Brant_confession - 1

^ manuscript mailed to Brant Secunda on 14 August 2017

This is not a pleasant essay, personally, for me to write. It is a confession on behalf of an acquaintance without the courage to look at what he is doing. This, and it is a confession of naivete (stupidity) on my own part.

Much of my life had been in that unusual (but not unique) circumstance of having one foot in separate worlds; indigenous American and (I am not ashamed to call it) the Whiteman’s world. This is result of some years of my youth spent in mixed White-Indian community. As an adult, my cultural identity became more ‘Indian’ (as we self refer in the Native pidgin, never-mind the politically correct arguments.) At one time, in a close 24 years association with our famed elder, Pat Kennedy, I gave a ten full years of my life, roughly 1981 through 1991, to understanding his ceremony.

Depending on which sort of Indian you were, Pat was a Cree, Plains Ojibwe or Blackfeet elder. In fact he was all of these; and was fluent in at least seven indigenous languages, Cree, Chippewa (Ojibwe), Blackfoot, Crow, Salish, and if memory serves me correctly, Sioux and Cheyenne. His limited Native pidgin English was intelligent and creative. You see, Pat was one of those last surviving indigenous North Americans who’d never been to school, his mind had never been shaped or influenced by Cartesian-Platonic philosophy.

It was 1984 when I had introduced Pat to Brant Secunda. As it is known, and perhaps best stated by Oscar Wilde, in the Whiteman’s world, “Truth is seldom pure and never simple.” The simplified truth is, Pat wished to meet Brant, but then, of course, it becomes complicated.

The short story is, Pat was an intensively curious man with a real thirst to learn. I’d told him about my meeting with an old Huichol man, Don Jose, near Helena, Montana, the previous year, in 1983. It did appear this old man had given Brant Secunda a ‘Dance of the Deer’ similar to our own Blacktail (Blackfeet deer) dance. According to Pat’s desire to see this ceremony, I’d brought Pat to a guest ranch outside of Helena, Montana, in 1984, to meet Brant (the old Huichol had not made the trip to Montana subsequent to 1983.)

From this time, to 2001, when I’d moved to New Mexico, each year Brant had brought his Dance of the Deer ceremony to Montana, I’d be there when Pat met with these people. I might have missed a year or two, particularly in later years, when I’d handed my place by Pat off to Niel E., and Brant might not have made the trip to Montana some years, but for the most part (a majority of Pat’s interactions with Brant) I was present.

I will not speak to Brant’s authority in relation to the ‘Dance of the Deer’ but only in relation to what I have a right to speak to concerning his selling the indigenous ceremony called Sweat Lodge.

Our visits with Brant were eye-opening experience, we (Pat, myself and our ‘Indians’) had much to learn about sincere seeming ‘new age’ people. Initially Pat had me build a new sweat lodge, as he wished to contribute, and after this experience, with women piling in wearing only panties and bra, I found myself giving ‘modesty’ lessons prior to subsequent sweats. I explained we did not typically sweat with men and women together and sexual distractions were not conducive to our concentration and prayers. Everyone had to make adjustments.

We were naive. I say this because, in Indian country, people are expected to correct their own mistakes, we do not (if possible) correct mistakes for someone else. But this was alien thinking to those we were interacting with. However without specifying, Pat did emphasize to these people, on numerous occasions, “You have to correct your mistakes.”

This preceding goes to Pat NEVER charged money or set a fee, to participate in his sweat ceremony, as this would violate immutable Indian law (there is such a thing), there was no ‘cover charge’, no entry fee, no demand for money. This was the example set.

Anyone who would show up was welcome, whether they were a participant in Brant’s workshop or not. This is because, in our tradition, you cannot put a price on spirit and healing in the sweat lodge and Brant certainly knows this. The rule is, if someone is motivated from the heart to make a gift, that’s it, they will give what they are able, without coercion. It is not right to price the poor out, to be in any sense exclusive, this would be anti-social behavior in the indigenous cultural context. This is the rule Pat kept throughout those years. More than this, Brant should have remembered in the sacred context of Pat’s tradition, ‘money’ literally translates as “the leading trouble-maker.”

