Insofar as the ‘new age’ people co-opting Native American ceremony, here is another of my ‘myspace’ pieces, also from 2009, following on the 2009 preceding piece on Russel Means. Taken together, these are prelude to a following piece I am in process of working up; exploring the inter-cultural misapprehension of North American indigenous based and European concept. My commentary on the AP WIRE reporting in italics

AP WIRE: Oct 10th, 2009 | PHOENIX — Authorities seeking answers to what caused two deaths and more than a dozen illnesses at an Arizona resort’s sauna-like sweat lodge were investigating whether any of the victims had medical conditions or had been fasting

Humnn, what is wrong with this picture

In all, 21 of the 64 people crowded inside the sweat lodge Thursday evening received medical care at hospitals and a fire station. Four remained hospitalized Friday evening — one in critical condition and the others in fair condition…..

My elder teachers talked about this. Think about it. “64 people crowded inside”

Authorities haven’t determined the cause of the deaths and illnesses; tests for carbon monoxide and other contaminants were negative

This is a tragedy of IGNORANCE and GREED

Among those sickened during a two-hour session were a middle-aged man and a woman who were unconscious, according to a 911 call, and a third person who was found not breathing

1st question: How could this happen except whoever is running the sweat did not have proper training? I was taught when sweating the inexperienced or people from another culture, to constantly check on the welfare of my people in the sweat, you do not take in more people than you can keep track of, you make and keep communication established with everyone by name, you ask again and again if they have enough air, you ask if they are too hot, you make certain they have opportunity to drink, you make it clear they should tell you if they are dizzy or otherwise struggling, you take real breaks and you do not group sweat ANYONE with medical condition or if they have been fasting. The Sweat Lodge, other than certain events of long tradition practiced by the trained initiates in organized societies, is typically small, intimate and strictly controlled precisely because it is DANGEROUS. It is absolutely DANGEROUS if you don’t know what you are doing

“It’s not something you’d normally see at one of the resorts there, and it’s unfortunate regardless of the cause,” Yavapai County sheriff’s spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said


Investigators were working to determine whether criminal actions might have been a factor in the incident, D’Evelyn said

Effectively, this is criminal negligent homicide. Or worse. These people did not have a cultural context that is in a sense a lifetime of preparation for enduring an extreme physical stress and to some, an extreme psychological stress. I can tell you what my primary native sweat teacher would have said about this event: ‘those people were murdered”

The Angel Valley Retreat Center sits on 70 acres nestled in a scrub forest just outside Sedona, a resort town 115 miles north of Phoenix that draws many in the New Age spiritual movement

“Sedona” and “New Age spiritual movement”

Self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray rented the facility as part of his “Spiritual Warrior” retreat that began Oct. 3 and that promised to “absolutely change your life.”

‘self-help expert’

Ray spokesman Howard Bragman confirmed that his client was holding an event at the retreat, as he has done in the past. Authorities said Ray was inside the sweat lodge Thursday evening and was interviewed at the scene

What could he honestly say? He murdered them with his greed and ignorance?

“We express our deepest condolences to those who lost friends and family, but we pray for a speedy recovery for those who took ill,” Bragman said. “At this point there are more questions than answers, so it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

“condolences” and “more questions than answers”

Sweat lodges, like that held on the final day of the Angel Valley retreat, are commonly used by American Indian tribes to cleanse the body and prepare for hunts, ceremonies and other events. The structure used Thursday was crudely built and covered with tarps and blankets

And those Indians, if solidly grounded in their tradtions, would know you do not sell the sweat lodge experience for $MONEY$. There is a long tradition of highly ritualized gift giving which is in no sense commercial at all, but is predicated upon a relationship to spirit and prices are not named because you cannot price the poor or unfortunate out of a relationship of learning or experiencing what is holy. There are certain traditional gifts, small in value, for the spirit. And then there is the self motivation of the heart of the patient or student towards the healer or teacher. No price can be named by the medicine man. Most Native American sweats involve no money at all, other than the gas required to gather the wood and haul it to the sweat site. All of the good medicine men I knew had real life day jobs, were older and retired, voluntarily sponsored by a patron [not for profit] or otherwise were somehow self sufficient in their own right and did not depend on their spiritual work for a living, because that would destroy your reputation. NONE OF THEM WAS WEALTHY. The ones I knew who succumbed to greed, yes, those sort of people do exist in Native America, were ostracized in their own communities and had effectively destroyed their relationship to their own people. In effect, if you work to serve the people, you do NOT sell spirit for $MONEY$

Stones are heated up outside a lodge, brought inside and placed in a pail-sized hole. The door is closed, and water is poured on the stones, producing heat aimed at releasing toxins in the body

Remember “64 people crowded inside” for $MONEY$

The ritual in sweat lodges is helpful in restoring balance and changing people’s attitudes and self-image, said Joseph Bruchac, author of “The Native American Sweat Lodge: History and Legends.”

