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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. LLBD

    II agree with the Native American healers, its time to respect their native ways. Stop using their religious beliefs for monetary gain. Give credit where credit is due. They are a good group of people, with so much respect for the earth and their ancestors. Respect works both ways.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Respect their ways? I thought imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. And you can't generalize and call them all a good group of people with respect for the earth. That's just the stereotype you get from movies and TV.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • thequeenbee

      The notion that imitation is the greatest form of flattery...is the defense of the copycat, to justify why he steals others ideas and has no ability to develop his own.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Faithful

    If Mr. Ray has any philosophical integrity or conviction of the self-empowerment he preaches, then he should accept complete responsibility, plead guilty and offer no (or minimal) defense. In other words, "eat his own dog food." As a master of his own reality, commanding $10,000 a head to impart his expertise to others, he is in a position of trust. This was his show, he was in control by his own design. When someone pays $10,000 for an experience, you want to "get your money's worth," combined with some old-school EST Training style intimidation, it's not too hard to compell someone to act against their own best interest. So by virtue of the price he charged, the promises he made and the influence he exerted, he's completely responsible, and even more so according to the very wisdom he teaches. He should man up and apologize, beg for mercy and promise never, ever again to abuse someone else's sacred ritual for commercial gain.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • thequeenbee

      If the vision quest was authentic, then the "gifts of the Spirit did not come from Ray but from a higher force. That being so, it was wrong for Ray to ever charge for something that was freely given to all that are sincerely on the journey. Some things should NOT be a money proposition-spirituality (believe it or not) should be one of those–even Christianity speaks against those who try to profit by pandering or selling "God" like he was a gimmick.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  3. 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 12:25 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      ...Eucharist

      March 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  4. Shana

    Native Americans are offended if the wind blows too hard. They should be honored someone is trying to be like them – I mean really...

    March 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Allie

      What kind of honor is in this? This is shameful. You have no right to tell a group of people how they should feel, none at all. It's not up to you!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • thequeenbee

      That kind of 'honoring" is like a snake pretending to be a tree limb. The real tree limb helps and serves the tree for the enrichment of them both–the snake pretends to be a limb only so it can capture and destroy the unwary–just to fulfill and feed itself. The snake does not benefit the tree -and in the Spirit of living, neither the tree nor the unwary should be 'grateful' that the snake chooses to copy.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  5. kritterkat

    So, they have a problem with non-Native Americans selling dreamcatchers to white people, but they don't have a problem with Native Americans selling dreamcatchers to white people. Why would they even want us to own these sacred objects they we apparently don't believe in or understand? See – they don't mind taking advantage of their own culture for profit. So how could it possibly be that sacred to them?

    March 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Guest

      Agreed, They need to realize they are as flawed as everyone else, then we can all get along. They started smoking first, should we blame them for all the smoking deaths over the past 500 years.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • 51/91

      "a merchant can't claim earrings were made by Native Americans if they weren't", nothing about who is selling them, it's who is making them. You both should read the article before posting, your looking very ignorant especially kritterkat.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • kritterkat

      51/91 – I don't need to read it in an article. I live 2 miles from one of the largest Native American centers in the United States, and I see it first hand. Now who's ignorant?

      March 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Guest

      Experience says it all. I grew up surrounded by reserves and the native population. I saw first hand what they did to the lands that were given to them. I saw first hand how the Native friends I had were embarrassed by most of their people, you can not argue with that.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Ironically, the tradition of Native American bead jewelry only goes back a few hundred years. Where do you think they got their beads from? Yup, Europeans!