Brant charging set fee or in any sense demanding money for what is advertised or in any way said to be Pat’s sweat, is a severe violation of Pat’s teaching. This cannot be argued with. Brant had been careful to conceal, in ensuing years, the fact he was selling this sweat lodge. You don’t find reference to this in his literature. But then, it had been brought to my attention…

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“February 2015 Brant Secunda visited New Zealand, offering sweat lodge (for a fee) and Dance of the Deer (free with paid entrance to a weekend event).

“When I asked under whose authority he has permission to offer sacred lodge, he said he had been assisting (I think it was a Cree(?)) elder with sweat lodge for years and ‘when he saved the elder’s wife’s life with his medicine, the elder gave him permission to conduct sweat lodge'”

…and I have something to say about this.

First off, ‘offering sweat lodge (for a fee)’ and ‘permission to conduct sweat lodge’ are not the same thing. And about this next…

“When I asked under whose authority he has permission to offer sacred lodge, he said he had been assisting (I think it was a Cree(?)) elder with sweat lodge for years

…it just so happens, in the initial years, when I had been sitting on that Cree elder’s left in the sweat, Brant was sitting to yours truly’s left, when it was women and men. That I had, in later times, given my place to Brant, was a gesture Brant appears to have never appreciated. In Indian country, we don’t nod our head, with gesture of hand, and say ‘please, after you.’ Brant entirely misinterpreted his sitting place. Or simply took it without asking. In the men only context, Brant sat to Pat’s right and myself to the left. Now let’s do the math of this ‘assisting with this Cree elder for years’

If we are generous and say Brant sweat with Pat 5 days out of Brant’s typical 5 day workshops held in Montana over a period of 1984-2004 (the year Pat died) and only deduct one year of the years Brant didn’t bring his workshop to Montana, 5 days x 20 years = 100 days, or less than four months, is somehow construed to ‘assisting for years.’ We’ll call Brant’s math ‘shamanic.’

Now, it has been established Brant is selling what he was never given permission to sell because in the ancient indigenous law you cannot put a price on this and I know this had been explained to Brant, and further, Brant had lied about his level of experience, we come to this next…

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“The rocks that are brought in to heat the lodge are referred to as grandfathers. All objects in nature, according to most indigenous people of the Americas, are believed to have a spirit. It is the wisdom of these grandfathers, and all of our relations past and present, that would fill us with what we need during this experience. The blazing, hot rocks were carefully placed into the pit. The glow was comforting in the darkness of the cramped space but as I counted their arrival, my heart began to beat a bit faster. We had passed a dozen hot rocks and more were on their way. Having sweat in the past, I was accustomed to about eight or so rocks for the first round of heat. The realization quickly hit me that this was going to be an immensely hot lodge.

“The doors closed and the water hit the stones like a comet. Our small space immediately filled with steam and I lowered my head to find cooler air to breathe. As the heat intensified, a woman behind me began to panic. Other women comforted her but she would not relax into the experience. Throughout the entire first round, she cried about how hot she felt, and at the end of the first round, she was excused. At points during that first round, Brant moved us into prayer and it felt good. When the doors were opened after that first round, about ten participants toppled over those remaining to make an expedient exit. I have never shied away from going the full four rounds of a sweat but for the first time, I considered this strategy. I know it’s often said that when you are pure, the lodge doesn’t cause so much pain. Knowing that I was far from pure in my ability to focus, I realized that I needed to remain for all four rounds, no matter how intense the heat became.

