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Colville girl:
Here is the paper I finished for an english class and a religion class.  I had to post it in sections because it's long.

Dina M. Gilio

English 102.305
Instructor Chapman
22 February 2006

The Exploitation of Native American Spirituality by Non-Natives

In this day and age in a predominantly Christian country, we find millions of Anglo American people who are disillusioned with the religion of their ancestors, abandoning it entirely and searching desperately for something to fill the void. Spiritual bankruptcy, global environmental crisis, social degradation all combined in these, the post counter-culture days, and gave birth to the New Age Movement. Hippies-turned-New Agers discovered sacred Indian ceremonies, some of which were in the process of being rediscovered by Indians themselves after decades of repression by the American government.  The intentions of these folks on the surface seem harmless enough; they usually claim they are honoring Native people in one way or another by their imitation.  But in this case, the old adage “imitation is the highest form of flattery??? does not apply, at least not in the eyes of Indian people.  Non-Indians who imitate traditional Native American spiritual practices feel that they are entitled to do so; but they fail to realize they dishonor the very people they claim they are honoring.
      First we need to define our terms, particularly “Native American??? (I also don’t hesitate to use the term “Indian??? because that’s how Native people referred to themselves generally speaking before the politically correct term “Native American??? was invented) . Unfortunately, this is a murky quagmire indeed, because there is no one official way to define who is and who isn’t. Entire books have been written on this one subject alone.  There are so many variables
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based upon legal definitions by the federal government, which are often contradictory, and by tribes themselves. Generally speaking, however, for a person to be considered Indian, there must
be some form of documentation from a state or federally recognized tribe. It is useful to refer to Gail Sheffield’s book, The Arbitrary Indian, which tackles the issue of Indian identity from the perspective of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.  “An Indian is any individual with the requisite relationship to a designated political entity; his or her identification is merely a matter of simple documentation by that entity.???   For my purposes here, I would propose a slightly more generous set of guidelines for defining who could be considered Native American:  absent documentation, a person who grew up in a known Indian family, whether from a federally recognized tribe or not; or if an adoptee, know themselves to be Indian by blood through documentation. Non-Indians are: 1) people who know they carry no Indian blood at all, or, 2) are those who think they may have some Indian blood but have nothing more to go on beyond a family rumor of an Indian somewhere in their ancestry and who weren’t raised culturally Indian.
      The claims of non Indians who practice Native spirituality are typified in an interview I conducted with a woman named Zan Benham, also known as “Butterfly Deer Woman???.  She calls herself a “shaman???, “medicine woman???, is a certified Reverand, and claims Indian ancestry. She advertises her services on her website, www.woman-spirit.com, where amidst a hodge-podge of New Age jargon is found workshops one can take in “earthways ceremonies??? and “shamanism???. (It’s interesting to note that prior to conducting my interview with her there was a lot more in her website about her being a “medicine woman??? and “Native American??? ceremonies than there currently is).  In the interview, which was conducted via email, I was most concerned with her claims to Indian ancestry, what entitled her to use the term “medicine woman???, where her training came from, what authenticates her work, and how Native American people have responded to her.  There was a lot of dodging- she didn’t directly answer some of my questions
