Indian Tribe Sues Self-Help Author Over Use of Sweat Lodge

jamesray-0608Touch_the_Clouds_1877aWe 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.

180px-Talking_HistoryThis 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.

180px-Hupa_Sweat_HouseSam 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.

21 thoughts on “Indian Tribe Sues Self-Help Author Over Use of Sweat Lodge”

  1. First of all I am a Human Being.
    I am also Oglala Lakota.

    And quite frankly, I detest people that charge anyone for prayer. But I have an even worse feeling about people that misuse the ways of my people for their own gain.

    The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the home for most of the Oglala Lakota. It is made up of two of the poorest counties in the United States. It has been said that this is a punishment and a direct result of the Lakota’s unwillingness to ever agree to any loss of their rights to sovereignty and self governance. Others claim it is because the Lakota refuse to “progress into assimilation.”

    There are many people that can teach someone to pray the way of the Lakota. One can even buy my grandfather’s book Black Elk Speaks in any bookstore.

    But for someone to misuse the Lakota’s good name, and Lakota ceremonies good name, and claim to be a spiritual leader to the detriment of that good name, for personal gain… That should be as criminal as someone selling fake coca cola that is poisoned.

    For people that don’t understand:
    What if I say I am a Priest, and start teaching lies about Jesus? Or if I say I’m an Imam and start teaching lies about Muhammad? Isn’t that the same?
    No. It is different. Why?

    It is different because American Indian’s Religious Practices are protected under a different federal law. It is different, because Christianity and Islam are Religions shared by many cultures. But Lakota ways are unique to Lakota People ethnically and culturally, and are as much a part of our legal framework as anything about us. From a Legal standpoint, Lakota Understand that Lakota Ways belong to the Lakota People’s unborn children and are held under a trust for these future generations.
    Lakota Stories belong to Lakota people in much the same way.

    Just as any Nation has a right to make illegal anything they so choose under their granted sovereignty (As in the case of the United States) or inherent sovereignty (Which Lakota people never gave up), Lakota People have the right to say this man did something illegal according to their own laws and standards.

    Traditionally, any man claiming to be a medicine man had to prove it in front of a council of elders. If this man did not succeed in proving his knowledge, but still claimed to be a medicine man, and hurt someone under color of that authority, it was the duty of a man called “Whip Bearer” to flail the offender to death in public. This made sure fake medicine men didn’t exist.

    The fact is that Oglala Lakota People should by all international standards, be able to just issue a warrant and demand the United States respect it and extradite the man.

    Sex by surprise isn’t a law in England, but allowed an extradition hearings for the Wiki-leaks leader.
    No matter how ridiculous the law may seem to one people, it can be very rational to others, and must be respected via international treaties. That in fact is the one major purpose for extradition laws.
    This would be the same as Spain issuing a warrant for someone and asking Interpol to arrest the criminal in France even if the crime was not illegal in France.

    Lakota People, are after all (even if racism and manifest destiny teach otherwise), A Nation of people that have inherent rights to self governance, especially in their own land.

    What this case will prove, is that Money and the pursuit of it at all costs and to anyone’s detriment by a Wealthy Whiteman, means more than any part of the US Constitution. Because a treaty, once ratified is legally a part of the constitution. If the treaty is broken again. It just puts another piece of paperwork into the record of history proving the forked tongue of the United States regarding its own Law.

    American Indian people have fought in every US War, since World War I. Per-Capita more than any other ethnic group, With Lakota having the highest Per-Capita numbers among American Indians.
    Yet Lakota are economically the poorest people in the United States.

    The sacred mountains that Crazy Horse fought and died to protect, are destroyed as we speak so that a white family can make money selling that they are honoring Crazy Horse.

    South Dakota has a population of roughly 12% American Indian. South Dakota has roughly a 92% American Indian population in its prison system. Only 2% of the American Indian’s live in the jurisdiction of the state of South Dakota, the rest live under Tribal or Federal jurisdiction. That means that either less than 5% of the population is committing more than 90% of the crime, or there is institutionalized racism against the Lakota People. That information was published by the United States Federal Government, who did their own investigation calling South Dakota in 2000 “Worse than Alabama in the 1960’S”. The Federal Government did nothing to fix the problem. Instead they just published the paper.

