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Selling American Indian Spirituality
"Cheating Us, Cheating Them"

Guest Commentary By Pte Cante Winyan
(Buffalo Heart Women), South Dakota
the People's Voice ~ Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Copyright © 2000 Pte Cante Winyan
All Rights Reserved

We have come to a point in this society where everything has a price. Water is sold, dirt is sold, children are sold, and now in some areas even AIR is sold. So it’s no wonder that many people, with otherwise innocent intentions, will pay for American Indian spiritual teachings. Why would it be wrong? Everything has a price, doesn’t it? What most do not understand is this is the paradigm of the dominant culture. You don’t own the land, you don’t own spirituality, and therefore you can’t sell something you don’t own.

When the Europeans first arrived on this land the slaughter of the people began when it was realized the “natives” would not “sell” their land and the choices were clear to the invaders: kill or dominate the savages to acquire the land necessary for the influx of thousands of newcomers. And they did this by any means available. Small pox infested blankets were distributed to many nations throughout the time of US expansion, as-well-as, withholding provisions after they were prisoners of the state, giving rancid meat and spoiled grain, changing the rules and laws, breaking treaties, sterilization of women without their permission, relocation, and the list goes on. The new government made it “illegal” for the Nations to continue their spiritual and community ways for generations. The practice of genocide and assimilation is still practiced within the borders of the Western Hemisphere and especially in the United States.

Also, to further perpetuate the problem it has now become fashionable to “be Indian.” All over the country there are people claiming to be taught by, and in some cases, direct descendants of well-known American Indian leaders. These people are neither teachers in the old ways, taught by, descendants of, nor are they sanctioned by the Nations they claim to be part of. They are what is commonly called “wannabes.” These are people who find a little of the ways, find unsuspecting future wannabes and form a “tribe.” They then start to create their own brand of Indian teachings – taking from this one and then adding to it. Then they learn a little more and change it just slightly to fit their purpose add a little teachings from other religions and the stage is set to go out and “teach” the people - but for money.

There is nothing wrong with seeking knowledge – there is no harm in learning the ways of indigenous cultures. There is something VERY wrong in leaning from people who have taken a little of this and a little of that and then created their own teachings. They cheat not only those they steal from but also from those that pay for these teachings. There is no value and no healing in lying and making up ceremony and teachings that are created out of ego and greed.

Just last week I read an advertisement for a gathering not far from Asheville. This “event” is run by those calling themselves medicine people, claiming heritage and knowledge, in the ways of the Medicine Wheel. They are, for a price - a very high price - offering these teachings and for a higher price a vision quest.

There is no easy way to say this without challenging the integrity of the participants or the organizers of these gatherings. You are subverting and perpetuating the rape and destruction of American Indian people.

For those thinking of attending this or any other similar event, I urge you to reconsider. You will not only be paying for convoluted and false knowledge, you will most likely negate your chances to learn the true ways in the future. Consider this; it takes a lifetime to learn and use the knowledge gathered by our ancestors. You can not and you will not learn the ways in paying for a weekend of lectures. Real teaching is done one-on-one and over many years – not days. This is the way of most spiritual paths – not just American Indian. You don’t become a Buddhist priest in a weekend and you can’t absorb and use the teachings of Christianity in a week.

Life before the invasion was organized in the family circle or clan and then the Nation and sometimes confederacies. This was and is the way it has to be for humans to grow spiritually and to perpetuate the care of our environment. Learning began the moment a child was born. Each person of the family unit contributed to the well being of the group. There were teachers and wise ones, there were medicine people and warriors, there were hunters and there were crafts people. Each and every person learned the ways of life and spirit from the day they were born until the day they passed over. And they learned from ALL life not just humans. They learned from the winged, and the four-legged, the water creatures, the plants and trees, and respected all for the knowledge and the gifts of life. They took only what they needed and used all that they took.

For many decades, Indian Spirituality has been sincerely followed by many, not just those of Indian blood, and most respected the ways and have assisted in saving some of our culture and heritage. However, on the other side we have also been bombarded by those seeking a way to make a living from teaching what will sell. To subvert the very core of our connection to Creation of which those of truly traditional knowledge are trying to save from the spiritually blind and the greedy.

There are very few true Indian people that will deny anyone the knowledge they are meant to have. And there are ways to seek that knowledge if it is for you to know. If you truly want to learn, get involved with saving Mother Earth, find the real Indian people fighting to eliminate the degrading and disrespectful Indian mascots, lobby the educators to include truthful teaching of US history (i.e., Columbus was a slave trader, Custer was a coward and murdered innocent women, children and elderly, Thanksgiving was a celebration of an Indian massacre, etc.)

There are many cases of injustice that need to be corrected. Write your congressman and demand the release of Leonard Peltier. Arrange a fund drive to supply children on our many reservations with computers and other modern teaching tools, clothes, books, and supplies. Get to know the members of the urban Indian community. Lobby local, state, and federal government to honor the treaties and quit trying to further destroy by mining, logging, and dumping radioactive waste on Indian lands. If you want to be Indian, LIVE Indian but don’t PAY to BE INDIAN.

Pte Cante Winyan (Buffalo Heart Women), South Dakota

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