Saturday, December 6, 2008

Native American Wannabe Faq

Here's a FAQ I wrote a few years ago concerning the growing popularity of "Native American Spirituality."


by William McLaughlin

v1.5 - 26 May, 2006

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a wannabe???
  3. Why do Indians object to wannabes? What is the harm?
  4. I have Native ancestors and want to find out more about my heritage. Does that make me a wannabe?
  5. I have always felt drawn to Native spiritual traditions. Does that make me a wannabe?
  6. I don't meet my Nation's blood-quantum requirements. Does that make me a wannabe?
  7. If we live in the Americas, wouldn't the spiritual practices of its Native people be more applicable than European beliefs?
  8. With all of the environmental destruction and the breakup of traditional societies around the world, doesn't Native Spirituality offer answers that are desperately needed to avert social and ecological catastrophe?
  9. If whites don't take up Indian traditions, aren't they in danger of becoming extinct?
  10. Why are so many Indians rude to wannabes? Why do they make fun of us? Isn't this racist?
  11. My teacher is an enrolled member of a federally recognized nation. Aren't his/her teachings authentic?
  12. Why is wannabeism so pervasive?
  13. What can I do to learn more about Native traditions without being labeled a wannabe?
  14. Addenda:


B. PLASTIC MEDICINE MEN: A Resolution of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Traditional Elders Circle.



In recent years, it has become increasingly popular for North Americans and Europeans to identify themselves with certain Native American stereotypes. Primitivism--the yearning for a simpler life in harmony with nature--has existed for centuries in a host of forms. In its latest incarnation, Indians are told that they must now assume the mantle of the Mystical Eco-Warrior.

Mainstream suburbanites whose only knowledge of Indigenous people has been from fanciful portrayals in films, TV, books and a host of New Age gurus now fancy themselves to be Indians--walking the "Good Red Road" as they (and no traditional Indians of my acquaintance) are fond of calling it. Many of them have even adopted Indian-sounding names.

One finds them in the Native American newsgroups on the Internet and in various Native American chat areas, and they always seem to write like bad actors in a '50s western. (You know, stuff like, "my heart soars like an Eagle because Grandfather told me that there is Iron in my words...")

While Wannabes proclaim that they are friends of Native Americans, helping to carry dying cultures into the future, traditional Native Americans and their supporters (like AIM) have spoken out in the thousands against the practice. Various arguments, both sincere and spurious, have been advanced on all sides but, because agreement is rarely reached even on terminology, useful discourse is difficult.

With this document, I seek to define the pertinent terms and answer some of the most common arguments of Wannabes and their supporters.

For the record, I am neither Native American nor a spokesman for any Native American Nation or organization. The ideas expressed are my own, assembled from years of discussion and correspondence with Natives and non-Natives, representing all sides of the issue.


Wannabes are people who have not had significant personal exposure to a Native American culture, but who imagine themselves to be participants in that culture and/or its worldview. This belief is usually based upon what they have been taught in various books, seminars and workshops, conducted by Indians and non-Indians alike.

At present, the nations most widely imitated by Wannabes are the Lakota and Cherokee. This is probably due to a spate of recent films like the A MAN CALLED HORSE series and DANCES WITH WOLVES in the former instance, and the large number of people claiming Cherokee descent in the latter.


All peoples and religions regard some objects, places, words, songs and rituals as sacred. Equally common is the offense taken when these sacred items are improperly handled and used by uninvited outsiders. While this may only rankle members of one of the mainstream religions when it happens to them (I doubt, for example, that many Christians are happy with works of art like Andreas Serrano's PISSCHRIST, or when White Supremacists claim to base their beliefs upon the Bible ), it has a much more profound effect on Nations that have suffered the shattering consequences of Euro-American conquest.

As the result of official U.S. policy, Indians have been driven away from their traditional homes and cultures in large numbers. In the last 75 years, the majority of the Native population has moved (or, more accurately, been moved) from the reservations to the cities. Many Native Americans--raised in the cities and out of touch with their traditional communities--seek to return to those communities and traditions. Most Nations seek to welcome them home.

Instead of finding their way back to the communities of their Elders, they have to wade through a plethora of pretenders--each claiming to be the Real Thing. Worse, as the fad grows ever larger--with the concomitant rise in profit potential--more Indians have chosen to sell out their people by pandering to Wannabes as a remedy for the dire poverty of reservation life. All of these serve to dilute the traditional culture and generate strife and division within it.

