Preventing the Exploitation of Native American Cultures
Digital History ID 730
War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality
A major objective of Native American activists has been to regain control over their cultural and intellectual property. They seek to control not simply of their land or natural resources, but their sacred objects, their artifacts, their artistic achievements, and the remains of their ancestors. Native American activists won a major victiory in this quest in 1990 when Congress passed the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, which required publicly funded agencies and museums to return any human remains, funeral objects, and sacred artifacts of earlier Indian civilizations to their proper descendants.
In the following statement that was posted on the Internet in 1998, the Lakota decry the way that various cultural entrepreneurs have attempted to exploit and appropriate Native American cultural achievements.
Whereas we are the conveners of an ongoing series of comprehensive forums on the abuse and exploitation of Lakota spirituality; and
Whereas we represent the recognized traditional spiritual leaders, traditional elders, and grassroots advocates of the Lakota people; and
Whereas for too long we have suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian “wannabes,” hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled “New Age shamans” and their followers; and
Whereas with horror and outrage we see this disgraceful expropriation of our sacred Lakota traditions has reached epidemic proportions in urban areas throughout the country; and
Whereas our precious Sacred Pipe is being desecrated through the sale of pipestone pipes at flea markets, powwows, and “New Age”
Whereas pseudo-religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony “sweat lodges” and “vision quest” programs; and
Whereas sacrilegious “sundances” for non-Indians are being conducted by charlatans and cult leaders who promote abominable and obscene imitations of our sacred Lakota sundance rites; and
Whereas non-Indians have organized themselves into imitation “tribes,” assigning themselves make-believe “Indian names” to facilitate their wholesale expropriation and commercialization of our Lakota traditions; and
Whereas academic disciplines have sprung up at colleges and universities institutionalizing the sacrilegious imitation of our spiritual practices by students and instructors under the guise of educational programs in “shamanism;” and
Whereas non-Indian charlatans and “wannabes” are selling books that promote the systematic colonization of our Lakota spirituality; and
Whereas the television and film industry continues to saturate the entertainment media with vulgar, sensationalist and grossly distorted representations of Lakota spirituality and culture which reinforce the public's negative stereotyping of Indian people and which gravely impair the self-esteem of our children; and
Whereas individuals and groups involved in “the New Age Movement,” in “the men's movement,” in “neo-paganism” cults and in “shamanism” workshops all have exploited the spiritual traditions of our Lakota people by imitating our ceremonial ways and by mixing such imitation rituals with non-Indian occult practices in an offensive and harmful pseudo-religious hodgepodge; and
Whereas the absurd public posturing of this scandalous assortment of pseudo-Indian charlatans, “wannabes,” commercial profiteers, cultists and “New Age shamans” comprises a momentous obstacle in the struggle of traditional Lakota people for an adequate public appraisal of the legitimate political, legal and spiritual needs of real Lakota people; and
Whereas this exponential exploitation of our Lakota spiritual traditions requires that we take immediate action to defend our most precious Lakota spirituality from further contamination, desecration and abuse;
Therefore we resolve as follows:
- We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
- We call upon all our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota brothers and sisters from reservations, reserves, and traditional communities in the United States and Canada to actively and vocally oppose this alarming take-over and systematic destruction of our sacred traditions.
- We urge our people to coordinate with their tribal members living in urban areas to identify instances in which our sacred traditions are being abused, and then to resist this abuse, utilizing whatever specific tactics are necessary and sufficient --for example demonstrations, boycotts, press conferences, and acts of direct intervention.
- We especially urge all our Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to take action to prevent our own people from contributing to and enabling the abuse of our sacred ceremonies and spiritual practices by outsiders; for, as we all know, there are certain ones among our own people who are prostituting our spiritual ways for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the spiritual well-being of the people as a whole.
- We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any “white man's shaman” who rises from within our own communities to “authorize” the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians; all such “plastic medicine men” are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.
- We urge traditional people, tribal leaders, and governing councils of all other Indian nations, to join us in calling for an immediate end to this rampant exploitation of our respective American Indian sacred traditions by issuing statements denouncing such abuse; for it is not the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people alone whose spiritual practices are being systematically violated by non-Indians.
- We urge all our Indian brothers and sisters to act decisively and boldly in our present campaign to end the destruction of our sacred traditions, keeping in mind our highest duty as Indian people: to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for our future generations, so that our children and our children's children will survive and prosper in the sacred manner intended for each of our respective peoples by our Creator.
Wilmer Stampede Mesteth (Oglala Lakota), Traditional Spiritual Leader and Lakota Culture Instructor; Oglala Lakota College, Pine Ridge, South Dakota; Darrell Standing Elk (Sicangu Lakota), President, Center for the Spirit, San Fancisco, California, and Pine Ridge, South Dakota; Phyllis Swift Hawk (Kul Wicasa Lakota) and Tiospaye Wounspe Waokiye, Wanblee, South Dakota, “War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality,” http://maple.lemoyne.edu/%7ebucko/war.html, 1998
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