      March 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • 51/91

      Still you, you have nothing but opinion in most of your posts with little proof and living 2 miles away doesn't make you an expert. That would be like me assuming that you are annoyed with Native Americans because you live 2 miles away from them and that your just a jerk who wants to rip on them, but that would just be my opinion.
      I have relatives who are part of a tribe and they talk about the negatives that go on in the reservation, but are still proud of their heritage. So if experience is everything then there are millions of different truths because everybody's experiences are different including both of yours, but don't go saying things without thinking.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Allie

      Kritterkat, you're a fool. Indians of course don't mind sharing their culture with people who are earnestly interested. If you believe a dreamcatcher works or even if you just think it's pretty, fine. It's all about respect. This sweat was done in a disrespectful manner, clearly. Also the smoking thing...you sound like Rush Limbaugh, for one. Natives didn't traditionally smoke in the way smoking is done now. Tobacco is and was considered sacred, one of the sacred herbs. We still put out tobacco all the time and smoke it in a pipe. You think Indians were the ones to put all the chemicals and addictive properties into tobacco? No way. Guess who did that? Really that could be considered another violation and misuse and abuse of Native culture! Bad argument there.

      March 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Allie

      Oh and also it's not like Indians didn't do arts and crafts before Europeans, kritterkat. You have a very narrow view. Before beads arrived with the colonizers, my tribe used porcupine quills. You need more knowledge before you make such comments.

      March 2, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Allie – So they can pick and choose when people decide to use their culture? They are fine with anyone attending their sweat lodges, but not people running their own. That throws out their whole belief that the ceremony is sacred to their religion, since they don't mind bringing in outsiders as long as someone else doesn't profit from it. And if you can't see the difference between the traditions of porcupine quill jewelry and glass bead jewelry then you need your eyes checked.

      March 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Readabook

      Beads were used for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They were made from quahog shells–wampum. Wampum beads were woven into belts to act as written treaties. When the Europeans arrived, wampum belts were woven to mark treaties with the settlers. The belt of the Haudenosaunee confederacy predates the colonists by centures–a belt to represent the first elected centralized government on this continent; one that was studied by our founding fathers when creating our own federal government.

      They traded for a variety of beads with Europeans. They didn't get the idea from them.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  6. OldGoat

    BTW, doing a search on Autumn Two Bulls, one of the people cited in the article, is illuminating. She appears to be some sort of Indian rabble-rouser. Her Facebook page is ridiculous.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  7. BillyBob117

    Just another group that is eternally offended. Why do NA live on Indian Reservations?-what name shall they be called this month

    March 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • niijii

      yes, many indians are offended by ignorance and stupidity

      March 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  8. Liberty Queen

    As much as we respect Native Americans, they do not own Spirituality. Our People have a long ancestry and ancient traditions that are similar to other aboriginal traditions all over the world, traditions and spiritual practices such as fasting, journeying, immersion in darkness, sweats, praying, blessing, honoring, singing and so on. We view James Ray as a money junkie who had no business leading a sweat lodge. We understand the pain and suffering of Native Americans but Declare War on others or to sue to claim ownership of the sweat lodge is patently ridiculous and absurd. No one owns Spirit!

    March 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Its just sweat. Its been around for a long time. There are no laws that to anyone from copying or modifying a religious ceremony. The First Amendment ends the whole discussion from a legal aspect.
      As far as respect goes, its up to the individual.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      supposed to be "stop anyone"

      March 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  9. Mark

    Oh, I forgot, a couple notes relating to the case itself:
    – Mr. Ray did not forcefully make people join his group or stay longer than they were comfortable with; it says he did "encourage" them to stay when they weren't feeling well, but anybody with any sense would have made up their own mind to leave if they were feeling that badly. Also, they joined the event on their own freewill.
    – by the reasoning of the Cree here, and given the sacred nature of horses to Native American culture, every horse breeder and race horse owner in the U.S. should be persecuted; yet it seems that no complaints have never been made about this – intersting.
    – I find myself wondering, if the event had been held in a traditional modern style sauna, like in eastern cultures, would this even be a story? I would be suprised if it even made the news beyond it's local area.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  10. BILL

    NOT DEFENDING RAY, BUT HOW CAN YOU FEEL SORRY FOR A GROUP OF IDIOTS THAT PAID $10,000 TO PARTICIPATE
    IN THIS TYPE OF CLEANSING.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • OldGoat

      Try turning off the CAPS LOCK. Your message may have a better chance of being "heard." Now, what was it you said?

      March 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  11. Pliny

    Let the punishment fit the crime.

    Crucify James Aurthur Ray.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  12. Yeah..