Most of us are aware of the fact that Native Americans living on reservations suffer from the lowest standard of living--by almost every measure--of any ethnic group in the Americas. Be it in life expectancy (mid 40s), social ills like alcoholism, drug-abuse and violent crime, or problems most commonly associated with the ThirdWorld, like Plague, Cholera and death by exposure, they have the misfortune of residing at the very bottom in every category.

Most would also agree that they have suffered--and continue to suffer--from the gravest injustices regarding their lands and the treaties that supposedly guaranteed them. Worse, they have survived numerous forcible attempts to destroy their cultures, ranging from the forced attendance of their children in English-only boarding schools to the outright banning of their religious ceremonies and sterilization of their women.

With this in mind, imagine finding yourself beset by a gang of, say, ten large men while walking down the street with your family. Further suppose that, in addition to robbing you, they begin beating you with an assortment of baseball bats, blackjacks, etc. As you cry for help,desperate in your fear that your family was going to be killed or maimed, a person happens by who is from another country. Instead of calling for help or attempting to rescue you and your family, he begins asking questions about the nature of the Roman Catholic Wedding Mass.

In addition to doubting the person's sanity, would you not be justified in a bit of frustration and anger at his unwillingness to even acknowledge your desperate situation? This is how many living in Native communities feel about Wannabes. Seekers love "Native culture" when it's in the form of the feel-good narcissism of a New Age sweatlodge or weekend retreat, but are strangely absent when it comes to a fight to preserve Native land from destruction or theft, or a blanket drive for old folks freezing on reservations.

Indians aren't fools. They know that 'fair weather friends' are no friends at all.

Wannabeism has also produced a host of people speaking out as Indians who have no significant contact with the cultures they claim to represent. A couple of years ago, several Internet newsgroups were the target of a person's request for donations to attend a peace conference of Native American leaders in Europe. He variously claimed to be a "Pipe Carrier," or "Native Peace Delegate" who had been invited to the conference.

Upon examination of this gentleman's World Wide Web page it was discovered that, even though he claimed to be the leader of a Cherokee Lodge, he is only 1/64 Cherokee, has never had significant contact with Cherokees or their communities, and claimed his position because of a dream he had one year before. His "invitation" consisted of the sponsors' open invitation to Native American leaders and chiefs. Because he fancied himself a leader, he fancied himself to be invited.

When I pointed this out, I received email from well-meaning non-Indians who were planning to send him a check until they read my remarks (not to mention a torrent of abuse--mostly incoherent--from the man who made the request). This in spite of the fact that all of my information came from the person's World Wide Web page, which was referenced in his original plea.

When everyone who imagines themselves to be Native American can become so, and speak as such, the voices of the real Indians--desperately crying out for justice and simple neighborly support--become drowned out by the Indians-In-Their-Hearts. They just can't overcome the signal-to-noise ratio.

And this is the crux of the problem. The right to define who Indians are has been seized by the dominant culture. I wish I had a dollar for each time a Native acquaintance told of being asked, "How can you call yourself an Indian when you _____," where the blank denotes opposition to the speaker's pet cause or support for a political belief or party that the speaker doesn't like. Indians are constantly being chastised for failing to live up to the fanciful stereotypes of the mainstream.

Finally, it's a profound insult to people whom the Wannabes claim to revere. Indeed, this is their most common defense. "We are honoring Natives when we imitate their ceremonies," they say, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Why then do requests from the tribute's supposed beneficiaries fall on deaf ears?

When Elders ask that others refrain from using their sacred traditions (see the "Lakota Declaration of War," and other statements reprinted below) or gently insist that those selling their traditions are charlatans, they are attacked as "racist" or are themselves branded as phonies.

Some New Age gurus have even gone so far as to urge their followers to avoid Indians on the reservations, because such people are the reincarnation of the likes of Custer, Sherman, and Phil Sheridan, suffering the punishment of poverty and injustice for their earlier misdeeds. The New Agers are, of course, the reincarnation of the likes of Crazy Horse, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull.


Not at all. Many Nations have tribal historical societies which welcome outside interest and support. They are often very helpful to those looking to trace relatives from that Nation or to learn about their history and customs. It is one thing to be interested in Native cultures and the lives of our ancestors, and quite another to claim to belong to a Native culture or to speak as an Indian.


Frankly, unless you have spent substantial time in a Native community, yes.

First, there is no Native Spiritual Tradition. There are hundreds of Native traditions in the Americas, each with its unique practices, rituals and worldview.