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particularly pertaining to her training and the Native community’s response to her. I already knew how the Native community in Florida (where she’s from) views her because it was through
an AIM (American Indian Movement) member that I heard about her. AIM has been confronting her for months and attempting to expose her as a fraud to those who would pay her for her workshops and “ceremonies??? in an effort to shut her down.
      Regarding her alleged Indian ancestry, she claimed to have Native American “relations??? on both sides of her family.  “I have Cherokee from my mother whose birth father was from my understanding a half breed.???  Evidently she never knew her grandfather, the “half breed???, and could verify no tribal enrollment, or even pinpoint what band of Cherokee she descended from. What’s most interesting about the interview is the language she uses to describe her views on the matter. It’s textbook “wannabe???  rhetoric. She spoke about being “rainbow??? and how we are all dependent upon the earth, and said “white folk are the ones who need to learn about these truths and connections the most???, clearly demonstrating entitlement.  Another claim: (speaking of the dead Native ancestors she claims are her teachers) “I mean no dishonor to the ancient ones. They are the teachers, the keepers of the secrets of the ancient medicine ways. I honor them.???  
In order to fully confront the issue of the phenomenon of the New Age/Counterculture appropriation of Native spirituality, it is essential to first see it in the context within which it
exists. The donning of Indian identity in one way or another is by no means a new phenomenon; it exists within an historical continuum and the New Age expression of it is only the current manifestation.  Phillip J. Deloria, in his doctoral thesis later published as a book entitled Playing
Indian, explores the concept in depth by explaining it as a recurring theme throughout American history, going back as early as the 1700’s to the Boston Tea Party. Expounding on writings by
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such classic authors as D. H. Lawrence and Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Henry David Thoreau and others,  who themselves delved into the subject in great detail, postulates that early Americans in their struggle to define themselves, first had to define themselves by what they were not.  Leaving behind the old land and thus an old identity, and arriving in a new land,
inhabited by a people so completely foreign and savage by their definition, presented a dilemma that has yet to be resolved.  Referring to Lawrences’ essays in his most significant work of literary criticism, Studies in Classic American Literature, Deloria tells us, “...Lawrence frequently turned to ‘the Indian’, intuitively locating native people at the very heart of American ambivalence.  Whereas Euro-Americans had imprisoned themselves in the logical mind and the social order, Indians represented instinct and freedom.  They spoke for the ‘spirit of the continent’. Whites desperately desired that spirit, yet they invariably failed to become aboriginal and thus ‘finished’. Savage Indians served Americans as oppositional figures against whom one might imagine a civilized national Self. Coded as freedom, however, wild Indianness proved equally attractive, setting up a ‘have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too’ dialectic of simultaneous desire and repulsion???.