    To Lakota People, our ways belong to our children. We have little left to give them. One could argue that our ways are our intellectual property. I say even more strongly that they are our brand and trademark too, just as the golden arches are McDonald’s brand.

    In the end, I agree with the people above, the US will not honor its word.
    That man will continue to be free to hurt people and make money by whoring his spirit. And someone that really had a chance to become more spiritually connected with the sacred circle of all living things, will be conned out of vast sums of money and loose respect for my people.
    What makes anyone think the pattern will change?

    I guess like Obama said. “I Hope.”

    But more importantly…

    I am still here.
    I am a Human Being.
    I am a Lakota.
    This is my homeland and I never gave up my rights to it.
    I know who I am.
    And I am not assimilating or disappearing.

    No piece of paper that some bald headed white guy writes in some building somewhere is going to change that.

  2. I believe that the Lakota are taking a stand on the exploitation of their spiritual traditions. While it may or may not have the desired effect it must be stated for the record. There needs to be some accountability by Ray for what he did. I also believe that it at least keeps the names of the dead in the forefront of this investigation. People like James should be regulated by some kind of governing body. He has committed murder and nobody seems to notice.

  3. A slight correction: There are several Lakota Sioux tribes, not just one. And the “Oglala Lakota Delegation” sounds like a group of individuals from one or more Sioux tribes, not a tribe itself.

    This doesn’t affect your presentation, but it may raise an issue of standing in the courts. Can a delegation claim ownership of a ceremony when the relevant tribe or tribes haven’t joined the suit?

  4. As I understand it the white men who signed the treaties never intended that whites adhere to them. They were simply stratagems of war to buy respite until white military power increased enough for resumption of the war.

    In Australia we did not make treaties which made genocide and ethnic cleansing of our unwanted indigines less of a problem. Our genocide was much more efficient than yours, and we should be advising the Israelis on how to fix their problem.

  5. FF LEO–

    And what’s wrong with long straight hair on women??? I still remember the days when my silky tresses grew “Rapunzel-like” halfway down my back.

    Now, as for Tom Jones–I recall the days when women threw their hotel room keys and underwear onto the stage when Tom was performing. Eat your heart out, Bono!

  6. “Man, those funky 1960s dance moves and the girls’ hair styles!”

    At least we girls and guys of the 60s combed our hair, which more than I can say for most young people today.

  7. Well, look at the photo–Never, ever trust a man who looks like Tom Jones, especially after a song like Delilah.

    So before that come to break down the *sweat lodge* door..

    Man, those funky 1960s dance moves and the girls’ hair styles!

  8. So, what’s the difference between a Lakota Sweat Lodge and a White Man Sauna? I mean, besides the $10,000 per person?

  9. It’s not a strong case. An interesting sidebar to Ray’s pending incarceration, but not a winner. That being said, anyone who would not understand why the Lakota (or any of the tribes using sweat lodge practices) would be outraged just wasn’t paying attention to American history. Too bad for them the Constitution was drafted with an eye for keeping government out of the business of establishing state sanctioned religions from any group and asserting a property interest in the practice is just begging for excess entanglement (and that is what a remedy in favor of the Lakota would require).

  10. I saw a picture of the sweat lodge and it had a yin-yang symbol painted on it, so I figure he’s up for charges as a bad-man among Tibetans as well!

    Here’s what he needs to do. He needs to gather the 13 crystal skulls and place them at the four corners of the most sacred vortex in Sedona. He then needs to charge supplicants $100,000 to sit in a circle between the skulls. This should cover most of his legal fees. For an extra $20,000 a Tuvan throat singer will perform a ceremony with the seven shamans of Peru during the ritual. This should buy him a new sweat lodge. For $600,000 USD he can invite people to meet the aliens that live among us. These proceeds should pay off the judge for a light sentence. Then blather, rinse, repeat, the rip-off until more people die at his next phony cult ceremony.

    1. Mespo,

      I had to take Ben to fencing before posting. As soon as the swords are beaten into plowshares we shall post.

  11. Jonathan,

    I would bet on a Prosecution for this one. He does not have the same saving grace that the people on wall street prefer and share.

Comments are closed.