Without substantial contact with the culture and fluency in its language, what you feel attracted to is a stereotype of that culture--based on books, films, etc. --not the culture itself. In other words, you can't be drawn to something about which you know almost nothing, especially if what you know is inaccurate or incomplete.

Most Native languages have no word for "religion" because it is so bound up in everyday life that no separate label is needed. A more accurate term might be "worldview." Without a grasp of this worldview, one hasn't the sense of context to understand the subtle implications of a Sweatlodge, Sundance or other traditional ceremonies.

As the study of General Semantics has shown, language plays a crucial role in shaping the way in which we relate to and think about the world. Much of what we perceive is colored by the way in which it is described in our language. And yet, how many Wannabes bother to learn the language of the people to whom they claim to belong (save for a few nuggets, like "Tunkasila" or "Mitakuye Oyasin" dropped into their conversation to impress the gullible)?

Unless or until you are ready to devote many years to learning the language and, more importantly, gaining the acceptance of the bearers of that culture so that you can share in their daily lives, their spiritual practices can have no relevance for you. A religion isn't in the masks, rattles, songs and drumming, but in the hearts and minds of the people who use them. These hearts and minds cannot be understood by dabblers, however well meaning.


No. Blood-quantum requirements were imposed upon the Nations by the U.S. government in order to limit the amount of aid given in satisfaction of their treaty obligations. A combination of imposed misery and coercive relocation in cities has ensured that the number of people meeting the quantum requirement will continue to shrink. This enforced Diaspora was for the express purpose of dissolving the reservation system and the Indigenous cultures that reside on them.

In recent years however, the U.S. government has rescinded its requirements for minimum blood-quantum. All First Nations are now free to set any quantum requirements they choose. (The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has no blood-quantum requirement at all.) Other Nations have retained quantum requirements as the only adequate defense against the legions of wannabes clamoring for admission.

Because of this, there are many people who are not enrolled in a Nation but are nonetheless accepted by those who are. Indeed, most Nations have always welcomed outsiders--Indian and non-Indian alike--as long as they are accepted by those on the inside.

Indians know their own. While I have met many who will ask "Who are your people?" or "What's your clan?" I have never heard of anyone being asked to show their enrollment card unless they were applying for federal or tribal benefits or participating in tribal politics.

Put differently, there is no need to be enrolled in order to gain acceptance among Indians. Like almost everyone else, they put much more emphasis on whether you are honest, trustworthy, kind, etc.


No. The spiritual practices of a people have more to do with their culture, their worldview, than with their location.

By reversing the situation this quickly becomes clear. Should a family of traditional Native Americans moving to, say, Italy change their religious practices to Roman Catholicism or European Neo-Paganism in order to express reverence--in their traditional manner--for that land? Of course not. They are Native Americans no matter where they go because they have that worldview. Their religious practices were created within the context of their worldview and are applicable wherever they are practiced by them.


It is true that the First Nations usually treat the land, water and air much better than Europeans have. It is also true that these ideals are embodied in their spiritual traditions, but theirs are hardly the only traditions which espouse these values. There are rich traditions within Christianity which hold all of creation as an expression of divinity, to be protected and revered. True, they haven't always prevailed, but many environmental activists are Christians (most, I daresay, in North America and Western Europe) and the movement is growing.

Similarly, the many Neo-Pagan religions offer rituals and worldviews based on the sacredness of nature and humanity's place within it. Indeed, when most Wannabes are asked what they like about Native religion, their answers are usually a veritable description of most Neo-Pagan worldviews.

Wannabes argue that, because Pagan traditions have died in Europe, it is necessary to emulate living cultures. The truth is that these cultures never completely died out in Europe. An examination of the historical record finds practitioners of Earth-based spirituality in every age somewhere in Europe since the arrival of Christianity. True, those holding these beliefs were often horribly persecuted and, at very least, had to isolate themselves from the mainstream, but Wannabe beliefs are hardly mainstream either.

If they truly want to practice a form of Earth-based spirituality, these traditions offer worldviews and practices that are relevant to those raised within Euro-American cultures. As I said, much of the way in which we see the world is shaped by the way in which our language describes it. Because Euro-Americans are heirs to languages of Indo-European origin, all of their languages have more in common with one another than they have with any Indigenous language. It follows that the worldview of a Hindu or a Celt has more in common with ours than that of any Indian culture because all Euro-American cultures are related--historically and linguistically.

