Monday, July 30, 2007

Senate Republican Steering Committee Fights Indian Bills

Hmm It seems that four Republican senators from different parts of the country have got together and single-handedly decided that Indian people are not only no longer sovereign, but are sub-human and do not deserve basic human services like health care, public safety and substance abuse services.

It is really surprising to me that four white males would see Indians as dogs, I mean white males have always been a friend to the Indian. They gave us our reservations, they gave us their Small Pox and other diseases, they gave us our opportunity to leave the reservation and be stranded in large cities with no resources and no support so that we could "assimilate" into their wonderful culture, they are just such a giving people. Why would they want to hurt us all of a sudden??

Oh yeah, because they are greedy soul-less bastards with no substance and no relationship with their Creator. Damn, I almost forgot that part. Oh well, read for yourselves about our lovely senators - and then send them packing!! We need leadership from our Congress, not bigotry and blatant racism.

Oh, D.C...when will you ever learn???

WASHINGTON—July 27, 2007—Blow after blow, the U.S. Senate Republican Steering Committee continues to block all legislation that benefits Indian people. The Senate Republican Steering Committee is a small group of Senators who have been working together to put secret "holds" on all legislation benefiting Indian tribes and Indian people.

Indian Country has had strong ties to the Republican Party through the Indian Self−Determination Policy and respect for the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly recognizes the treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, religious freedom, and the shared values of federalism that encourage local decision−making. Tribal leaders and the Republican Party share strong interests in law enforcement, economic development, energy, the military, veterans, and many other issues.

"At first we thought that it was coincidence that so many bills on Native issues were being blocked by members of the Republican Steering Committee," said National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Joe A. Garcia. "But it is clear now that it is not. NCAI is a non−partisan organization that has built successful relationships on both sides of the aisle for many decades. It is a very small number of Republican Senators, but we must address this obstructionism that stops all legislation no matter how bi−partisan and non−controversial."

Most recently, the Senate Republican Steering Committee, lead by Senator James DeMint (R−SC) and including Senators John Kyl (R−AZ), John Cornyn (R−TX), and Jeff Sessions (R−AL), killed non−controversial, bi−partisan piece of legislation that would have helped tribes in combating sexual predators on tribal lands.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006 requires tribes to comply with its provisions by July 27, 2007. The legislation in question would have given tribes another year to make important decisions on how they want to work with the systems registry that is being created by the U.S. Department of Justice. "This legislation has a real human impact," said Garcia. "This kind of responsibility should be handled by those who know their communities best—tribal leaders, not a few Senators far off in Washington."

In February the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act (H.R. 545) to make Indian tribes eligible to apply for certain grants to fight methamphetamine abuse and trafficking in Indian Country. Senator Kyl has a hold on the bill and is preventing its passage in the belief that a grant program could somehow confer jurisdiction to tribes over drug offenses committed in Indian Country. Tribes need these grants for prevention, treatment and enforcement against drug traffickers, and Kyl's obstructionism is endangering public safety for reservations and their neighbors.

The Republican Steering Committee has also fought the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, legislation that would modernize the health care system for reservations and at the end of last session held up all bills affecting Native Americans. "We had a similar situation in the mid−1990's with Senator Slade Gorton – but tribes overcame that obstructionism," said Garcia.

"The Constitution requires respect for tribal governments. We want to work together in a productive way. It's time for the Senate Republican Steering Committee to do its part and allow tribes to take responsibility for issues affecting them. The Committee just doesn't seem to be well informed on Indian Country issues."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Speaking out on the theft and abuse of spirituality

Speaking out on the theft and abuse of spirituality
© Indian Country Today July 20, 2007. All Rights Reserved
Posted: July 20, 2007
by: Shadi Rahimi

Photo courtesy Marisol Crisostomo-Romo -- Marisol Crisostomo-Romo, Pascua Yaqui, is leading a campaign urging a summer camp to stop its misuse of Native imagery, beseeching all those ''offended and disgusted by cultural exploitation and mainstream society's self-entitlement'' to write letters.

