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The Danger of "Wannabes" - Tribal Paganism
June 2008
Tribal Paganism
Thu, Dec. 6th, 2007 03:25 pm
The Danger of "Wannabes"

Source: http://www.wildhunt.org/2007/12/danger-of-wannabes.html


The Danger of 'Wannabes'

The Colorado Springs Gazette features an editorial from columnist Barry Noreen on the problems faced by Native Americans trying to preserve their religious culture in the face of appropriation and exploitation by the New Age community.

"Christians aren't the only ones for whom spirituality is a matter of life and death. So Jacob Anaya has taken up the role as a defender of the faith. Anaya, owner of All My Relations Creations in Manitou Springs, acknowledges he is a bit like the little Dutch boy, standing up against the latest assault on American Indian spirituality: New Agers. Anaya, originally of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and later a teacher of Lakota traditions, gives presentations to sound warnings about modern charlatans who will sell sweat lodge, vision quest or pipe ceremonies for a price ... Typically, Anaya said, a New Age spiritualist will know some of the sweat lodge details and perhaps a snippet of Lakota language. They're all about trying to create a ceremony, not about treating it as a way of life ... These wannabes sometimes hand out certificates - "they start handing out (Indian) names like cigars," Anaya said, derisively suggesting someone can become "Squeaking Squirrel Butt" overnight."

Noreen continues this theme in his blog for the newspaper, where he recommends the NAFPS (New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans) group, and claims that spiritual exploitation is "another way to attack Indians".

"There is 5-year-old effort, New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans, which established a Web site, to expose what it sees as fraudulent exploitation of Indian spirituality. These "outings" have resulted in charges that NAFPS is a racist hate group. Without entering into the charges and counter-charges, it's fair to say that if one wants to Google "sweat lodge ceremonies," a wide spectrum of allegedly holy opportunities are out there - some including astrology and others things never associated with American Indians. One can spend a good bit of money in some cases, although exactly what is purchased at the end of the day is another debatable topic. Some of these activities can help you feel good, but they have little or nothing to do with American Indian spirituality."

While "borrowing" Native spirituality has become quite gauche within many modern Pagan circles (in fact, some members of NAFPS are modern Pagans), there are still many Pagans who claim to incorporate Native spirituality into their practice, and faux-Indian rituals and retreats are still entirely common within New Age circles (especially so in Europe, where Native "inspired" events are common enough that a documentary film was made on the subject).

"Europe has also seen a growing interest in so called Native American spirituality. Ceremonies and rituals together with sacred objects are being sold on websites and in papers. Cults and organisations offer people to become 'an Indian shaman' or a medicine man during a weekend course. Seldom or never do Native voices get heard and because of the lack of information, con-men make a considerable amount of money while they violate the spirituality of mostly Plains Indians."

While I think that modern Pagans and polytheists should strive towards solidarity (when feasible) with those who practice pre-Christian faiths and rituals, our support should never be confused with the notion that we have a "right" to "borrow" (and take out of cultural context) their spiritual practices for our own benefit. Empathy for the Indian struggle does not confer the right to appropriate Native traditions and practices. Praying like an Indian doesn't help the Indian preserve their culture and integrity, it only serves our vanity and dilutes authentic practice.

Anyone here have any experience with these sorts of hucksters?

Current Mood: contemplative


Thu, Dec. 6th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)

Not directly, but I tend to be pretty sensitive to cultural appropriation in general given my work with totemism, (neo)shamanism, and other such things. I've written a few articles about cultural appropriation and pagans, and I'm also compiling an anthology on the topic. It's one of those things that pagans really don't want to talk about because then some of us might have to admit "We're doing it wrong!" So much easier to stick your head in the sand and pretend that your Native American spirit guide who speaks in Tonto-English justifies you calling yourself a practitioner of Native American spirituality. Granted, pagans overall tend to be better about this than New Agers, but it's still somewhat of an issue.

My personal thought on it is, if you're going to take things out of their original cultural context, at least be honest about it. This is what I like about reconstructionists--they're careful not only about their research, but also how they present themselves. They realize that it's okay to not be doing things exactly the same way that the original cultures did. Of course, they're working with elements of cultures that are either drastically changed from their original form, or extinct. Cultural appropriation is associated with living cultures. Still, I think the same principle applies. If you get your "Native American shamanism" from Mary Summer Rain and Sun Bear, then admit that you aren't getting it from any actual traditional source. If it works for you, that's fine--just be aware that what you have isn't the way the actual living tribes practice. Additionally, understand that whenever you take a practice out of its original context, you necessarily change it. It doesn't mean it doesn't work, but you will never have as deep an understanding of the significance of that practice as someone who is working with it in its original context.

Fri, Dec. 7th, 2007 05:28 pm (UTC)
The message here.

So there aren't real shamans offering training? Or there are and these "fakes" are muscling in on the "real" ones? Or only Native Americans should try to learn about Native Americans? No matter how spiritual you are you still have to eat. This is an interesting article but other than having people we can presume to be white charging to teach about Native American spiritual practices (or some interpretation of these) over a short period of time (and really, who is likely to do more than THINK he is a shaman after a weekend course?) where is the wrong here?

Sure, it's cultural tourism. It's economics too. There is more demand for first-hand experiences about this than actual Native Americans are offering. So these low-quality vaudevillians move in. I'm glad to see that people are taking an interest in these tribal cultures. It's fine to complain that there are fakes an conmen offering contrived experiences, but I think an alternative isn't really being offered.

Even if what there is to be taught cannot be taught in a weekend or a six week course culture and integrity can still be preserved by spreading the knowledge.

Then there's the danger of actual knowledge. The New Age teachers are unlikely to tell students about poisonous or hallucinogenic plants that MUST be used for authentic spiritual practice. Anthropological sources are generally a bit more casual about that.

Fri, Dec. 7th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re: The message here.

The "danger" as I see it is calling something "Native" or giving credit to something as being "Native" when it's not, or when it's being used out of context. A great example would be the Lakota pain medication which claims to help with the power of Native herbs, but the main ingredient is glucosamine sulphate which was NOT a Native herb by any stretch of the imagination.

I think the First Nations are concerned with the profiteering of using their name to fetch a higher price for a service that oculd be offered without their association, such as a sweat lodge, or to market a product such as Lakota pain medication. It also gives misinformation to people who GENUINELY want to experience part of First Nations culture.

To take Wicca as an example, I see it as the difference between Silver Ravenwolf and Fiona Horne (both write to make money, Fiona admittedly so), versus authors such as Gerald Gardner himself.

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Jan. 2nd, 2008 06:15 am (UTC)

The problem is, with this particular "guardian" against plastic shamans and new age frauds, is that, he sells books from people that NAFPS calls "plastic shamans and new age frauds". It's kind of hard to take him seriously, when he's trying to make a buck selling his own spirituality.

I've been in his store. On the wall behind the door are printouts from NAFPS about different authors. On another wall was a few books. One of the books by an author on the other wall. I pretty much walked out of his store then, and have never been back there, because he's basically saying it's ok for him to sell his spirituality, but it's not ok for anybody else.

Unfortunately, there are tourists who buy his stuff and keep him in business.