Also, while it is certainly valid and worthwhile to practice some form of Earth-based spirituality, it is also necessary to do something besides pray for the environment. How many wannabes live lives of rampant consumerism? Indeed, most Wannabes treat Indian Spirituality (sic) as just another possession to be acquired with their money (and for the same reasons: to satisfy idle curiosity and to impress their peers). Since the average U.S. resident consumes roughly 30 times the natural resources of someone in the Third World (and, since few Wannabes are poor, it's probably closer to 50 times for them) it is the rankest of hypocrisy for them to continue to denude "Mother Earth" while effecting to worship Her.

If Wannabes truly cared about averting an environmental catastrophe, their actions would speak louder than their words. (More about that in # 12 below.)


If they've survived for thousands of years and the unimaginable slaughter and oppression of the last five centuries, they'll probably get through at least the next few thousand years in some form or another. Because we cannot--except through joining their communities--truly experience these traditions, there is only one way to preserve them from extinction: Preserve the bearers of those traditions. If Wannabes spent their time and money pressuring their governments to honor the many broken treaties and restore the vast regions that were never ceded by treaty, these cultures would be in no danger.


When we ask such questions about the behavior of members of another culture, it is imperative that we try to see it as they do. Perhaps the best example of how Wannabes appear to Indians can be found in the many Dan Ackroyd/Steve Martin "Two Wild and Crazy Guys" skits on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the '70s. In it, they portrayed two brothers--both in their early twenties--who had recently emigrated from Czechoslovakia. The joke was that they thought they knew what it meant to be hip young Americans, but instead enacted a ridiculous caricature of the culture. Indeed, that was the crux of every skit in that series: The outsiders-who-don't-get-it-but-think-they-do.

Wannabes appear similarly comic to many Indians when they sidle up to them and attempt to act like insiders, sprinkling their talk with stuff they've (mis)learned in books and seminars. (And they don't just appear as ludicrous caricatures to Indians. Witness the rash of jokes in the mainstream when Robert Bly's Wild Man nonsense surfaced a few years back.)

The charge of racism seems to be the "last refuge of a scoundrel" in this discussion. Every time Wannabes are challenged, they almost invariably retreat to a charge of racism. Ignoring the extreme irony of such a blame-the-victim charge for a moment, would they similarly condemn a concentration camp inmate who made a few acid jokes about Germans (especially if the Germans in question were prancing about pretending to be Jewish)?


Not necessarily. Remember that these traditions are the property of the communities to which they were given and not of any individual Indian. It would be the same as if I (a U.S. citizen) attempted to sell to a foreigner my share (approximately 1/300,000,000th) of the National Parks. It is impossible because these lands are owned in common.

Being a bona fide member of a Native American nation doesn't convey the authority to teach any more than being a Roman entitles one to lead a Roman Catholic Mass. What counts is if they have been authorized to teach outsiders (none, to my knowledge, have been so authorized by the Elders of any Indian nation), not whether they are members of the Nation in question.


Most members of the dominant culture have begun in recent years to understand the horrible price imposed upon Native peoples as the result of the (ongoing) European conquest. They know that "your wealth is our poverty," to quote one Latin American Bishop (speaking about the U.S.). They know that the rampant consumerism that is so heartily encouraged by our media has an awful price in terms of strip mines, toxic waste dumping, etc. ad nauseam.

They also long for the sense of community that exists in more traditional cultures. In a world where we've become "individual atoms of consumption," who neither know nor care about our next door neighbors, cultures that are of a more communal nature have a powerful appeal.

Problem is, a Nation's ceremonies are the product of their communities, not the other way 'round. Misunderstanding of this leads to what I call the "Abracadabra Theory of Community," where Wannabes believe that, by imitating the ceremonies of a community, Presto! more communal societies will magically appear.

But the most important reason for such rampant Wannabeism can be found in Ward Churchill's INDIANS ARE US?. In it, he describes a lecture that he gave in Germany a few years ago. While the lecture was on Indigenous political issues, he was amazed at the number of Germans in attendance who were wearing buckskins, feathers, bonnets and other pseudo-Native garb. When asked the reason for such attire, he discovered that they weren't just interested in Native history, but actually thought of themselves as Indians and identified themselves as such.

They were very candid about their reason for doing so. They hated the idea of being Europeans and strongly disapproved of the way in which European cultures treat the environment and Indigenous cultures. They felt that the best way to express this displeasure was to adopt the manners of cultures that--in their minds--represented the complete opposite of what they had come to know and despise about their own societies. I'll quote Mr. Churchill for the rest:

Yet, when I delved deeper, virtually all of them ultimately admitted they were little more than weekend warriors. They typically engage in their Indianist preoccupations only during their off hours while maintaining regular jobs--mainly quite responsible and well-paying positions, at that--squarely within the very system of Germanic business-as-usual they claimed so heatedly to have disavowed, root and branch. The most candid respondents were even willing to admit, when pushed, that were it not for the income accruing from their daily roles as "Good Germans," they'd not be able to afford their hobby of imagining themselves as being something else.