SAN FRANCISCO - It was a strange sight, at least in East Los Angeles.

While walking her dogs recently at Arroyo Seco Park, Marisol Crisostomo-Romo, 26, said she spotted a van with a tipi on it. Into it piled a group of white children clutching bows and arrows.

They were members of the five-week-long Camp Shi'ini, ''a Native American-themed summer camp'' that is named after ''a Native American word meaning 'Summer People,''' according to its Web site.

The 60-year-old camp divides children into nine ''tribes'' and offers activities ranging from horseback riding (in the tradition of the Navajo, Comanche and Eskimo, its Web site stated) and archery (Mohawk, Seminole and Blackfoot) to fishing (Zuni, Iroquois and Apache).

Crisostomo-Romo, who is Pascua Yaqui, immediately wrote the camp a letter and e-mailed 422 people to do the same, beseeching all those ''offended and disgusted by cultural exploitation and mainstream society's self-entitlement.''

Her anger is echoed across the country by Natives who continue to be frustrated with what they view as misappropriation and abuse of spiritual and cultural practices.

Similar Native-themed camps, nonprofits, centers, programs, workshops, retreats and seminars offered mostly by non-Natives thrive across the country. And the number of non-Native people operating as medicine men and shaman - and often charging for their services - has only grown despite opposition from traditional elders, groups and Native activists.

''We don't charge for ceremonies. People with real sicknesses actually go to these people; we've heard of these people even taking advantage of women,'' said Charlie Sitting Bull, 54. ''That's the danger in people being misinformed. We battle it all the time.''

Sitting Bull is a traditional Oglala Lakota from South Dakota who said he is a direct descendant of Chief Sitting Bull. He began noticing the misuse of Native culture as a teenager, when he first saw a Boy Scout troup ''dressed as Indians,'' he said.

Since then, he has confronted Native and non-Native people falsely claiming to be descendants of Chief Sitting Bull and has worked to stop non-Native people from charging for spiritual teachings. Most recently, Sitting Bull said he prevented a white man from charging to teach Sun Dance songs at a Washington state bookstore, which the man had learned from a legitimate medicine man.

Responding to a request from the medicine man himself, Sitting Bull confronted the white man, telling him he could not hold the workshop, and asking for a written apology. The man was arrogant, but eventually obliged, he said.

A non-Native person practicing Native spirituality presents a similar danger to all Natives as a Native person who practices but ''isn't clean'' - taking drugs or not ''living a good life,'' - Sitting Bull said.

''They actually infect us like a sickness,'' he said, referring to both scenarios.

In 1993, a decree passed at an international gathering of 500 representatives from 40 different tribes and bands of the Lakota, titled the ''Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality,'' stated that immediate action be taken to defend Lakota spirituality from ''further contamination, desecration and abuse.''

It detailed what it described as the destruction of sacred traditions, reminding Natives of their highest duty - ''to preserve the purity of our precious traditions for our 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.''

Among the ''disgraceful expropriation'' that even then had ''reached epidemic proportions in urban areas throughout the country,'' according to the leaders, were corporations that charge money for sweat lodges and vision quest programs; Sun dances for non-Natives conducted by charlatans; and cult leaders and new age people who imitate Lakota ceremonial ways and mix in non-Native occult practices.

The decree urged traditional people, tribal leaders and governing councils of all other Indian nations to join ''in calling for an immediate end to this rampant exploitation of our respective American Indian sacred traditions.''

The decree was published in a newsletter, in controversial author Ward Churchill's 1994 book ''Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America,'' and online.

Since then, an active stand has been taken by medicine men and traditional practitioners even against ''Native healers that are out of line,'' Sitting Bull said.

Responses to the decree from non-Native people on various Web sites explain why they engage in Native spiritual practices.

''I understand the importance of the statement and feel money is being made by the stealing of the traditionalists,'' Mark Montalban wrote. ''I also feel that ghosts and spirits can enter your life and give purpose and direction.''