Colville girl:
Out of this ambivalence is borne the notion of the noble savage. Deloria goes on to say, “Indians, it is clear, are not simply useful symbols of the love-hate ambivalence of civilization and savagery.  Rather, the contradictions embedded in noble savagery have themselves been the precondition for the formation of American identities. To understand the various ways Americans have contested and constructed national identities, we must constantly return to the
original mysteries of Indianness???.  And finally, Deloria brings it home: “At the turn of the twentieth century, the thoroughly modern children of angst-ridden upper and middle class
parents wore feathers and slept in tipis and wigwams at camps with multisyllabic Indian names.  Their equally nervous post-World War 11 descendants made Indian dress and powwow-going
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into a hobby, with formal newsletters and regular monthly meetings. Over the past thirty years, the counterculture, the New Age, the men’s movement, and a host of other Indian performance options have given meaning to Americans lost in a (post)modern freefall.  In each of these historical moments, Americans have returned to the Indian, reinterpreting the intuitive dilemmas
surrounding Indianness to meet the circumstances of their times. Playing Indian is a persistent tradition in American culture, stretching from the very instant of the national big bang into an ever-expanding present and future???.
In another very lucid hypothesis of America’s relentless fascination with Indianness, author Shari Huhndorf, in her book Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination, cites the genre of captivity narratives. From Mary Rowlandson’s seventeenth century narrative, The Soveraignty and Goodness of God, Together With the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, to the much more recent Medicine Woman by Lynn Andrews (with many others in between), “captivity narratives have provided opportunities for the dominant culture to tell self-justifying stories of its colonial encounters with Native others in the wilderness???. Huhndorf continues: “In so doing, they remain deeply implicated in the process of conquest, and this fact explains in part their popularity over time. Captivity narrative conventions continue to shape high and popular literature alike as captivity remains a dominant paradigm for representing white/Indian encounters???.  The example of Lynn Andrews is particularly egregious. In this allegedly autobiographical account, Andrews, a white woman from Beverly Hills who collects native
baskets and is on a quest to obtain one particular basket which is on the Cree reserve in Canada, finds herself held captive by the elder traditional medicine woman, Agnes Whistling Elk for the
purpose of fulfilling her destiny to train in the ways of medicine. The ensuing drama involves Andrews having to steal the basket from a powerful medicine man, Red Dog, who happens to be
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 a white man who had once been apprentice to Agnes, and who has grown more powerful than Agnes herself. Andrews manages to steal the basket from Red Dog, proving her power superior to Red Dog’s, and thus to Agnes.  In this narrative what we see are themes of cultural
dispossession, the superiority of white versus Indian, economic privilege, capitalism, and entitlement.
      This notion of entitlement may very well be at the root of the New Age movement’s cultural appropriation.  There is a growing recognition in academia of a topic known as “white privilege???. Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director of Wellesley College Center for Research on Woman, in her well known essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, courageously assesses the realities of how being white has made her “an unfairly advantaged person???.   She makes an important distinction, however, between privilege and conferred dominance. “We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck...Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate.??? (Italics mine).   Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, in a series of essays on the same theme, takes up where McIntosh leaves off. In his essay The New White People’s Burden: Take a Hard Look in the Mirror, he asserts, “We should not affirm ourselves.  We should negate our whiteness, strip ourselves of the illusion that we are special because we are white…we should learn to ask ourselves, ‘How does it feel to be the problem?’???
      When we talk about the dynamics of race in this country, it’s often incorrect to lump Native Americans in with all other ethnic and minority groups. Native people face entirely different sets of circumstance that make their experience and problems unique.  The idea of
conferred dominance, which  I believe is better referred to here as white entitlement, harkens back to an earlier time in America’s history (what Indians know well) when a certain term
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defined America’s ambitions:  Manifest Destiny, the belief that America was divinely mandated to expand the country westward in whatever ways necessary.  The phrase, originally coined in 1845 by journalist John L. O’Sullivan in his essay Annexation, became synonomous with Anglo-
American superiority.  One of America’s first “great??? historians, Francis Parkman, wrote in his 1851 book The Conspiracy of Pontiac,  that Indians were destined “to melt and vanish before the advancing waves of Anglo-American power, which now rolled westward unchecked and unopposed???. History attests to the fact that this westward roll was far more “unchecked??? than it was “unopposed???. But that’s another topic entirely. The point is manifest destiny had an altogether different meaning for Indian people than it did for non-Indians, and still does. For them it means theft, lies, murder, and hypocrisy. In a very concrete way, the phrase “manifest destiny??? is simply code for “white entitlement???.
This sense of entitlement causes a distortion in the perception of what Native spirituality is all about. Part of the problem of non-Indians adopting Indian ways is that they try to fit these practices within a cultural framework that is foreign to the one in which those ways were originated.  In the effort to fill a spiritual void, western seekers tend to be more concerned with their own process than with the fact that tribal spiritual systems evolved for a different purpose. John Levell, Executive Director and co-founder of the San Francisco based Center for the Support and Protection of Indian Religions and Indigenous Traditions (SPIRIT), explains, “These ceremonies were given for the survival of the tribes. They were not meant for self-enhancement, no matter how well intended.??? Levell continues; “The New Agers take the theatrical parts and completely remove them from the culture. This is not just misuse; it pollutes the source of the belief.???  Or, put another way, Shari Huhndorf in Going Native states, “In New Age practices, ‘Native’ traditions generally reflect a heavily European ethos…the fixation on self-discovery and self-healing articulate the very Western ideologies of bourgeois
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individualism.  At the same time, the teacher’s selling of “Indian??? knowledge and experiences manifests a profoundly capitalistic mindset.???