[end quote]

(Churchill, Ward; INDIANS ARE US? Common Courage Press, Monroe, ME; 1994; pp 224-5)

Worse, when he asked these "Indians" what they were doing to transform the societies that they had so roundly condemned, they informed him that they were now "spiritual people" and thus, were apolitical.

From the above, which is annoyingly typical of Wannabes, it is clear that their beliefs aren't a means whereby they can come to honor the Earth or even each other. What Wannabes seek is a mechanism of denial for their participation in and shared responsibility for the abuses of the dominant culture. Because most of them lead lives of rampant consumerism (except, perhaps, on weekends when they don their feathers), it's clear where their true allegiance lies. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.


Perhaps foremost is simply making friends. You'd be amazed at how many Native folks have complained that non-Natives always treat them like teachers or Mystical Eco-Warriors or somesuch. Rarely do they just approach them like regular folks, like friends. Most people are willing to share aspects of their cultures once they know that the entire purpose of the relationship isn't the acquisition of something that belongs to them.

Another approach is to pitch in and help them in their many (all too many, alas!) struggles for justice dignity and freedom. Once they've had time to verify your sincerity in this manner, they just might share the occasional tidbit of their culture. This doesn't, of course, mean that they'll somehow initiate you in their religious practices if you join their struggles, but you wouldn't be able to grasp them anyway (see above).

What you will get is some good friends and a taste of some truly magnificent cultures. And you just might help in making a better world. That should be enough.



At the Lakota Summit V, an international gathering of US and Canadian Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations, about 500 representatives from 40 different tribes and bands of the Lakota unanimously passed a "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality." The following declaration was unanimously passed on June 10, 1993.

-= Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality =-

Whereas we are conveners of an ongoing series of comprehensive forums on the abuse and exploitation of Lakota spirituality; and

Whereas we represent the recognized Lakota 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 Sacred Pipe is being desecrated through the sale of pipestone pipes at flea markets, powwows and "New Age" retail stores; and

Whereas pseudo-religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony "sweatlodges 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 in 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 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 on 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 hodge-podge; 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:

1. We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing, and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

2. We call upon 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 takeover and systematic destruction of our sacred traditions.

3. 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 necessary and sufficient, for example, demonstrations, boycotts, press conferences, and acts of direct intervention.

4. We especially urge all our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people to take action to prevent our own people from contribution to and enabling 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.

5. 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.

6. We urge traditional people, tribal leaders, and governing councils of all other Indian Nations, as well as all national Indian organizations, 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.

7. 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 that our highest duty as Indian people: to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for 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.


A Resolution of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Traditional Elders Circle

ED. NOTE: This resolution was made at the Meeting of the Elders Circle at Northern Cheyenne Nation, Two Moons Camp, Rosebud Creek, Montana, on October 5, 1980. It represents an early response of many by traditional elders as well as by the American Indian Movement and others to clarify that the Native American spiritual tradition is not for sale, is not legitimately sold, and that the components of the religion must be kept in balance by highly trained leaders who are legitimate representatives of the tribes. The elders feel that in many cases the appropriation of Native spirituality by non-Indians is another attempt by the dominant culture to take from the Indians, and shows considerable disrespect for the Native tradition and culture.

It has been brought to the attention of the Elders and their representatives in council that various individuals are moving about this Great Turtle Island and across the great waters to foreign soil, purporting to be spiritual leaders. They carry pipes and other objects sacred to the Red Nations, the indigenous people of the western hemisphere.

These individuals are gathering non-Indian people as followers who believe they are receiving instructions of the original people. We the Elders and our representatives sitting in Council give warning to these non-Indian followers that it is our understanding that this is not a proper process and the authority to carry these sacred objects is given by the people, and the purpose and procedure is specific to time and the needs of the people.

The medicine people are chosen by the medicine, and long instruction and discipline are necessary before ceremonies and healing can be done. These procedures are always in the Native tongue; there are no exceptions and profit is not the motivation.

There are many Nations with many and varied procedures specifically for the welfare of their people. These processes and ceremonies are of the most Sacred Nature. The Council finds the open display of these ceremonies contrary to these Sacred instructions.