Dead and injured as a result of “64 people crowded inside” This has nothing to do with “restoring balance and changing people’s attitudes and self-image” when it involves commercial event for $MONEY$. Think about it. What the people have done here is like trying to buy your way with spirit

People have died in sweat lodges in the past. They were either sick tribal elders who voluntarily stayed until they died or people who had heart conditions and were in poor health

This is true, the elderly, very tired or feeling complete in their journey, could make that choice. But always, life was taught as the first and paramount choice. And as for people dying at a sweat because of poor health, this is RARE in Native America and would ALWAYS indicate a mistake having been made

“The sweat lodge needs to be respected,” Bruchac said. “When you imitate someone’s tradition and you don’t know what you are doing, there’s a danger of doing something very wrong.”

Bruchac is correct. “Danger of doing something very wrong” and “64 people crowded inside” for $MONEY$, are two and two put together when it comes to “doing something very wrong”

Ray’s retreat schedule had few details about what participants could expect, other than thrice-daily meals and group gatherings that started at 7 a.m. and ended 16 hours later

Sixteen hour days. This deadly event was held at the end of six days of 16 hour days where people have been fasting, hiking, group encountering, essentially stressed out body and mind on top of not having a lifetime of cultural context to prepare them for the sweat experience. Then they are packed like sardines into a structure in such a large number there is no way the leader can keep track of their individual welfare. This was BEGGING for trouble

The details came in a lengthy release of liability that acknowledges participants may suffer “physical, emotional, financial or other injuries” while hiking or swimming, or during a multi-day personal and spiritual quest in the wilderness without food or water or the sweat lodge

Sorry folks, but these people picked a damn poor medicine man when they ponied up for a “spiritual quest in the wilderness without food or water” and “64 people crowded inside” requiring a LEGAL WAIVER. All for $MONEY$

Some participants told detectives they paid up to $9,000 for the event. Ray’s company, James Ray International, is based in Carlsbad, Calif

“they paid up to $9,000 for the event” to a medicine man named “James Ray International”

Ray’s posting on his Twitter account hours before the deaths said: “Still in Spiritual Warrior … for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?”

Creating reality. Grief emerges from arrogance. Where is the humility taught as the underpinning of Native American spiritual belief? According to what I know from 30 years intimate contact with the spiritual teachings of three separate Native peoples, Blackfoot, Ojibwe and Cree, this guy was begging for bad luck and things to go wrong. He’ll know humility now. Or hide behind lawyers, more likely. Nothing cultural in a Native American sense with that. So, in the end, is this guy practicing Native American spiritual tradition? I don’t think so

The posting and two others were deleted Friday afternoon

People lives deleted

A woman who answered the phone at the Angel Valley resort Friday said its founders, Michael and Amayra Hamilton, would have no comment. A call to the Hamiltons’ home went unanswered

“they paid up to $9,000 for the event” and “no comment”

The Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center, built on former ranch property in the high-desert and red-rock country of northern Arizona, bills itself as a natural environment for self discovery and healing through a holistic approach aimed at balancing the mind, emotions, body and spirit

$MONEY$. Just to let you all know, especially those wishing to follow a Native path, the Oral History (prophets) of Stone Child’s Plains Ojibwe people had a specific name for $MONEY$ in a spiritual context. That name? “The Leading Trouble Maker.” The surviving group of these people [Stone Child descendents] are now located at Sunchild Reserve in Alberta, Canada, perhaps the true teachings survive there. I was taught the Oral History by the last of the [Chippewa language] Montana branch of Stone Child’s Ojibwe people, who now for all practical purposes are assimilated into the Cree culture at Rocky Boy or culturally extinct. My friend and tribal elder Duncan Standing Rock will vouch for this. Maybe these elders either hoped or knew I would tell you about “The Leading Trouble Maker” also known as $MONEY$. There is a lot to be known about $MONEY$, and how it corrupts spirit from the Native American point of view. There is a simple oxymoron here. $Money$ is the human element of greed that is causing the planet to die. How can charging $MONEY$ square with the Native American spiritual belief and the primary sweat lodge teaching that all life, nature as a whole, is sacred?

The property includes American Indian structures such as teepees, guest houses and outdoor labyrinths made of stones

“$9,000” paid to die. Think about it



^ screenshot of following statement:

“To whom it may concern,

“I feel good about granting my recommendations in behalf of Mr. Ronald West of whom I had known for many years. I know Mr. West had served in the U.S. Military Service with an honorable discharge. I know Mr. West has very high respect for certain aboriginal inter-tribal cultural and ceremonies. I know Mr. Ronald West is a honorable and loyal to his beliefs and to those whom Mr. Ronald West works with.

With Respect,

Mr. Duncan Standing Rock Sr.”


 Life in Indian Country Essay collection