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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. American realist

    If u dont want ppl stealing ur ideas or beliefs then dont make it public u can see sweat lodges in moves magazines everywhere theres no more true indians anymore everyone is a heinz 57 im tired of ppl sayin this was our land well now its mine deal with it

    March 2, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Mom of Three

      Hey. Einstein. If you would stop your eloquent diatribe for just a second, you might know that sweat lodges are not public events. You have to be invited to them or to join a lodge community. This isn't like a church that has a catchy quote of the week on a lighted sign out front. You need to know someone who trusts you enough to participate. Hardly public. But I can tell by your grammar that I don't know nuthin' compared to you, so take it for what it's worth.

      April 4, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  2. LouAz

    This "article" is now pointless. The SCOTUS just ruled ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is completely legal FREE SPEECH. You betcha !

    March 2, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  3. Colin

    Native Americans still believing in stone age garbage – "intermediaries to the the spirit World", "Earth, wind and fire acting to clense". What a load of mushy hocus-pocus. Sit them down and give the ma basic education in science rather than pandering to this dribbel.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • tnav

      a person like you wouldn't understand why these beliefs are sacred. dont trash them just because its not a part of your heritage!

      March 2, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Colin

      I trash them becuase they are silly. Look, if we keep pandering to silly nonsense, we will never get rid of it.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • tom

      what makes it silly? it's their religion and if it's sacred to them then it should't matter because your not the one involved in it.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Wilderness Voice

      Don't look now, but your sacred Scientific Materialism has got a gaping hole in it.
      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/8/25/896041/-Atheist-Digest-10:-Debunking-Dogmas,-Part-II:-Scientific-Materialism

      March 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Welljus

      Colin,

      My what a delightful positive person you are. And in case you don't know, wind, earth and fire DOES cleanse. Perhaps YOU weren't paying attention in science class. We also have 4 seasons, not just for your viewing pleasure, but because it is nature's way of cleansing and balancing.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  4. Derrel LeMere

    Kritterkat, I thought that people would be more prone to hide their ignorance not parade it. However, you seem to wear it proudly...damn fool!

    March 2, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. Katie

    If people want to crawl into a hot tent and kill themselves, who cares. At least the smart people know when to get out.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  6. JC

    "They are tired of their traditions being co-opted and exploited for capital gain."

    How about co-opting casinos and exploiting gamblers for capital gain?

    March 2, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Me

      I am not sure why everyone is complaining about the casinos...they don't charge $5k just to get into the casino. Its an option for you to spend that much. No one tries to talk you into staying there either....so really, whats the point against casinos? These people shelled out $5k for what they thought would be a spiritual experience, were they led to believe that this guy knew what he was doing? Were they talked into staying even after they didnt fell well? I would say both are a yes. While casinos may prey on the weak, this seems to be a lot worse in the fact of the initial money spent and them being led to believe the guy knew what he was doing. At a casino I can go in and do nothing, I can spend a little, spend a lot....doesnt matter. I don't have anyone saying to me "stay a little longer" "wait it out"......

      March 2, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I think the point is that the indians do not seem to have a problem borrowing from other cultures to make money. Of course few people would consider gambling to be spiritual, though I'm sure some do. 🙂

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

      First off, gambling is an activity that the first peoples of the Americas were involved in long before the ships arrived. That is why there are now casinos on reservations in the US and on First Nation territories in Canadas (and they are government sanctioned becasue of this historical connection.) We have just adapted this activity to the modern world. And why not?

      What some don't seem to understand about sweatlodge ceremony is that it is not just a sauna. It is a ceremony. There are protocols to follow and the conductor and his helpers are there to help those who attend. In the ceremonies I have attended, I know I was being taken care of and I trusted those who were there to help me. The people who came to this trusted Ray and he let them down. People died.

      My people are angry because he uses our terminology when advertising his events. If he had advertising it as a sauna, then we wouldn't have anything to be upset about but instead he took our ceremonies, our visionquest and our sweatlodge and used it for personal gain. We don't do that. Shouldn't we be upset?

      May 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  7. notmoving

    Well reported. Yes, this so-called "sweat lodge ceremony" was in fact a pervesion of what the ceremony, in the proper hands, is. If Ray had shown respect for the ritual, I would not have a problem with it. Clearly, however, his respect and his knowledge for the ritual is nil. He compounds that with blatant lying. Many of his ceremony attendees have witnessed against him, sayig that he did berate his followers into staying overlong in this sweat. He did wrong, he lied about it, and now he lawyered up. And that is why tribes are outraged.