Therefore, be warned that these individuals are moving about preying upon the spiritual needs and ignorance of our non-Indian brothers and sisters. The value of these instructions and ceremonies is questionable, maybe meaningless, and hurtful to the individual carrying false messages. There are questions that should be asked of these individuals:

What Nation do they represent?

What is their Clan and Society?

Who instructed them and where did they learn?

What is their home address?

We concern ourselves only with those people who use spiritual ceremonies with non-Indian people for profit. There are many things to be shared with the Four Colors of humanity in our common destiny as one with our Mother the Earth. It is this sharing that must be considered with great care by the Elders and the medicine people who carry the Sacred Trusts, so that no harm may come to people through ignorance and misuse of these powerful forces.


Austin Two Moons, Northern Cheyenne Nation; Larry Anderson, Navajo Nation; Thomas Banyacya, Hopi Independent Nation; Frank Cardinal, Sr., Chateh, Alberta; Phillip Deer, Muskogee (Creek) Nation; Walter Denny, Chippewa-Cree Nation; Chief Fools Crow, Lakota Nation; Peter O'Chiese, Entrance, Alberta; Izador Thorn, Washington; Tadadaho, Haudenassaunee; Tom Yellowtail, Wyola MT.

NOTE: The Elders charged the American Indian Movement and others with responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the Indian traditions. AIM then made a resolution in 1984 naming some of those whom the Elders have in mind, and asserting, among other things, that "attempted theft of Indian ceremonies is a direct attack and theft from Indian people themselves." Some of those named are non-Indian authors and ritual leaders; others may be native Americans, but may also be distanced from their tribes and not designated as representatives of the people.


The Traditional Elders Circle is composed of respected leaders, medicine people and Elders from Native Nations throughout the Great Turtle Island of North America and Islands of the Western Hemisphere. It is they who are entrusted with the health, well being and spiritual needs of the aboriginal peoples and Nations of the Western Hemisphere. It is they who serve as guides and teachers for their Nations and are concerned for the welfare of the coming generations. They are the Grandfathers and Grandmothers of Nations who still carry the original instructions, ceremonies, and medicines of the Native people of these lands. These people do not sell, trade, or barter the sacred ceremonies. Phillip Deere (Muscogee) is the only Elders Circle representative to be delegated to represent us internationally at a conference in Rome, Italy in 1982. Be advised that we have authorized no one to represent the Elders Circle internationally for spiritual purposes or fundraising. We, the traditional Elders, again speak to the general public and announce that people of our respective Nations are complaining that their ceremonies: Pipes, and sweat lodges are being violated by non-native people and Native American individuals who purport to be medicine people".

This is a VIOLATION OF OUR HUMAN RIGHTS, group rights and a violation of our religious freedoms. The exploitation of the sacred symbols of our ceremonies causes pain and distress among our people and denigrates the fundamental instructions of our cultures and teachings. We can not prevent people from throwing away their money at the so called "Indian ceremonies", but we can challenge those who misuse our sacred Pipes, sweat lodge and ceremonies. So now, once again we demand that these violations cease.





  1. I wish most pages on the internet were as educated, informative and well written as this post. I went from being completely without opinion on this, thinking it was foolish hypocrisy, but harmless foolishness, to realizing its harm.

  2. As much as I appreciate your apparent research, and your experience in the topic, I would like to discuss some of the ideas and arguments which you presented.

    As a white girl who has grown up raised by a white family, but in an Northern Canadian Aboriginal community, I find this FAQ very offensive and outright wrong at points. To suggest that one can never learn the practices of Aboriginal culture, and the deep meanings behind these traditions, from someone who is not Aboriginal by blood is both spiritually and emotionally hurtful. Culture is the opinions you have collected from people you respect, it is the ways that you have been taught traditions, and it is manner in which you choose to conduct yourself based upon these. Anyone can teach any culture if they have the experience.

    I consider myself an amalgamation of both white and Aboriginal cultures. Although this can cause quite a bit of internal controversy, it causes a great deal more of external. Throughout my entire life I have had to put up with stares and glares when I tell people I am from my hometown. Even worse, the people from my hometown have gone from accepting me and teaching me the traditions as a child to isolating my as the white person as an adult. I am not at home in the only place that I have ever loved the way I do my hometown. You cannot imagine how this feels, and to suggest that only people with Aboriginal blood can ever truly be part of the culture is salt in the wounds inflicted upon me unjustly.

  3. thanks for your words. its ironic. 15 years ago, they were spitting on us and calling us prairie niggers. now they want to be us.. crazy people.