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. JusWonderin

    There's something wrong when a guru can post a $525K bail.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • burns

      That's absolutely nothing, look at all those evangical preachers, they make millions.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  2. crash

    yes they talk the talk but how many respectful compassionate natives do you see, have you ever been near a reserve and see how racist they are?

    March 2, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Q

      LOL! Oh the irony... (per your questions, plenty and yes and no).

      March 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Yes, Crash, I have. I've driven through some reservations in Oklahoma, and was refused service at a gas station.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  3. PCarrollHopkins

    Europeans came to the America’s w/greed in their hearts, on a steady destructive path through mother earth. Bringing w/them a lack of respect for our 4 legged animals, winged creatures & native Americans since the late 1400’s. What we lacked then and still do today is: Honor, Respect and Compassion for all beings on our planet.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Oh please! Native Americans were very happy to be slaughtering each other before we showed up. They had zero respect and compassion for each other.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Ken

      To "Krittercat". And how do you know that all we did was slaughter each other and have no compassion for each other? Please tell me how you know that so maybe the history books could be re-written by your knowledge of what went on back then.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • kritterkat

      I didn't say it was all they did, but according to the history books I've read most Native American tribes were constantly at war with at least one other tribe. Most tribes considered themselves superior to the other tribes. So much for respect and compassion.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • burns

      PCarrollHopkins, North American mammoths, camels, leopards, lions, the short faced bear, some birds and all sorts of other mega-fauna were killed in a brutal holocaust when the Native Americans arrived.

      Kritterkat, it's simple really, they were all fighting amongst themselves, then outsiders came in and "won" the eternal conflict, think of it as you and your brother fighting, then both being angry because your parents sent you both of you to your rooms.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  4. JB

    Wow the ignorance and lack of respect for other cultures truly shows how far us Americans have to go to becoming a truly civil society. Especially those who think get over it and move on. It is estimated that 10-14 million Native Americans were slaughtered during manifest destiny and divine right and what do we do as Americans we put our Hitler on the $20 bill. I do not hate those who are ignorant but it frustrates me when those who are not educated are so opinionated and sure of themselves. May God and the spirits of all religions and cultures guide us to respect and understanding of each other. This is really our only hope for long term growth as the human race.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • kritterkat

      You can't hold the deaths of Native Americans over the heads of Americans for generation after generation, just as you can't blame Germans today for what Hitler did. My family wasn't in this country during Manifest Destiny, but I'm still judged as being an Indian Slayer just because of the color of my skin. Bigotry goes both ways.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Ken

      To "krittercat". your name just about says it all. Your government shouldn't have signed the treaties if they are not going to be honored. The treaties are International Treaties not just food for thought. There are obligations agreed upon by two countries, how can we just say the Treaties are old? Got to school and educate yourself and maybe your name wouldn't suit your thoughts.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Ken – Stop wallowing in self-pity and move on with your life. Is it my fault that so many Native Americans drink themselves to death (according to the CDC)? I'm sure you probably think I am. You can't waste your life resenting people.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Ken

      Kritterkat. I don't think one drinking themself to death, as you put it, is only happening to one sect of society. Idiotic statement. Shouldn't you be at a klan rally right?

      March 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • burns

      Ken, I can only speak for Canada, but your Canadian anyway right? 25% of aboriginal children are born with some degree of fetal alcohol syndrome. That to me speaks volumes, about how little effort is made by at least 25% of people on reserves.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  5. Ken

    I am a Canadian Cree and am proud of my neighbors south of the border. For the most part, it seems a lot of commentators on this blog seem to be non-judgemental and respectful of our beliefs. I watched and listened to my parents about how they were treated while they were growing up and am saddened by it but I do not condemn other races for their misdeeds done upon us. I am comforted to see some of the posts here. And as far as my upbringings we do not promote hate or dislike to our fellow man regardless of religion.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Then why have several Native Americans commenting on this article and being interviewed for this article commented about how their beliefs are better than what's in the Bible, and grouping all white people together as ignorant and hateful and wanting to avoid them? Your upbringing apparently isn't universal to all Native Americans. Your beliefs deserve no more respect than anyone else's.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ken

      "Krittercat" For once I agree with you. My beliefs deserve no more respect than anyone elses. How can one's beliefs be put onto someone else? Imp[ossible isn't it? Our culture and teachings are our beliefs. It is not what we were born with, it is what is taught to us. So naturally one's beliefs are different than to those sitting beside you. There are no wars in the world right now that are being fought because of our beliefs. What religious following is your president a part of?