Colville girl:
Another compelling argument is the very crucial issue of authenticity. In Native American cultures, someone who is considered a “medicine person??? is given that title by the tribal community itself. It is not a title one just assumes for oneself. It is earned through years of rigorous training with a tribal elder, one who is also known as “medicine person???.  Often there has been a life threatening illness at some time during that person’s life which has served to provide firsthand experience and knowledge necessary to assist others.  Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a certain birthright that comes with the honored title of medicine person.  The right to the ancient knowledge, medicine, songs, and ceremonies must be confirmed by a tribal elder who recognizes the innate abilities and destiny of the initiate.  In these ways, the authenticity of a true medicine person is validated by the tribal community, not simply by what a person says about themselves.  Johnnie Flynn, Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University in Indianapolis, and an enrolled member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi Indians, said it this way, “It is easy to say that authenticating medicine people or religious specialists in each tribe is relatively simple.  If someone decides that they are a religious leader they have to be based in a tribal context.  One can be a religious leader of the Pokagon Potawatomi, based in Michigan, only if they are within and part of that community…it is more problematic if someone stands up and says ‘I am an Indian religious leader, or even if they were to say ‘I am a Lakota religious leader’, especially if they were making that claim outside of a legitimate Lakota community…Miles and miles from a legitimate Lakota community he can make the claim and fudge his credentials because who is here to challenge his authenticity????
      In addition to the personal identity of a medicine person, there’s another aspect of authenticity to be considered.  It involves the authenticity of the spiritual practices themselves
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and where they come from.  Pan-Indian spirituality, as practiced by people like Zan Benham with her “nativeways ceremonies??? may be inspired by ancient Native traditions, and may even
incorporate some specific aspects of particular tribal practices, but outside the context of a tribal culture, and disconnected from an original language and history of the people, those practices become diluted and lose their full meaning, not to mention their efficacy. They become nothing more than a show based on fantasy and built around some romanticized notion of a past that never involved that person or their family.  Again, Professor Flynn: “Your first problem is definitions.  Tribal religious practice is different from Indian religious practices. Example:  Only Potawatomi are allowed to directly participate in the longhouse and roundhouse down in Oklahoma. But if we sweat, other tribes and other races can sit in.??? The same is true for many Pueblo tribes of the Southwest, particularly the Hopi, where non-Hopi are very rarely allowed into the kiva ceremonies.
      Sometimes the frauds peddling their brand of Indian spirituality will attempt to validate their authenticity by their association with “real??? medicine people.  Unfortunately, there are Indians who will take advantage of non-Indians, luring them into their webs of deceit to satisfy a greedy ego or wallet.  One such sellout during the 1980’s was a man named Sunbear who started his own tribe, known as the Bear Tribe.  Sunbear, who published 4 books before he passed away in 1992, was an enrolled Ojibway Indian, and preyed on thousands of unsuspecting, spiritually hungry non-Indians. Those who paid to partake of the “teachings??? believed they were getting the real deal, authentic Ojibway medicine ways. Little did they know that what they got was far from authentic, but was the fantasy version of true Ojibway teachings. In my interview with actor and AIM activist Floyd Westerman, he recalls, “AIM contacted Sunbear and said ‘what is this, Ojibway don’t believe this.’ We told him he should write a follow up book about what was made up because eventually our religion will be made a cult.???  The book was never written, and there
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are thousands of people who are still members of the Bear Tribe still believing what they were taught was authentic. It’s no surprise to know that Zan Benham is a member of the Bear Tribe.
      It’s safe to say that of all tribes, the Lakota have had their spiritual practices abused and expropriated the most.  In 1993 a group of Lakota traditionalists from 40 tribes and bands of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota across the U.S. and Canada issued a “Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality???, denouncing the exploitation and misrepresentation of Lakota spiritual ways. Then in 2003 an historic meeting of dozens of well known traditional medicine men of various Northern Plains tribes convened to address the matter.  Out of that meeting was borne the Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies.  It was decided that Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Spiritual Leader and Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, would be the final authority on the Native policy of these spiritual matters. It was also decided that only people of Native descent would be allowed to participate in the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota, but that non-Natives would still be allowed to participate in ceremonies in supporting roles on the periphery. These proclamations and the people who support them, while they have been called “racist??? and “religious hate mongers??? and accused of living in the past by those who oppose them , are an attempt to keep the ceremonies free of corruption.  Protecting the ceremonies via legal means is limited; for example, the law only addresses the possession of eagle feathers, which can only be possessed legally by tribally enrolled members, and the Native American Church which uses peyote as its sacrament, and can only legally be used by Indians.  This leaves the protection of Native religious rites in the hands of Native people themselves.
 The abuse of sacred ceremonies and practices have other deleterious effects besides being disrespectful toward Native people. Veronica Redstar of the Colville Confederated Tribes
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in Washington said in an interview with the Navajo Times that what’s troubling is that innocent people will suffer from the abuse of ceremonies.  She said that all people must live their own
truths. “I think many of these shamans believe that if they take our ways, they will be saving themselves. Untrue. They need to go back to what they truly are to save themselves. They have to live in their real way, not ours. They need to stop stealing what they cannot truly have.???  The same year as that interview, 2002, two non-Indians died in Northern California in a sweat lodge because of inadequate ventilation due to incorrect construction of the lodge.