    I am decended from the GuGug tribe. The first to harness fire in 22,000 BC. You all owe me big.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Pliny

      I'm a descendant of the Snu-Snu tribe.

      And if you intend on driving your car to the countroom for your 'I invented fire case'....then get ready for me to be suing you ....because the Snu-Snu invented the wheel.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Guest

      Wow, that was the best comment I've heard on this entire post. But, I guess that does mean that you should be held responsible for all the damage fires have caused over the world over the last 24000 years. lol

      March 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • OldGoat

      *I* am descended from the Hocus-Pocus people, who invented the sweat lodge. So sue me!

      March 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Guest

      I am from Adam and Eve, all of you 7 Billion People, GET OFF MY LAND!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • thequeenbee

      And I am from the tribe of Eve who is genetically responsible for the existence of all humans beings on earth. (They all derived from a single female from Africa) if any of you plan to sue each others using your physical bodies–then I plan on suing all of you for doing so in a "fleshly vehicle" copyrighted by my ancestor. LOL

      March 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Guest

      Well thequeenbee, I guess were related, I want some of my inheritance. lol

      March 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • niijii

      white people pretending to be indians....and dying.

      pathetic. stick to the churches please!

      March 2, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  13. 51/91

    The article itself has room for argument over if this guy responsible and if Native Americans can include ceremonies in an act that protects their cultural belongings, but to just blast Native Americans because they own casinos or because a small amount don't pay taxes is ignorant. The reservation is "reserved" for them to govern themselves and uphold their way of life in exchange for us taking almost all the land they ever lived on (I don't say own because most Native Americans didn't see that we actually "owned" the land), so why would they pay into a government that they don't live in necessarily. It would be like Canadian Casinos or people who work there paying US taxes because US citizens use them. I can tell you Detroit Casinos have been getting great tax breaks, thats how they got there.
    Also, people are getting their values mixed with others. I know Christianity looks down on gambling (which is weird when you see a church bus full of seniors pulling up to the Casinos), but does anyone know if it's a direct violation of some Native American culture? How can they be hypocritical then? Also, a lot of praise should be given to how well Native Americans look out for their communities, especially their ancestors who years ago wanted education for future generations when negotiating their treaties. They may run casinos to make a profit, but there are tribes that distribute the money to their tribal members and use it to fund things like their entire college education (and no they are not communist for anyone wanting pull that card out). Lastly our culture is full of people who practice old religious traditions, while competing in a westernized world who would like their traditions protected so why shouldn't Native Americans be any different (not to say those people win those protections, but they still want to protect them).

    March 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  14. Foreverndn

    Although Natives don't have a copyright on sweat lodge, they've been doing it for thousand and thousands of years and have perfected this sacred ceremony. Show some respect.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Perfected it? I guess that's why the article says that Native Americans also die performing this ceremony. Also, several European cultures used sweat lodges thousands of years ago too.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Wilderness Voice

      KK: I have participated in dozens of sweats over the years, run by natives or native-trained people. Never once have I witnessed any kind of injury. For starters, between rounds anyone who needs to leave is allowed to leave without being shamed. Yes they make it hot but not so hot as to give people heatstroke. Finally, as someone else here already pointed out, you don't do this to people already depleted fresh from a vision quest.

      The guy on trial obviously did not know what he was doing.

      March 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  15. Doug

    It's important for people to realize that just like everything else, a very small percentage of American Indians actually profit from mega casinos. Everyone on both sides of this argument needs to stop generalizing. And generic knock-offs of the real thing are quite legal- it's up to the consumer to not take part in an "Indian" ritual not led by someone actually qualified to do so. I can understand the frustration with their beliefs being abused and corrupted for financial gain, but that is part of the American way. In the day of the Internet, one can pretty easily research anything. What this guy Ray did might be wrong, but other than possibly the specific execution, not illegal.

