American religions.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Religulous

      Sorry but that's what Europeans do... at least according to history. t's such an interesting phenomenon that Europeans seem to have co-opted every spiritual belief system or practice (i.e. yoga) they've encountered and have made it into some for-profit proposition. The Christian faith is the biggest example. The Christian faith was born out of an African spiritual paradigm, co-opted by the Hebrews while in Egypt as immigrants, and then hi-jacked by the Romans, specifically Ptolemy Soter I followed by the Council of Nicea (325 CE). Now the Catholic church is among the most politically and economically powerful organizations in the world. And I use the word "organization" purposely because it, the Catholic church, has nothing to do with spirituality. As a matter of fact, it can me reasonably argued that Western man has not created or developed a single religion since their existence since they have no understanding of spiritually. They've co-opted other non-western spiritual belief systems and rewrote history to claim it as their own but any measure of serious study will bring to light my assertion.

      Well... any how... I suppose history has proven that if you have anything of value even beliefs, don't let the Europeans learn about about it because if they can find a way to make money off of it, they will surely steal it. LMAO.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  12. Nancy

    Yea, ok. Well the fact is people died and/or had their bodies go into shock. No one cares about rituals right now. For all those people crying about nature and being one with the earth spiritually, the human body is not meant to be exposed to extreme temperatures so why expose it? Why put your body at such an extreme risk? If it wasn't a dangerous ritual then why do all of these rituals call for emergency/medical assistance to be present just in case? It's because it's all a bunch of bolognie.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Religulous

      Thank you for proving my point by displaying your European ignorance of spiritual principles and practices. Maybe you can explain why the Catholic church supports in concept human cannibalism through the practice of "communion". Now that's some crap that makes no sense.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • JustAThought

      Really..because all the sweat lodges I have been to there has been no medical personnel on hand because they actually know what they are doing and not just trying to make money off it.

      March 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  13. Kevin

    You know what? I'd agree 100% with these native american if only I had not seen "sacred" rituals and dances done for tourists at the "Indian" casinos. (and promoted as being "sacred")
    It's really hard to argue that someone else is exploiting a sacred tradition for cash when they are also doing it themselves.
    If they want their heritage to be treated with more respect maybe they should stop using it as a tourist attraction.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • blaah!

      Go back to buffalo bill days. Native Americans were forced, yet again, to do such dances for the tourists in order to survive

      March 2, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Religulous

      Excellent point Kevin. I suppose history has proven that if you have anything of value even beliefs, don't let the Europeans learn about about it because if they can find a way to make money off of it, they will surely steal it and sometimes even change history to make it seem as though they created it. LMAO.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  14. Flora

    New-Agers in generally really bug me. I am a Norse pagan, and I see nothing wrong with learning from other traditons. However, the way a lot of new-agers don't have a base, and just throw together anything from anywhere that they take a fancy to seems to me a recipe for spritual disaster.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Nonimus

      Pot, meet Kettle.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Flora

      Say what...?

      Peace...

      March 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  15. ObammaAlabamaSlamma

    On a related note, I am taking the slaughtering of Lakota babies and turning it into a great deal for YOU! Get your 100% gen-u-wine Injun Dreamcatchers, guaranteed to give you a better night's sleep! All I ask is that you attend a dream-blessing ceremony and an instructional seminar, for $5,000.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  16. kritterkat

    "They are tired of their traditions being co-opted by others and exploited for capital gain." – Sorry Native Americans, but this is a free country. You certainly took advantage of the ability to build Westernized casinos for your own capital gain! Hypocrites.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • ObammaAlabamaSlamma

      >Implying that all tribes are the same.

      Not all Native American tribes run or operate casinos. Not every tribe is the same; many want nothing to do with the world outside their reservation.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Jake

      Yes, how dare they take our sacred casino culture and use it for base, selfish profit?

      March 2, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Religulous

      KitterKat, you reasoning is garbage and displays your ignorance of history. I can truly understand Native American frustrations with their spiritual practice being co-opted the way it has been. It's such an interesting phenomenon that Europeans seem to have co-opted every spiritual belief system or practice (i.e. yoga) they've encountered and have made it into some for-profit proposition. The Christian faith is the biggest example. The Christian faith was born out of an African spiritual paradigm, co-opted by the Hebrews while in Egypt as immigrants, and then hi-jacked by the Romans, specifically Ptolemy Soter I followed by the Council of Nicea (325 CE). Now the Catholic church is among the most politically and economically powerful organizations in the world. And I use the word "organization" purposely because it, the Catholic church, has nothing to do with spirituality. As a matter of fact, it can me reasonably argued that Western man has not created or developed a single religion since their existence since they have no understanding of spiritually. They've co-opted other non-western spiritual belief systems and rewrote history to claim it as their own but any measure of serious study will bring to light my assertion.