    One more little quibble here: as a Cherokee, I must point out how annoying it is to be called a "Native American" by people who know nothing about us except what they read and hear, and then proceed to pontificate about us online. We call ourselves "Indians" you know. The term "Native American" was invented by White bureaucrats in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the late 1960s to group together all the United States' Indians, Eskimos and Hawaiian Natives. It was a paper-saving measure, nothing more. I am proud to be Cherokee, a member of the much larger aggregation of American Indian nations.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • hillytoo

      Its different wording in different places. In Canada Indians are referred to as First Nations people. Nobody uses the term Eskimo anymore.They use (depending on their location and language, Inuvialuit, Labradorimuit, Inuit, Innu...)Its hard to know in different countires and different ethnic heritage what might be considered an insult. I came back to Canada after living overseas and heard the term African American and was puzzled. So I asked a guy whoase mom was Caucasion and dad was Jamacian what he would refer to himself as . (African American Canadian sounded odd). He told me he was Black, or at least Mulatto. He said he was too white for the black people and too black for the whites... not even he knew!

      March 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  8. Chatn

    Hey Kritterkat- I'm Native American, I DO PAY TAXES, I HAD TO PAY MY WAY FOR COLLEGE..
    "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" Why don't you go live on a reservation and see what other perks we have! YOU MORON!!!!

    March 2, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Guest

      In my experience, the conditions on most reservations are the fault of the inhabitants of that reservation. I've seen large parcels of beautiful land, given to Native Americans, then a year later I have seen burnt houses, stolen cars and vadalism, similar to that of a Detroit Ghetto. I have seen where police will let a stolen car go onto the reserve with fear of getting shot if they enter. That is the reality for some, not all, but most I have seen.

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

      Funny guest, I have seen parts of my town that were once beautiful, turn to crap from the invasion of those that come across our southern boarder. I am not kidding, you don't even want togo to their part of town anymore. Funny, most of them don't pay taxes and yet live off my tax dollars. Of course its a huge generalization to say that they ALL turn everything they touch into trash.....

      March 2, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Guest

      Very good point, But i believe you are talking about Mexico, to your border. The people you speak of are their illegally. Correct me if I am wrong. I am from Canada and do follow your politics, but you would know more than me. The difference is that here the Natives are here and the government is party to the issues. Your government has a hard time finding all the boarder jumpers. Is that accurate?

      March 2, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • White Man

      There are many levels to everything. Most people speak from illusion anyway...their own. Rarely do you come across an individual who is awake.

      The white man is classic at beating up people and then as they lie there bleeding and wounded say, "What's the matter with you? Why don't you get up and walk?"

      March 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • JustAThought

      Yes..it is the inhabitants of the reservation that make it look like that..But there is many factors that come into play and it would take forever to put it on here. Like I said I am Native American..I pay taxes also. When I did live on the reservation we would have to go off the reservation to buy things we needed b/c everything is over priced on reservations for that reason that a Wal-Mart or Target are often an hour or an hour and a half drive away. & I am paying for my own college right now. My mother is almost $60,000 in debt from college (she went to graduate school).

      March 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  9. Addisonian

    I don't blame these people one bit. If I were Native American and was watching a bunch of ignorant Caucasians co-opting my religious ceremonies for fun and profit, I would be furious.

    You have to wonder, though, what's wrong with people who would shell out money to someone who is clearly a total BS artist. "Vision Quest," my butt. Apparently there really is one born every minute.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  10. liz

    a sweat lodge is a sauna, right? don't scandanavian and other cultures use similar "baths"? many others can claim it as part of their way. sometimes it is not for sacred purposes, it's just a bath.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  11. Colin

    You think these guys are weird. I know a cult that believes they consume the actual flesh and blood of a dead prophet from the Middle East 2,000 years ago because a priest performs some hocus-pocus over bread and wine every Sunday.

    They are called Catholics and I swear, they believe this krap in the 21st century!! If you think I’m making this up, go to a Catholic mass. It’s really weird – you'll see grown adults there who believe this.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Guest

      Catholics don't actually believe they are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. They believe it is symbolic what they do when they go to mass, get your story straight, then come back with a response.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • LouAz

      Why would anyone want to symbolically eat some old guy ?

      March 2, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Colin

      @Guest. Not so.

      I recall a conversation with a Catholic priest once over the ritual of communion, where bread and wine supposedly becomes the flesh and blood of Jesus. He was, in fact, disdaining the view of an Anglican (I think, although it could have been another denomination) priest who maintained that the communion was just symbolic.

      So, I asked the Catholic priest, "I assume there is no actual physical change to the bread and wine." "Of course not." he replied. "So, how can it be other than symbolic?" I asked.

      Stony silence, eyes averted.....

      Apparently under Catholic doctrine, there is a pretend World between symbolic and real where, despite not changing one iota, the bread and wine is the flesh and blood of JC – and it's not symbolic.

      go figure. Dark Ages nonsense.

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

      Interesting, I am born and raised Catholic. I have never heard it, or read it that way. I wonder if it was one of those priests who are totally out of touch with reality. But I do understand what you are saying, I believe in religion, not the church. I stopped going to church a long time ago when I realized that everyone seemed brainwashed. In my opinion, the man made church has nothing to do with God.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Colin

      @guest. I went through 12 years of Catholic school. Apart from the nonsense of the religion itself, they gave me a pretty good education. The problem was, as they taught me about gods, saints, angels and other sky-fairies, they were also teaching me physics, math, biology and chemistry. Needless to say, I was an atheist by my teens.