    It would be completely legal for me to advertise services similar to that of a catholic priest so long as I made it clear that I wasn't ordained, and that the service is only modeled after those or a catholic priest.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  16. JBC

    I am a northern Cree, from the James Bay area.
    We have many other SACRED ceremonies, ones that must be earned....you cannot simply decide to conduct one without being given to you. You must work for it. Which leads to the balance of our spirituality, we meet God 50/50. When we pray for something, we do not believe in "let God handle it"...but also doing our part on the earth to make it happen.
    This man might have earned his sweat lodge, but he did not listen to Singing Bear. Instead he went on with the ceremony, because I believe he wanted to make money, trying to do everything fast, when we cherish patience. Also, he shouldn't have taken the hungry/thirsty people in a lodge, usually after a fast or a "vision quest" we have a large feast.
    We must remember, we believe in spirits, everything has one.
    Now I think this Ray, had a false image...We have a lot of them, including in our own reserves. I'm sure he was one of those men, who attended some ceremonies and became fascinated with it, and wanted to learn EVERYTHING, and then be on his own. Big mistake. Even men who have held a sweat for more than a decade, ask for help from elders and powerful spiritual people.
    If you want the real experience, you must look for it. Walking through casino doors, and seeing a dance, isn't real.
    We do not ask people to pay up before they enter a ceremony, but to simply help out, like getting wood, the stones and keeping an eye on the fire. By doing so, we learn how to be humble.
    I wish I could say more...but has anyone talked to a elder, who is spiritual, and holds a lot of past teachings? They really open your eyes, and I must say, it's better than a bible.

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

      Thank you.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • numbnut

      Beautiful.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Better than a Bible huh? So, you are protected from criticism, but you can put other people's beliefs down on a whim. How fair.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • holly

      Well said, kritterkat

      March 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Ken

      To "kritterkat". I am also from a Cree tribe in Canada. We have spent many generations at the hands of the priests of the bible...that is thwe reason we believe our religion to be a better choice. We do not put down other religions but have first-hand knowledge of the preachings of the priests. We are still recovering from the damage the church has done to us. There truly is a difference and I respect your faith in your religion.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Lee Oates

      Excellent posting. You hit it right on the nose. Unfortunately there is a huge amount of racism and intolerane towards Indians (First Nations People). Most postings here are based on a ignorance of our people. [K'wihl H'auusgum Xsqaak]

      March 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Historian

      another injun jerk!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  17. dirtydog1776

    Quit your whining and get over it. Many cultures have had their ideas copied. It happens. People have copied the ideas of the Roman and the Greeks, Europeans and many other cultures. The main thing is not let others change your ideas or think for you. This is getting tiresome.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • numbnut

      But I think there's a difference when copying: some do it out of respect, and some do it for greed. James Arthur Ray is greedy.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  18. Goin' Overboard

    I heard an advertisement plugging a Catholic religious channel on a pay network where the moderator said that he didn't think of communion wine/wafers as the actual body of Christ for years, but learned that it was true as an adult. Just sayin'...

    March 2, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  19. Mark

    Just a few observations about the article and the other posts:
    1. Native Americans migrated here just like everybody else (from Asia), only centuries earlier than Europeans; it's not like they were just here from the start. It is true that back in the colonial era native Americans were subjected to great and unjust cruelty at the hands of European settlers, but at the root of it all people are just animals, and fighting over territory is a natural and carnal instinct – we just seem to do it with guns instead of teeth and claws.
    2. To that end, the idea that people should somehow be owed an eternal debt for otherwise natural tendencies is utterly ridiculous. Hanging onto things that happened hundreds of years ago, and to distant relatives that most people living today probably have no idea who they really were, only impedes progress. I am half Mexican, but I don't expect some monetary or legal special treatment for all the hate crimes against legal Mexican American citizens in the Southwest – and, the last time I checked my history book, Mexicans had settled that area centuries before European settlers.
    3. The concept of sweating out impurities is not spiritual (people eons ago only thought so because they did not know another way to explain the medical healing properties of the practice), and it is also not soley Native American in origin. People all over the world have practiced similar sauna techniques for thousands of years, so Native Americans need to stop saying it is just their "culture". If that's the case, then they ought to be suing the outdoors industry for selling tents that are the same shape as wigwams.
    4. By the way, people have been borrowing from cultures practically since our own existence. Every culture and religion in existence has borrowed some part of what is is from somehere, someone, and/or something else. We are humans, and humans are derivative creatures.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • kritterkat

      Well said Mark! I find it funny that many Native Americans consider the horse to be an animal sacred to their culture and have "legends" that contain horses, when they didn't even have any horses until the Europeans arrived. There were no native horses in the US.