      Well... any how... I suppose history has proven that if you have anything of value even beliefs, don't let the Europeans learn about about it because if they can find a way to make money off of it, they will surely steal it. LMAO.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • kevin b

      your confusing a mix of dynamic complex relationships of native tribes today. you see what is most visible. what you don't see is the complex relationship of tribes in america today. in the Cherokee vs. Georgia case, tribes were termed 'domestic dependent nations' and the US government is the protectorate. each tribe has a unique relationship with the government that wholly depends on the stipulations of the treaties that were signed and RATIFIED by congress. so what you see today with casino as an economic development enterprise is a tribe trying to become self efficient, which means less money from the government because of treaty stipulations. with sweat lodge ceremonies, its not that everyone is co-opting it. It is being transformed into a profit motive service instead of a communal and free ceremony. to let you know also, sweat lodge services are exact duplications of tribal sweat ceremonies. same songs and construction materials. its a matter of respecting who has the knowledge also.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • JustAThought

      Ok...there is a difference. They are not being hypocritical because casinos don't have anything to do with religious things. So they aren't taking advantage of westernized culture. If you don't want to gamble away your money at a casino..don't go. But native Americans don't like it when you use their sacred practices to profit. Native American's don't charge any money participate in any of their rituals or practices. It's different..they have been doing the same traditions before the history of the US started being recorded. .. Maybe you should stop running off you're stereotypes before you make comments like that.

      March 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  17. Zebula

    I'm Polish and I eat Italian food. Should the spirits kill me?

    March 2, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Kevin

      Really, How would Christians like it if some huckster out to make a quick buck took a sacred Christian ritual, – let's just say a marriage ceremony for the sake of argument- and turned it into a mockery? Made it "way over the top" and completely "campy"- possibly even dressing up the "priest" as something funny like Elvis.
      There's no way we'd *ever* allow that to happen....oh, wait- we do.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Leo

      Hey Kevin... in response to the "mockery of a Christian wedding ceremony"... have you ever heard of the Chapel of Love in Las Vegas?

      March 2, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • ClearHeaded1

      Zebula, simply speaking, I would say – yes.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Religulous

      Ignorant.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Motay

      Listen to the wind.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Heather

      Leo –

      He is obviously being facetious, you moron. Stay off the message boards if you can't process sarcasm.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  18. DT

    A very sad and tragic case. Having attended several sweats conducted by a Native person trained for many years to learn the ceremonies – this article resonates deeply with me. Us white folks need to respect their traditions – its a blessing to be invited to one if you're an outsider – and a wonderful ceremony to be a part of. Only those who created these practices should be doing them – or perhaps a non Native who has been trained properly and given permission to do so (I'm not sure if this happens, but I imagine it might).

    March 2, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • kritterkat

      This country is a melting pot of traditions and cultures. Why should their culture be any more sacred than anyone else's?

      March 2, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Leo

      Kritterkat – maybe because THEY were here first. Europeans invaded their land, slaughtered their people, destroyed their food supplies, and herded them into "reservations" to keep them out of the way, despite the fact that they'd lived on this land for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They were coerced and forced into learning religions that weren't theirs, following traditions of other cultures... all on THEIR home soil.

      So... you have the gall to ask why their culture should be any "more sacred"? Sweetie, these people have been abused by the invaders (Europeans) for centuries. People talk about illegal immigration... how do you think white folks got here in the first place, eh? Melting pot? There were hundreds of cultures and languages spoken across the North American continent before the invasion by Europeans. I think that these people asking for their culture and religion not to be abused any more is a very modest request.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • kritterkat

      Leo – at some point in history ALL of our ancestors were the victims of forced religion and invasion. So? Do you hear me whining that my pagan ancestors were forcefully converted to Catholicism by the Romans? And even if THEY were here first, before we got here all they did was try to kill each other and wipe out each other's cultures anyway. They aren't the peaceful, spiritual people you think they are. Their cultures were founded on a history of pillage and war too.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • ClearHeaded1

      kritterkat said "This country is a melting pot of traditions and cultures. Why should their culture be any more sacred than anyone else's?"

      a real 'only-me-now-here person', huh?

