We previously followed the investigation into the three deaths in a sweat lodge run by “Spiritual Warrior” James Arthur Ray at the Angel Valley Retreat Center in Sedona, Arizona. Now, the Lakota Sioux Tribe is suing, demanding the prosecution of Ray under the 1869 Treaty of Fr. Laramie for appropriating a Native American ritual.
The case is the Oglala Lakota Delegation of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council v. United States, (D AZ, filed 11/2/2009) and relies on the language of the treaty stating:
If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent, and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington city, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.
Ray is the bad man among the whites, they argue. Many would agree with that proposition. The question is whether Ray can self-help himself out of a treaty-based prosecution.
This could make for some interesting litigation. One does not often see prosecutions of people who are defined as “bad men among the whites” in federal court. More importantly, the claim that a sweat lodge is the property of the Lakotas is meritless in my view and would raise serious constitutional questions. Yet, they insist that the Oinikaga sweat lodge ceremony is part of the Lakota’s oral tradition which, according to the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Art. 31, is protected.
Sam Longblackcat, a spokesman for the Lakota, seemed to steer away from religious challenges from the defense. He said that the sweat lodge is one of the seven sacred rites of the Lakota. “This is a way of life, not a religion.” He insisted that “[t]he sweat lodge – we call it Oinikaga or Inipi – is a purification ceremony, to make life. Our sacred way of life was desecrated by a non-native man. This is our property, and there are laws in the United States and in the United Nations that state that these customs are ours and that they are to be protected.”
The non-Native man is also collecting almost $10,000 a person for the pleasure of self-help sweating.
I would still have to bet on the “non-native man” over the Lakota on this one.
For a copy of the lawsuit, click here.
For the full story, click here.