      In a nutshell, the more I came to understand the Universe, the more I realized there was no reason to believe in a god and the more I came to understand mankind, the more I realized why millions of us nevertheless do.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  12. ck37

    This guy claims it's not his fault that these people were where they were for what they were doing...Do we convict dope feinds for going to the dope dealer for dope, or do we go after the dope dealers for giving them something and somewhere to go do it at.If you ask me ,...Throw the book at the $%&*@@!.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  13. berkshireguy29

    Look bottom line is these people are all adults. They all make their own decision's, and if you do not research, and do your homework before entering a situation such as this then it is your own fault. Too many times one man gets blamed for the ignorant willingness of people to listen and act on ones words. If your an adult and you listen and follow one's words without doing your own research then your a Stupid Lemming and deserve to fall off the cliff

    March 2, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Warrior Stupid Lemming

      Hey now, wait a minute....

      March 2, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • ebullient

      You're so smart. How did we end up with four grammatical errors in your message?

      March 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  14. WhoLou

    Indians are right . . . no more whites should be allowed to gamble in their sacred casinos ! What-the-hay.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Guest

      Indians are wrong, they should not be allowed to have tax free Casinos. Especially, they can smoke in there Casinos. Its about time they were subject to the same laws and rules as we are.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • WhoLou

      But guilt is a powerful emotion. Lots of religions make "unbelieveable" use of it.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  15. Ryan

    Finally a religion blog NOT about Christianity.
    Thank you CNN!
    Keep up the diversity!

    March 2, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  16. Charles

    They're heated lava rocks, not hot lava rocks. The LaConner, WA case shouldn't even be mentioned here. A giant, cedar lined building with a stove doesn't compare to the heat and humidity of a sweat lodge tent with heated lava rocks.

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

      So if they're heated they're not hot. OK, if you say so. LOL

      March 2, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  17. Brian Gallant

    II'd like to bring it to the attention of the writer who produced this article that neither Alvin Manitopyes nor anyone else "knows" how the natural elements – earth, fire, water and air – work together to cleanse people, inside and out, and create balance.

    That's because all spiritual and religious beliefs, including those espoused by Christians, are based on faith and not evidence.

    IIs Ms Ravitz a reporter or a spokesman on behalf of those who follow native spiritual traditions?

    The pubilc would be better served if journalists followed the tradition of reporting the facts.
    I

    March 2, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Robert Jakobson

      Very True! The beauty of native people lies in their maturity and not in perverted views of the Great Spirit. Besides the balance of the four elements is a concept from ancient, classical Greek atomist, materialist philosophers, later popularized by Galen and the alchemists it has nothing to do with the natives, quite contrary it is a Western mystery school concept. Me thinks the native healers are much more influenced by Western circles than one finds polite to admit. Still, some profound Knowledge remains about them, like misty dew on summer morning woods....

      March 2, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Alvin Manitopyes

      Its my understanding the Creator willed the natural elements to work in harmony to maintain balance in His creation. We regard these elements are the four natural laws. All of these natural elements are used in the sacred lodge. The rocks and willows come from Mother Earth and we used the fire (natural element) to heat up the rocks then we use the water (natural element) to create the steam, another natural element – air. When a person is sick or not thinking right they are viewed as being out of balance so when they come into the lodge they are turning to these natural elements to restore balance within themselves through their prayers and purification.

      March 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  18. neoritter

    "'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.'"

    This woman is suffering from victims syndrome. She thinks the whole world is against her. That said, a cited earlier case in the article noted that an Indian who died in a sweat ceremony was an accident and the person who held it was not prosecuted. That said, free on bond means someone paid, what was a steep bond by the way, for him to be released from jail pending his trial.

    Also, there's a difference between saying you're a member of a religious organization (or any organization for that matter); and saying you're doing a another religion's ceremony. Must people (not even the Vatican) would go through legal troubles to stop a person from performing confession ceremonies. But they would go through legal troubles to stop someone from representing themselves as an organization they are not apart of.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  19. JAB

    I'm tired of the tribes co-opting my gambling heritage. It's hard to believe that even those who sadly lost their lives trusted some "guru" rather than their own survival instinct. I say award a Darwin Prize to the dead and lock the charlatan up.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  20. Guest

    I can understand the need for safety. Without trying to sound racist, I'm a realist, not a racist. The Native Americans have taken our practices to dangerous levels as well. Not as a group, but many individuals of that group have gone much further with drinking alcohol and other things that have led to dangerous levels and even death. It happens when different cultures clash, all cultures are guilty, not just one. Pot calling Kettle Black.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • kritterkat

      100% agreed. All life is sacred – and their lives and cultures and no more sacred than ours.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Stephanie

      "Took your practices to dangerous levels as well?" and then use drinking as your example. That doesnt even apply here. It isnt like we took over a church, pretended to be a priest, or pastor, or reverend or whoever, charged money for our services, and then did them until 3 people died.

      And for your information, just as many white people drink as Native people do. And even more. You are racist, hiding behind generalizations and only a CLAIM that you aren't.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:19 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.