“The second and third rounds were hotter than the first by double, and I feared my skin would peel off or that I would pass out. Each time the door opened, more people scuttled through the doorway to freedom from the oppressive heat inside, but I knew I had to overcome the discomfort and endure this as part of my purification. Every so often, Brant would turn around and ask how “Buffalo girl” was doing (my given nickname for the weekend). I responded that I was fine and even though I tried to look calm, he must have known I was struggling within. After all, he is a shaman. Four challenging rounds later, I crawled out, feeling lighter than I had in months. I was free of troubling and mindless thoughts and had a renewed strength and confidence, having endured such a potent test of spirit.

Overlooking the narrator’s egoism (cold compassion), leading to her self-deceit of passing a ‘potent test of spirit’ (never what the sweat ceremony was about, this is a western interpretation), in fact the terrified woman described had been ‘tortured’ (there is no easier description), grossly violating Pat’s teaching and example. Pat never cranked up the heat like this for non-native people. He would personally inquire of every individual in the lodge, if they were ok, with each set of splashes taking the heat up. If someone were indeed suffering, Pat would immediately have the door opened to vent off the heat and bring the experience into bearable range. This was example set for Brant.

What Brant is doing is subjecting these people to heat level he experienced when sweating with us (men only) together in a small, private experience reserved to male veterans of sweat lodge ceremony (pointing out Pat’s sweat is a male ceremony in its indigenous context.) This heat level was never meant to be used in a wider context and certainly not for a non-native or novice in any case. Brant allowing this woman to be frightened, and keeping her trapped, suffering and terrified throughout the 1st round, and then going on to raise the heat level for subsequent rounds is worse than narcissistic cruelty, it is truly sadistic. Moreover, in a de jure sense of risking health and life, subjecting these people to the described heat level is a criminal reckless endangerment.

What is clear to the authentic native practitioner in the preceding is, the dearth of understanding of the indigenous mentality from which co-opted practices derive. The sweat ‘purification’ is about becoming CLEAN and becoming CLEAN has little to do with inflating ego but in indigenous tradition is quite the opposite. The egoistic narrative quoted, concerning the experience with Brant, points to a rank FAIL.

It follows, the responsibility of teachers like Brant should be to explore (deeply) how it is these practices might mean entirely different things to the separate communities, indigenous & western, and challenge the western (particularly) to understand if these practices are to become anything resembling a healthy, valid practice, it will require a radical deconstruction of the western mentality; in effect, doing what westerner’s simply do not do – take responsibility for the damage western culture is inflicting not only on the other cultures, but on life itself. This would require, at minimum, a radical departure from pursuit of wealth in a context of success per the western modality. How many would do it? Certainly Brant hasn’t. You probably couldn’t count the number on one hand, of westerners practicing the co-opted ceremonies, that have (zero would be the likely correct answer.) My epic stupidity in this had been to fail achieving an adequate understanding of the absolutely vast canyon between cultures and the virtual impossibility of bridging the differences. In this respect, I had failed Pat who had put immense trust in myself as regards translating/explaining these differences.

Recalling those times the mistakes made were so egregious, Pat had stood up and corrected his own peoples mistakes in very public way, such as the time Pat had one of his peers in Saskatchewan confess to his people he’d faked spirits in the sweat lodge, and on another occasion, in Edmonton, Alberta, Pat had stood up in front of 900 Indians at a great tribal leadership gathering, in order to correct the opening ceremony’s mistakes (such was his recognized authority), here follows, is what I propose Brant confess in keeping with Pat’s traditions:

Confession of a Sham-Man

I, Brant Secunda, stand corrected and confess I never sincerely or actually understood the indigenous sweat lodge that I had experienced with Pat Kennedy; as I have misrepresented my learning, exploited the generous sharing of his ceremony, plasticized what I’d experienced & consequently perverted the native tradition, defrauded the people I teach, endangered peoples lives in this narcissistic pursuit, and in contravention of explicit instruction, have sold what amounts to a counterfeit copy of my experience with Pat around the world … so help me god.