October 18, 2009

Giago:  Native religions don't work

What good are the ceremonies if they cannot save a people?

By Tim GiagoI look around Indian Country and I see the devastation and degradation, the hopelessness, the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the lack of respect for the elders, the many suicides among the young, the criminal acts of the gangs that now roam our reservations bringing death and severe moral damage to entire communities, the domestic violence, the abuse of children and spouses, and the total renunciation of any spirituality, and I am deeply concerned. I see the epidemics of diabetes, heart disease and cancer among the Lakota and I am very concerned.

I see tribal members attending sweats and Sun Dances and then heading to the nearest bar or smoking a joint and I wonder how they can be such hypocrites. And then they sit around and brag about the sacrifice they believe they just made.

Arvol, why are the sacred rites you represent not being used to bring our own people back from the brink? Why aren't they being used to bring back the good health our people once enjoyed? Why is there an unemployment rate of 80 percent on the lands you call home? Why is there such a high rate of STDs and teen pregnancies in Lakota country? What good does it do to speak out and criticize an event that happened in Sedona, Arizona when it had no lasting impact upon the Sioux people? Aren't there terrible things happening in our own homelands, right under our noses, to worry about and try to change?
And:If there is the power in the Sacred Pipe Bundle of the Lakota, bring it out and use it before there is no longer a Lakota alive. There is a story I heard about a religious organization in New England that spent several years writing a Holy Bible in the language of a local tribe. When the Bible was completed there were no more Indians of that tribe left alive to read it.

It is good there is a Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle and a 19th Keeper to bring it out and pray with it, but if this power cannot be used to save a people, that can make every Lakota/Dakota/Nakota pour that beer down the drain or dump that whiskey or wine on the ground or to burn those drugs, what good is it?

Arvol, what is the ultimate goal of the Pipe you hold? Where is the cleansing and healing power of inikaga (sweat lodge) if it is not to be used now to save our own people?
Comment:  Wow. It's not often you see a well-known Indian say his own traditional religion is ineffective if not worthless. I'm an agnostic with no belief in religion, but even I wouldn't say anything like this.

Where Giago went wrong

Giago's screed seems wrongheaded for several reasons. Arvol Looking Horse or someone might respond as follows:

  • The Lakota religion is intended to address spiritual needs, not material needs. Many of the problems on reservations are caused by the lack of jobs and healthcare, not the failure of religion. You can pray all you want, but the Creator won't necessarily deliver a factory or clinic within driving distance.

  • The Lakota religion may alleviate problems without solving them completely. Suppose 50% of the people are poor, lost, alcoholic, etc. Maybe 75% would've been poor and so forth without the religion.

    That would be a huge achievement even if the problems persisted. There's no way of knowing how effective the religion is without doing a controlled study or experiment.

  • Smoking a joint or heading to the nearest bar aren't necessarily problems. Giago's point would be more valid if he saw someone leave a sweat and immediately start abusing his family or taking hard drugs.

  • If the religion isn't working, it may mean people aren't listening to the teachings and following them correctly. That's a problem with all religions and belief systems, not merely the Lakota religion. The Catholicism Giago grew up with has exactly the same shortcoming.

    You could say the world's problems would be solved if everyone followed the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But saying it won't make it happen. And the lack of compliance doesn't invalidate the worthiness of the rule. It only suggests that words aren't enough--that they require actions to match.

    Sweat lodges = waste of time?

    I guess Giago thinks Looking Horse is wasting time talking about the James Ray case when he could be doing something else. A few thoughts on that:

    1) Looking Horse's statement probably took him a couple of hours to produce. If it dissuades thousands of people from following New Age charlatans and participating in dangerous sweats, I'd say that's a good investment in time.

    Giago's column took about the same amount of time to write. So Looking Horse could turn around and write a column on the ineffectiveness of Giago's columns. The Lakota are suffering and dying while Giago preens and poses on the Huffington Post. How exactly has Giago's column saved a single person?

    2) I imagine Looking Horse, unlike Giago, is looking at the big picture. Not participating in phony sweat lodges is related to following traditional Native religions, which is related to living clean and healthy lives. Not believing in New Age religions leads to respecting Native religions, which leads to working for Native causes.

    In other words, it's all connected. One thing leads to another which leads to the ultimate goal of making the world a better place. Criticizing New Age sweat lodges contributes to this as much as a million other efforts. It contributes a lot more than such time-wasting activities as raising a family, earning discretionary income, or taking time off to enjoy oneself. Apparently Giago thinks no one should do any of these things while people are suffering.

    Who's the hypocrite?

    3) Giago's concern is ludicrous when you consider all the time he's spent denouncing the Washington Redskins and other team names and mascots. Is that a more important issue than New Age sweat lodges? How many people have Indian mascots killed? Does Giago seriously want to debate who's wasting the most time on less important issues?

    Giago and his ilk should really stop with this stupid "it's not important" argument. Have these people never heard of multitasking? Being concerned about one thing doesn't mean not being concerned about other things. It's simple and commonplace to set one project in motion and then work on others.

    A Bill Gates could spend a billion dollars on providing jobs and healthcare for Indians. He might delegate the task of helping Indian country to a dozen foundations with a thousand employees. And then he might spend a couple of hours writing an editorial on sweat lodges.

    And...so? Is he the only one allowed to speak on this issue? Because everyone who isn't a billionaire should devote 100% of his time to becoming a billionaire? So he can do everything Bill Gates is doing?

    Every second that Giago sits in a comfy chair writing editorials on his computer is a second he isn't volunteering in a soup kitchen or health clinic to help Indians directly. So it's funny that he's denounced hypocrites in his article. By his standard, he's as hypocritical as anyone.

    For previous Giago columns that didn't save a single person, see HuffPost Readers Ignorant About Indians, Obama Fated to Lose in 2012?, and Blame Baker at Mt. Rushmore? In fact, see every column Giago has ever written.


    Anonymous said...

    Giago is the Bill Cosby of Indian Country!


    dmarks said...

    That's the most arrogant thing I've read in a while.


    Mr. Mouse: Does Giago sell jello to Indians?

    Anonymous said...

    Why would you think my statement is arrogant? And that jello remark? I don't get it.


    dmarks said...

    Anon: No, not you. I meant Giago was quite arrogant in his dismissal of others' religions.

    Bill Cosby is known for selling Jello. I didn't think your comment about him was arrogant in any way.

    Anonymous said...

    Sorry Dmarks.


    Anudder NDN said...

    Tim Giago is a butt head.