Corine Fairbanks in Native Condition. Discussion »
Corine Fairbanks-Oglala Lakota
The selling of sacred medicine and the commercialization of Native spirituality has been going strong now for a few decades, but it seems to have hit its pinnacle recently with people paying as much as $9,000 to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony.
That is a huge shift from the 1882 Bureau of Indian Affairs directive banning Native people from participating in "heathenish dances." American Indian religions were outlawed under the Federal "Civilization Regulations" from the 1880s to the 1930s. Traditional Native people were not allowed to go to or pray at their sacred places. Back then, tribes took their ceremonies underground; some because of persecution were driven to the point of extinction.
Then in 1978 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed. This Act was created to protect and preserve the traditional religious rights and cultural practices of American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts and Native Hawaiians. These rights include, but are not limited to:
President Jimmy Carter stated at the signing of the American Indian Religious Act:
"In the past, Government agencies and departments have on occasion denied Native Americans access to particular sites and interfered with religious practices and customs where such use conflicted with Federal regulations. In many instances, the Federal officials responsible for the enforcement of these regulations were unaware of the nature of traditional native religious practices and, consequently, of the degree to which their agencies interfered with such practices. This legislation seeks to remedy this situation."
President Carter's statement above does not cover the pain and suffering that Native people endured during the period of time our ceremonies were outlawed. Ceremonies were raided; food provisions were rationed and kept away from those that would not give up their ceremonial ways.
Medicine and holy people were sent away and in some cases, imprisoned or sent to asylums as a way to further the oppression and hinder those from participating in ceremonies. Women were sterilized. Children were kidnapped and sent to boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages, beaten if caught praying and forced to convert to Christianity.
Native people died protecting these sacred ways. The scars left behind of this intentional genocide are still open and only now beginning to heal.
Even with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, Native Nations continue to fight for religious freedom rights. New Age "scam artists" and other exploiters of Native spirituality continue to get rich off of the commercialization of it. This has become a billion dollar industry. Selling sacred objects, herbs, and even ceremonies has become a common practice that can be found in popular stores, online, mail order catalogs and even at local powwows.
Often - when New Agers practice their version of Native spirituality - they do it in a way that "waters down" the ceremony and that's when people get hurt. Most Native Americans are offended by the mockery these bastardized versions make of their sacred ceremonies. Some of the incidents denounced as most offensive include: buying readymade sweat lodges through ebay, spas and resorts offering "traditional sweat lodges."
They promote sun dances held on Astroturf, sweats lodges held on cruise ships with wine and cheese served, and sex orgies advertised as part of "traditional Cherokee ceremonies."
Capitalism and "free enterprise" are not traditional concepts among most Indigenous peoples on this continent.
Where does the money go when someone sells buffalo skulls, eagle feathers, sage, sweet grass or other "sacred relatives?" Does it go back to Native people? With a little bit of research you can go online and read about how our people are still struggling with issues of poverty, suicide, homelessness, freezing weather and lack of resources for heat. Do any of these vendors, Native or non-Native, give money back to our people? What steps have these vendors taken to ensure that whatever sacred medicines are harvested are done so with the dignity befitting a spiritual entity that listens to prayers? What have these entrepreneurs done to make sure that these sacred relatives have not gone into the hands that will use them in even more negative ways? What justification are they using to desecrate "sacred relatives?"
In fact, I would challenge that someone else's spiritual needs are the furthest from these exploiters' minds.
At the end of the day, do these people laugh at the rest of us while counting change from all the sales they have made?
Corine Fairbanks is Oglala Lakota and is the director for the American Indian Movement Southern California Chapter. Ms. Fairbanks is a proud mother of five children. She is active on the Board of Directors for the American Civil Liberties Union Affiliate Santa Barbara chapter and also on the Grant Making Committee for the Fund for Santa Barbara.
posted January 2, 2011 9:20 am est
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