      March 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  6. Red Eagle Woman

    I was honored to be invited into a sweat lodge ceremony. It was led by an Ogalala leader. It was an extremely humbling and spiritually enlightening experience. I am not Native American and I am not a wanabe. I only wish to understand the deep seated truths that are so much a part of the Native American spirit. I did not pay to be a part of the ceremony. I was invited to take part in it and was cautioned that if I became over heated, nauseous or in anyway upset while taking part in the ceremony I was to get up quietly and leave and no one would think bad of me for doing so.

    This whole thing with Ray is nothing but a scam. Those people paid good money to experience what they thought was the Native American way which, of course, it could not be. Only those Native Americans who have had the tradition passed down to them by their elders and who live and honor their people's traditions can conduct authentic sweat lodges and vision quests for those who truly believe and not for wanabes and certainly not for monetary gain. This man should be held accountable for his transgressions. My fear, however, is that the sweat lodge ceremony will be viewed in the wrong context by those who do not understand the way of the People and their spirituality. I humbly apologize for the ignorance of man, mine included.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • burns

      What were the specifics? Did you find enlightenment? Have an epiphany? or did you just feel good after a nice sweat with a group of quiet respectful people? Don't get me wrong I think sweat lodges are great, it is a calming, relaxing experience...... without the magic and voodoo assosciated with it.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  7. Tonwe'ya

    burns: What you and your fellow campers made was a sauna, not a sweat lodge. There is a difference.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • burns

      Was it a sauna because we were talking about real things instead of having a "spiritual journey"? I'm sorry but at the end of the day these things are the same, water evaporating on rocks in an enclosed space, causing people to sweat.

      Also, what's all this about making money off their "traditions?" I am sick of Navajos selling their rugs and not paying taxes. Oh wait.... its THEIR tradition, fine, but if I see an aboriginal man selling somehting made of metal or taking part in a European tradition (like reading), should I sue them?

      March 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Tonwe'ya

      burns: Well, that was just a little Euro-centric, wasn't it? The idea that reading is a "European tradition" is as ludicrous as it is inaccurate. MANY cultures of Asia, Africa, and the Americas had working alphabets and systems of reading/writing long before Europeans (Sumerians, Egyptians, Olmecs, Chinese, Mayans, Phoenicians, Chaldeans......should I continue?). The Dine (Navajo) man you disparage for selling his tradition trinkets tax free is doing so because our government has designated his people a "nation within a nation" and therefore on an equal level as the USA itself. If you don't like that, then you'll have to go all the way back to the first Chief Justice John Marshall and some of his earliest rulings (Johnson v. McIntosh, Worcester v. Georgia, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia).

      And the taxes he isn't paying are state taxes, not federal.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  8. Branko

    "She says this from her reservation, where there's 80 percent unemployment, suicide rates are reportedly 300 percent higher"
    I took this article as an insult, I'm white European. So the statistics above happen because of a white man like me?
    Yes History has been brutal to the natives, but it also has been brutal to Blacks, Slavs, Gypsies, Jews, Orientals, and yes Caucasians, Arabs etc etc etc. Its very one sided article intended to ignite negativity.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Agreed. If there's 80% unemployment they obviously can't sustain themselves or their culture on the reservation. They get tax breaks for opening business on the reservations, yet many of them would rather drive to the local Wal Mart than open a local store. If their society crumbles they only have themselves to blame. They get way more breaks that everyone else does.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Loren

      Feeling guilty, are we?

      March 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • kritterkat

      I'm not feeling guilty. I'm first generation American. I had nothing to do with what the colonials did.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Tonwe'ya

      kritterkat: Whether you are first generation or twentieth generation American, you still benefit from living and working in a society shaped by those who came before you who WERE colonials and who DID commit atrocities, not just against the American Indian but many different groups of people. No, you are not to blame. But you are complacent.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • kritterkat

      So, unless I give up my lifestyle and go live in the woods, I can be blamed for what other people's ancestors did? Get over yourself!

      March 2, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Branko

      Tonwe'ya complacent mmm here we go again, if you have 80% unemployment, suicide rates that are stagering alcoholism runing wild, drug addiction all kinds of crime wouldn't you do something about it rather than just blame the white man for it.
      So who is really complacent here. Denial is their worst enemy. So with your logic I should feel sorry for them and give them all my money right and beat myself every day for what happened 500years ago. I wonder if it has ever occured to them to get an education to strive for a better life people of all colors have been able to do that here in this country why can't the do the same.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • steamer

      Branko, your ignorance doesn't suprise me. Grouping all natives americans in one basket as being uneducated and underachievers is an insult. But I'm not going to sit here an explain to you that there are native american doctors, lawyers, engineers and academic scholars in every corner of this turtle island. We might only represent less than 1 percent of the american population, but we're are there in all aspect of the professional and business world. And of course we have a higher percentage of native in the military than any other ethnic group in this country. Sorry to burst your ignorant rant.

