January 20, 2010

Law to regulate Native ceremonies?

Hale files bill to regulate Native American rituals

By Luige del PuertoA Democrat from Window Rock has filed a bill to regulate the use of traditional Native American rituals, such as sweat lodge ceremonies, off of tribal lands.

The bill stemmed from the deaths of two people who participated in a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona in October last year. Nineteen others became ill.

Sen. Albert Hale, a former president of the Navajo Nation, said he the state needs to require certification of all individuals and businesses who charge people to participate in what they claim to be traditional Native American rituals.

His bill, S1164, would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to adopt rules to regulate the practices in consultation with the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs.

The bill would not apply to practices on tribal lands.
Comment:  I understand Hale's concern, but I don't see how his bill can work.

First, I don't think James Arthur Ray ever called his practice a Native sweat lodge. Is the state going to define what is and isn't a Native sweat lodge? Or regulate any ceremony that's like a Native ceremony?

Second, what if Ray brings in an "Indian" to oversee his sweat lodges? Is the state going to define who is or isn't an Indian? Or which Indians are or aren't qualified to lead a sweat lodge?

Imagine the tumult if Ray brought in Ward Churchill, a pseudo-Indian who, as far as I know, hasn't led a sweat lodge. If Churchill proclaimed the sweat lodge legal, would that make it so? Knowing Churchill, he'd probably seek a trial just to get himself declared an Indian.

Even worse, someone would start putting the Boy Scouts, Y-Indian Guides, high schools with Indian mascots, et al. on trial for imitating Native ceremonies. What would happen if a court ruled that some New Ager had a right to perform a ceremony? Would Indians lose ownership or control of that ceremony?

Does Hale really want to go there? I don't think so. This law would create a lot more problems than it would solve.

For more on the subject, see Lakota Lawsuit Against Ray Detailed and Defining Who's an Indian.

Below:  A soon-to-be illegal Boy Scout ceremony?

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