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

      Yeah, tell that to all the "African" Americans would always like to bring up the whole slavery issue, yet they refuse to recognize the fact that their own people, other black Africans sold their ancestors into the slave market in the first place.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • lamorpa

      I want to move into your house. You have no inherent human right to be there. Move out. I'm coming tomorrow.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Dana Pertermann

      Horses evolved on the North American continent and migrated to Asia hundreds of thousands of years ago. The modern horse then became extinct in North America around 4,000 years ago. Native Americans knew very well what horses were and how to use them. I am a Bioanthropologist. Please do not post things you clearly know nothing about, even if it really has nothing to do with the article.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      So you're suggesting that the Indians kept the memory and knowledge of riding the horse for more than 3,000 years after it was extinct here? right.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Dave

      Migration from Asia happened, by best estimate, 10,0000 to 12,000 years ago. Europeans arrived, at the earliest, in the 1200s (Vikings) about 800 years ago. You have a strange concept of time.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Dana – you apparently don't understand this from an anthropological perspective. The horses that Native Americans used were NOT native to America. If the few remaining native species had been used by the Native Americans they would have been domesticated and would not have become extinct. Also, Native American legends evolved over the years to include horse stories after the Europeans arrived.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Jack

      The idea that new agers are copying traditional Native Ceremonies is the problem. Why don't they investigate the similar ceremonies of their own ancestors and perform those rituals.

      The insult of charging for these processes is disgusting. Anyone foolish enough to go to Sedona and interact with the new age rip off artists deserve whatever they get.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • GAMOMMA

      When you're on a "vision quest" as these people were, then it's a Sacred Native American ceremony. The white settlers have been selecting those parts of NA culture that they can exploit since they arrived in the 1700's. If this were something copied from Jewish, Catholic or Muslim religious beliefs, it would be banned. But because it's NA culture, it's okay?

      March 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • logan

      You should get a refund from whatever school you went to, if you went to any at all. Native Americans were living in North America for at least 20,000 years before European settlers arrived, they have found skeletons, buried sites, bone piles, shell deposits dating way before "a few hundred years" before the European came, but nice try at trying to make their rights irrelevant in a typical ignorant American way

      March 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Allie

      @MarkinFL the Indians would have had no problem remembering the horse thousands of years later thanks to the oral tradition. Look it up. Better than books, that system was.

      March 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Ken

      The European settlers didn't have to sign the Treaties and we, the aboriginal people, didn't have to eiother. But we both did and now we must live by those agreements. Simply put.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  20. James

    I cannot respect anyone who thinks it is cool or novel to sell religious rights meant to be respected by others. I always had a problem with people getting tribal tattoos and piercings as well. Most people have no idea or respect of these religions and cultures. But I do not think it is or should be illegal.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • MarkinFL

      You better move to another country then . First Amendments all over that one.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Yeah..

      Markinfla. I think James made it quite clear that he thought it was wrong and such people are disrepectful morons, but that we do nd should have the right to be disrespectful morons.

      March 2, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • MarkinFL

      ooops. Misread last line. I've seen the opposite sentiment so many times.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Brad

      No one is disrespecting a religion by doing these things. That religion, for example, is not the only one doing that, they did not invent it. I mean, what is next, if a religion declares black sacred then we should all stop wearing black to respect them? My personal opinion is, F your religion, F your God, F your beliefs, F your feelings. Mind your own buisness, let me do what I want, and get over it. The real deal is, all these people are whining because they are trying to get money, that is it. As for people using other religions rituals to make a buck, well, what do you think that religion is doing? Same thing, but they call it religion and so now it is not exploitaion? Whatever, get over yourselves you religiouse hypocrits!

      March 2, 2011 at 12:34 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.