      March 3, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  9. crash

    So these people died this is tragic and they should be given the respect of the dead instead of natives whining about being offeneded etc. they will always and will never stop being offended for the rest of eternity.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  10. burns

    You can make speeches about The Great Spirit all you want, it's still a sweat lodge. People go in and sweat, because it's hot, think of a clammy sauna. Whether or not the spirits are involved, you should make sure it's a safe environment for those under your care (the leader/owner) and for yourself (everyone). Those 3 people should have had the sense to leave when they started feeling light headed or sick.

    By the way what's all this hatred for Euro/coloniser/etc? Look at comanche, apche or iriquois history. They were raping and pillaging eachotehr long before the Europeans came, being aboriginal (you ancestors walked the Bering straight) does not give you a special connection to the land or make any deluded spiritual beliefs true. Do people really believe they can copyright pouring water over molten rocks in an enclosed space?

    By the way last summer me and 4 of my friends, 4 white guys and a black guy made a sweat lodge when we were camping last year. It was awesome, a nice way to escape a cool evening and sweat off the daý's dirt.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Thank you! Most people think of Native Americans as peaceful flower children, because that's how they're portrayed in modern media. These people were warmongers, just as much as Europeans were. Our technology and numbers just happened to be greater.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Ken

      It is more than a sweat. We see animals, hear people talking, the walls of the sweat lift off the ground, have hands rest upon our shoulders, naming a few things that happen in a sweat (which is only one ceremony we conduct). Do these types of things happen in what you call a sweat. A sweat to us is spiritual and you'd be amazed to experience such strong spiritual events. I fell bad for you for not having faith in your own religion, I say this because I believe most religions shouldn't put down other people's beliefs otherwise we are entering the world of evilness.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • burns

      Ken, I don't have a religion, (atheism is not a religion) but the experience your describing sounds a little like the time I did mushrooms and walked aroudn the forest near my house, an awesome time, I felt truly connected to nature, and I wasn't putting myself to the edge of dehydration either. Please explain how me not respecting your "sacred" lodge puts the world closer to "evilness." I personally believe that a world where people choose to ignor elogic and common sense will get us there much faster.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Ken

      Burns, sounds like you did too much mushrooms. At least now I understand where your coming from. Re-word that I understand where your views are coming from. Tmorrow after the mushrooms wear off you'll have a different point of view.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • burns

      You do understand the effect from mushrooms last 5-12 hours and not years, right? No, my opinion will not change, because spirits do not exist. Your mind must be clouded by peyote.

      March 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • steamer

      @ KritterKat. And your diseases.

      March 3, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  11. Joe Christianson

    Get over it. Christianity steals from every culture. First from the Jews where we got our Savior and the 10 commandments, Easter and the Christmas Tree from the pagans.. the list goes on and on. Prior to Christianity we were the natives and had our own traditions. What do they say? Imitation is the highest form of flattery? So consider it flattery and move on.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • steamer

      finally a Christian who has spoken without a fork tongue today.

      March 3, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  12. Tonwe'ya

    A fool and his money are easily parted. A sweat ceremony that you pay for is NEVER genuine, let alone spiritually valid or fulfilling. Let both the wasicu, indigenous Iktomis, and other fools of the world have their cash payments and material possessions. Their final judge will be unsparing.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  13. Virginia R in Oregon

    thank you for posting this story and listening to the elders and tribal people. Most non-natives are ignorant of these things.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • kritterkat

      The majority of Natives I've spoken to are ignorant of these things too.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  14. TheLeftCoast

    I've done a sweat lodge at Stewart Mineral Springs in Weed, California, and it was awesome! It's run by a man who comes from a whole lineage of shamans. I wouldn't even remotely consider doing a sweatlodge with anyone less qualified ~ that would be like tandem-parachuting with someone who doesn't know anything about parachuting.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  15. Rochelle

    When Mr. Singing Bear designed the lodge did he intend for the blue plastic tarps to be over it? He mentions the covering has to be able to "breathe." Plastic doesn't do that and I sincerely doubt it was in the original design. If we continue to present "sweat lodge ceremonies" as experiental exercises we have to be certain they are safe, and covering the lodges with plastic is inauthentic and dangerous.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  16. Rob in KS.