      They built this country's pot, moron.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Nonimus

      KitterKat,
      "before we got here all they did was try to kill each other and wipe out each other's cultures anyway. They aren't the peaceful, spiritual people you think they are. Their cultures were founded on a history of pillage and war too."

      Ever hear the term hasty generalization?

      March 2, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • kritterkat

      Nominus – name one tribe that wasn't almost constantly at war with another tribe before the Europeans arrived.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • cydoc

      This is a matter of religion not culture, and to say that drinking alcohol is "our" practice is idiotic. Grow up and try to contribute something worth reading.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Religulous

      KitterKat, you reasoning is garbage and displays your ignorance of history. I can truly understand Native American frustrations with their spiritual practice being co-opted the way it has been. It's such an interesting phenomenon that Europeans seem to have co-opted every spiritual belief system or practice (i.e. yoga) they've encountered and have made it into some for-profit proposition. The Christian faith is the biggest example. The Christian faith was born out of an African spiritual paradigm, co-opted by the Hebrews while in Egypt as immigrants, and then hi-jacked by the Romans, specifically Ptolemy Soter I followed by the Council of Nicea (325 CE). Now the Catholic church is among the most politically and economically powerful organizations in the world. And I use the word "organization" purposely because it, the Catholic church, has nothing to do with spirituality. As a matter of fact, it can me reasonably argued that Western man has not created or developed a single religion since their existence since they have no understanding of spiritually. They've co-opted other non-western spiritual belief systems and rewrote history to claim it as their own but any measure of serious study will bring to light my assertion.

      Well... any how... I suppose history has proven that if you have anything of value even beliefs, don't let the Europeans learn about about it because if they can find a way to make money off of it, they will surely steal it. LMAO.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • kritterkat

      Religulost – I think any follower of a pagan or Nordic religion would totally disagree with your ignorance. How dumb can you get?

      March 2, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Religulous

      KritterKat, good point. But why don't Europeans follow their own indigenous belief systems? In addition, I wouldn't by any stretch assume that Nordic or any other seeming European belief system was created by them anymore that I would say Christianity was created by Europeans although according to his-story it is.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Religulous

      KritterKat, I suppose I should retract my statement to some degree since the worship of trees (i.e. christmas) and the whole christmas practice is European in origins. So how does that "spiritual" practice/understanding compare to Eastern spiritual paradigms? LOL. (St. Nick, yuletide,etc...) Did you know christmas was outlawed in this country for a period of time because it's celebration because so vile, dangerous, and unruly. It was brought back at the introduction of capitalism.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14CLNTDiyCY (Origins of Christmas)

      March 2, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Motay

      kit kat is lost in his own thoughts, he need a cleansing. Only then will he regain his focus.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Kristine

      This whole thing is so unfortunate. Must there be "outsiders"?

      March 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  19. OurPlanet

    Anotherr snake oil salesman, he should be able to afford his laywer.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  20. ldean

    James Ray is the same guy that Oprah Winfrey had on her show as the greatest "man of wisdom" in this century – her show should have to have a warning label.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Richard

      WInfrey dispenses dime-store psychology at the drop of a hat and damages the feeble morons who watch her idiotic shows. I hope she gets hit by a truck.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Motay

      Okay here is the deal. Since the elders don't really care for cnn blogs. The sweat ceremony has always been part of their culture and they just want to be left alone and practice their way of healing. This sedona incident was someone trying to make a buck. Everyone makes mistakes and we all know most of us like money. Sedona is a place that sells an image and someone was going beyond his abilities. The lesson is that when you are going to partake in a activity that has risks, know your guide. Good judgement is what should be learned here.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • thequeenbee

      Did anyone consider that the Spirits decided to take the people who died? That their death was a release of their Spirits and their continual journeys do not require this plane or bodies? I find it very odd that something so Spiritual is reduced down to an act and consequences that has everything to do with secular ideas like money and health and when all is said and done–perhaps they have slipped between the cracks of the worlds and nothing bad or untoward happened at all–except in the eyes of people who can only imagine and revere this physical world and this time....

      March 2, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Welljus

      Oprah is in SHOW BUSINESS. She shows what the people are buying. Don't turn on the TV if you're not willing to see a bit of illusion. Smoke and mirrors is what they do best...and don't let the news fool you either.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • bailoutsos

      A bunch of sweaty, stinking guys smoking dope? Count me in.

      March 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.