Colville girl:
      David Tune, a full blood Indian of Navajo, Hopi and Muskoke Creek heritage, is a medicine person in the Creek tradition.  He was trained by his uncle, a well known Creek elder and medicine man from Oklahoma.  Most medicine people, he says, don’t go seeking to become medicine people. After a prolonged illness that lasted 5 years and was untreatable by western doctors, the only way healing came to him was through his uncle and the traditional medicine. “I came through the scary way???, David says.  “I didn’t want the responsibility. Sometimes you can’t even help people but it’s your responsibility to tell them.??? When asked about non-Indian people who take up Indian ways, he said, “The problem with the wannabes is that it’s dangerous for them to work with these ways when they don’t know what they’re doing. They can open a door that brings bad ways and then they can’t handle it.  They use the sage but the sage wasn’t fixed right with the right words. It doesn’t only just affect them, it can affect the whole family.  It’s very rare for a white person to be legitimately trained among tribal people, but it has happened. It takes years and years to learn the songs, so that the songs become part of you.???
      Why are Indians becoming more and more vehemently opposed to the expropriation of their cultures?  Most see it as another form of colonization, something else to be stolen.  It is also an insult to most Indians that those who “wannabe??? want all the “glamour??? of being Indian without the hardships that go along with being raised as an Indian. The question of what can be
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done to stop this cultural theft has no easy answers. Some have proposed seeking legislation that protects Native spirituality from fraud, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus about that in
Native communities, or whether it’s even possible. Some AIM groups have made it their mission to publicly out the frauds, as in the case of Zan Benham, and that seems to be effective to some degree.  Others, like Professor Flynn, feel that there needs to be dialogue between Indians and non-Indians about the issue. Certainly, educating the public is crucial. Jon Magnuson, a Lutheran campus pastor at the University of Washington in Seattle, wrote an article that appeared in the journal Christian Century in November of 1989 titled “Selling Native American Soul???. It’s worth quoting here: “The fusion of the spiritual life with the gritty problems of political survival, alcoholism, and poverty is the real face and heart of the Native Soul.  In their battle against spiritual exploitation and cultural disintegration, Indian leaders can teach those who listen the meaning of the sacred, and perhaps find hope and encouragement among conscientious new advocates and friends.???  Those “conscientious new friends and advocates??? are those who understand the viewpoint of Native people, have abandoned a defensive posturing of their right to co-opt a religious tradition that does not belong to them, and they are the ones who provide the example for respectful behavior.  
Works CitedSheffield, Gail. The Arbitrary Indian.   Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 1997.
Benham, Zan.  “Re: Initial Interview Questions???. Email to the author. 6 March 2006.
Deloria, Phillip.  Playing Indian.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998.
Huhndorf, Shari.  Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination.  Itaca: Cornell
      University Press, 2001.
McIntosh, Peggy.  “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack???.  Seamonkey.edu.
      asu.edu  19 March 2006. <http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcissac/~mcissac/
Jensen, Robert.  “The New White People’s Burden: Take a Hard Look in the Mirror.???
      Utexas.edu.  11 Sept. 2005. <http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/%7Erjensen/freelance/
“Manifest Destiny.???  www.wikipedia.org. April 11, 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/
“The New Age and the Rape of Old Religions.???  Sonoma Style Magazine. December 1994: 16,
      18, 19.
Flynn, Johnnie.  “Re: A Little More Input Please???.  Email to the author. 3 April 2006.
Flynn, Johnnie.  “Re:  Advice????  Email to the author.  2 Feb. 2006.
Westerman, Floyd.  Personal Interview. 2 Feb. 2006
Looking Horse, Arvol.  “Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies.???
      Indian Country Today.  25 April 2003.  <http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?
Norrell, Brenda.  “’Quests for Dollars’: Plastic Medicine Men Proliferate on Internet,
      Abuse Ceremonies.???  Navajo Times.  5 Sept. 2002 <http://www.rickross.com/
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Tune, David.  Personal Interview.  2 April 2006
Magnuson, Jon. “Selling Native American Soul.???  Religion-online.org.  22 Nov. 1989.

you made some interesting points in this paper. thank you for sharing it with us. i'll need to read it again to make sure i didn't miss anything.


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