    1. Sweats are not "a safe environment". It's not an environment at all. It's a spiritual experience, nobody guarantees it is going to be a "good" or "safe" one. It is what it is. This is not some regulated amusement ride, its not a movie theater. It is a melding of the real world and the spirit world. That being said, we must consider that these people got exactly what they paid for. To the my brothers and sisters angry over the cultural pillaging, if you or your ancestors never plundered from an enemy, then you may cast the first tomohawk. Good luck with that.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • thequeenbee

      Rob–people and items might be "plundered" or appropriated and reused in a tribe–but another tribe's ways and spirituality? Who would do such a thing? It would it imply that the Spirits worshipped did not know their own people and that anyone/anything could copy or trick them just by following a method or ritual. Just what is a "sweat lodge " or dream quest or vision quest to whites? Just what are their souls seeking and do they believe in the Spirits? If they do believe that the Spirits are real and sentient, then surely they know that the Spirits will recognize their own and their intent and that no amount of emulation can change the reality of genetics? It is like a white person trying to act black–no matter how great the act, the tan, the lip and butt botox or the curls–the genes will ALWAYS tell. Spiritually, the spiritual blueprint and genetics will tell also.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Ben Jordan

      @QueenBee You're a racist...

      March 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • burns

      People have probably made fun of her ghetto booty on etoo many times.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  17. thequeenbee

    Anyone who thinks the sweat lodge as practiced for a vision quest is similar to Finnish or Euro sweat saunas is as ignorant as the man who killed those people. NO ONE has any evidence that the paradigm of a Native American sweat lodge was EVER considered by Europeans or other groups. Russian and other sweat chambers were/are done for health/holistic reasons, but a vision quest is done for Spiritual reasons and the purpose of the fastings, feasts and sweats and dream visions etc are NOT the same as going into a lodge to "sweat out your meal from the night before or to sweat to lose weight or to 'remove bodily impurities" NOT THE SAME–sweat lodges seek to TRANSCEND the natural body to become one with the Spiritual self and the Great Spirit NOT to get rid of an illness or some other tripe. THIS is why those of you who think Euros did this first or who can't tell the difference between this experience and a sauna should STOP the copying.

    For the record, Spirituality of any sort seeks to move beyond this world and the greed of this world–it is counter productive to charge for this as the very act of making money act it nullifies part of the INTENT. As for teaching it to non Natives–that is like asking to be remade–there is more than an act or even a way of thinking, it is a way of existing and those who are not of that path cannot walk it occassionally or walk it for a minute –it would be like speaking an unknown language to a deaf mute–what was INTENDED would not be what was taken in , heard or understood because the reference point cannot be there when there is not generations of cultural connection and genetic KNOWING

    March 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Unique

      Thank you.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • kritterkat

      Wrong. The European sweat lodges did indeed have a spiritual element. They believed that the steam contained spirits. Just because Native Americans socially evolved slower than us (probably because they had a larger land mass and didn't need to develop complex agriculture) and they are closer to their "roots" doesn't make them more spiritual or relevant than Europeans.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Johnny Dee

      actually native Americans never historicaly used sweats for visions either, sweats were used for purifcation, BEFORE going on a visions quest,or for other purification reasons, and visions quests were specific to only a few tribes, many had none. The modern tradition of peyote eating and other vision seeking experiences during sweats was actually started by a man named Wovoka who used traditions from several cultures, including his training by a christian preacher in tent hall revivals. Of course we could go further back to the scythians in the eurasian plains, a people very similar in ethnicity and culture to the plains tribes (after the latters adoption of the horse) who did use a type of sweat where they threw marijuana on hot stones in a lodge. No 'tradition', native american or otherwise, 'owns' a ritual practice, this comes from spirit and is available to all. if its abused, this is not because of its use by other peoples, but because in a specific instance, such as this, its used by an evil person. And Ray didnt pay, the ones who payed for his greed and rapaciousness were innocents. None of that has anything whatsoever to do with native americans or native american traditions, and everything to do with Ray, an obvious shyster.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  18. conradshull

    Smokehouses are for curing meat, not what ails you.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • jim

      You appear to be the only poster here with an operational brain.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Morty's Wigs

      Cured Meats cure my ails. Logically smokehouses cure ails.

      March 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • steamer

      smokehouse? He moron, sweatlodge is similiar to a steam room or sauna.

      March 3, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  19. Bill

    This guy Ray has no connection with the Great Spirit. If he had, this incident would not have happened. He is a self-educated fool.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • silverwolf636

      I believe his great one is spelled Great $pirit.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Historian

      Pray to the Great Moron in the mirror Ray,,, you will get the same answer!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  20. Wesley

    I love how the Native Americans told this guy off. He IS using their traditions for capital gains, and yes the spirits probably did have something to do with this. I call myself Spiritual Satanist partly cause I practice meditation, and spirituality but am sick and tired of the New Age nonsense like its so weak and they use angels in place of where gods or other spirits would have been used in the ancient times. F that I choose to actually know about and use ancient knowledge, and no I am not going to charge anyone for it. That smacks too much of conformity, and greed.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
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About this blog

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.