October 14, 2009

New Age sweat lodge = honor?

Here's an example of a New Ager defending the appropriation of Native sweat lodges:

New Age vs. Native AmericansSedona is known for its large New Age community and tribal members have said it's a place where their sacred ceremonies are often misused.

"A lot of Native people say they've taken our land. They've taken away a lot of things from us. Now they want to take away our spirituality because a lot of non-Natives practice it, which we don't approve of," said Carroll-Pthers.

"Since we're not using it the same way how can you call it the same ceremony?" said Dr. John Rodgers.

Rodgers is with the Arizona New Age Community Church and said there's nothing wrong with practicing other ceremonies.

"We take things from all religion, whatever is good and worthwhile. Why shouldn’t we absorb it?" he said.

After all, Rodgers said it's about finding spirituality in the end. However, Native Americans say there's nothing spiritual about disrespecting tradition.

"That's what the Native people are afraid of because it creates a bad image on a sacred ceremony for us," said Carroll-Pthers.

"We're not taking it. You still have it. We're not taking it away from you. You should be flattered we're imitating it," said Rodgers.
Comment:  "Thanks for 'honoring' us with your mascots and Halloween costumes and phony New Age rituals," an Indian might say. "Now honor us by upholding our sovereignty and our treaty rights, you stupid twit."

The "honoring Indians" argument is as phony here as it is everywhere else people offer it. How is a cheap, money-grubbing imitation an honor? Why not ask Indians if they feel honored and listen to them when they say no?

A New Age ceremony is to a Native ceremony as a minstrel show is to a genuine African American performance. People could and probably did claim that minstrel shows were harmless entertainments meant to acknowledge and honor blacks. Do I really need to explain how flawed this argument is?

Rodgers also asks, "Since we're not using it the same way how can you call it the same ceremony?" The question is how New Agers can call it the same ceremony, not how Natives can. You and your fellow hucksters are the ones peddling your sweat lodges as Native experiences. If you don't say it outright, you imply it with your words and images.

Here's an idea: Next time you want to sell a sweat lodge, label it clearly and accurately. For instance, "This sweat lodge is 100% non-Native. It has no connection to Native culture." Why wouldn't you do this if your intentions are honest?

So go ahead and do it. Let us know how much business you lose from telling the truth.

How New Age hurts Natives

What about Rodgers' argument that New Age ceremonies don't take anything away from Native ceremonies? That the two can co-exist peacefully? This argument seems plausible...but it isn't. Some quotes from New Age Mystics, Healers, and Ceremonies suggest the real harm of New Ageism:This romanticized "spirituality" is often a poor representation of true Native beliefs, yet consumers purchase the work by the thousands and revel in the information presented, believing it to be true and soul-enriching.

The so-called teachers gain authenticity from mainstream America (including publishers and the press) by fooling the public, staking claim to a heritage they truly know little about. They play Indian, looking the part, using buzzwords and stoic language--yet steering away from "real" Indians, afraid of being challenged in front of their followers.

Terri Jean
They want to become Indian without holding themselves accountable to Indian communities. If they did, they would have to listen to Indians telling them to stop carrying around sacred pipes...and to stop appropriating our spiritual practices. Rather, these New Agers see Indians as romanticized gurus who exist only to meet their consumerist needs...They trivialize Native American practices so that these practices lose their spiritual force....Their perceived need for warm and fuzzy mysticism takes precedence over our need to survive.

Avis Little Eagle (Lakota)
The realities of Indian belief and existence have become so misunderstood and distorted at this point that when a real Indian stands up and speaks the truth at any given moment, he or she is not only unlikely to be believed, but will probably be publicly contradicted and "corrected" by the citation of some non-Indian and totally inaccurate "expert."

Andy Smith (Cherokee)
The process is ultimately intended to supplant Indians, even in areas of their own customs and spirituality. In the end, non-Indians will have complete power to define what is and is not Indian, even for Indians. When this happens, the last vestiges of real Indian society and Indian rights will disappear. Non-Indians will then "own" our heritage and ideas as thoroughly as they now claim to own our land and resources.

Russell Means (Lakota)
As I've said many times, stereotypes harm Indians. The primary harm is ceding the power to define who or what is Indian.

For instance, politicians and the public will oppose an Indian casino because "those people" don't look or act like Indians. In other words, they don't resemble bare-chested athletes or touchy-feely "wise men." People who wear regular clothes and talk about economic development or healthcare can't be real Indians because they don't fit the mold. The mold defined by New Agers and others who stereotype Indians.

New Agers are much like wannabes with Cherokee princesses in their background. Like the Ward Churchills and non-Native Twilight actors of the world. These people take jobs and other opportunities from real Indians. They define who Indians are to the generic public. When they do something wrong or stupid, they tarnish Indians in people's minds.

When New Agers define themselves and their followers as pseudo-Indians, being Indian starts to lose its meaning. If everyone can be Indian, no one is distinctly and uniquely Indian. "Indian" becomes a lifestyle choice rather than a cultural category with its own rights and privileges.

For more on the subject, see Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center and What James Arthur Ray Teaches.

Below:  Some New Age bastardization of a Hopi myth.


dmarks said...

I saw one of those "ancient mysteries" shows on the History channel yesterday. They were trying to make the case that the Knights Templar travelled to southern Illinois pre-Columbus and left all kinds of carvings and artifacts.

Overall, it was respectful to Natives, and lacked the "Indians were too stupid to have even built mounds, so white Eurasians did it" meme found in Mormonism/etc.

However, they showed some carvings of the basic Medicine Wheel crossed circle, and used it as evidence of Templares (Europeans also have a symbol like this: "Also known as the Sunwheel, solar cross, or Odin's cross, because Odin's symbol in Norse mythology was a cross in a circle. Used throughout Native American culture to represent the great Medicine Wheel of life.
"). Here, the makers of the show forget that this is an old Native North American "logo" on its own.

Anonymous said...