But many Native people disagree, arguing that the appropriation of spirituality is not only disrespectful, but also dangerous if practiced incorrectly and by non-Natives.

''One can study Native culture all they want, but if it's not Native blood flowing through their veins then they'll never truly understand those ways and how to use them,'' said Anthony Thosh Collins, 25, of the Pima, Osage and Seneca-Cayuga tribes. ''I support the use of our Native culture to help heal this world, but only through the guidance of one of our own qualified elders.''

The movement against non-Natives appropriating and sometimes selling Native spirituality is growing, with younger Natives joining the forefront.

In her letter to Camp Shi'ini, Crisostomo-Romo explained the sacred nature of the face paint and war bonnets displayed on its Web site, saying, ''Non-Natives don't have business messing with these things.''

She suggested the camp instead teach children about modern issues faced by Native people, including the desecration of sacred sites, poverty and substance abuse.

It is important for non-Natives to understand that Natives do not exist only in museums or in Western movies: ''We are a people who have a future and who want the best for our children,'' Crisostomo-Romo said.

''The very notion of trying to recreate a lifestyle of a people that are still in vibrant existence is purely ridiculous,'' she said. ''Native people are not just about bows and arrows, feathers and dream catchers. The depth and beauty of our cultures can never be captured in a summer camp.''


Friday, July 13, 2007

All Hail The Chief...

In May of this year, the President of the Charlestown, RI, Town Council, Kate Waterman, wrote an email to another Charlestown citizen, that was later leaked to the media. The email is a glowing example of the ignorance and blatant bigotry of most 21st-Century Americans. Let's dissect a little...

"I do not give a hoot if the Narragansetts, or the Mexicans, or the Cambodians build a casino over there on Narragansett Bay..." This is one of largest misperceptions that mainstream society has about Native Americans. We are not immigrants, we are not an ethnic U.S. minority, we are not willing participants in the so-called American Dream. We were on this land for tens of thousands of years before the birth of your "Great Nation".

Native Americans are a sovereign people who share occupancy of this country with the United States. We have a political distinction that is different from that of any other class of people in this country. It is a distinction that is guaranteed us through your U.S. Constitution. If you would like to throw out the distinction that Indian people have as sovereign nations, then you also need to throw out your right to free speech, to freedom of religion, your right to vote, and any other rights or freedoms you are afforded by the Constitution. If you feel that our rights as Indian people are old and outdated, then so are yours as citizens of this nation which was founded upon the same Constitution that gives us a separate political distinction.

"And they have free health care. For life. And they have a good-sized health clinic in Charlestown, even though there aren’t many of them here. We don’t have one of those. And we can’t use it, even though it was paid for with our tax dollars. And if you look around, they have a lot of things that the rest of us don’t. I believe they have free college tuition." Indians were 'guaranteed' health care and education for life and for posterity. This was written in treaties that allowed the immigrant Euro-Americans to usurp the land and settle cities like the one Ms. Waterman has no qualms about living in today. Indians made an agreement to give up our lands peacefully on the condition that certain provisions were made for our people and their descendants. The "noble" (forgive me a "HA") ancestors of this nation, including Ms. Waterman's ancestors, if they had already immigrated to the U.S. by then, were more than happy to sign this promise. If Ms. Waterman and her contemporaries have no problem with reneging on the part of the deal that was agreed to by their antecedents, then Indian people should not be expected to uphold the part of the deal agreed to by ours. Basically, Ms. Waterman has asked to revive Indian wars in the United States. I think the United Nations and other world leaders might have a problem with this.

"They don’t pay taxes on their land, which was gifted to them." I won't spend a lot of time on this one, because it's covered in a previous post (Does the IRS Know??) First of all, how benevolent of Ms. Waterman's government to "gift" us land that was ours in the first place. Second, if the ever-so-ignorant Ms. Waterman would do her research, she would discover that Indians were never gifted any land by the government. We are allowed ownership-in-trust, meaning the federal government owns the land, not the Indians. Since taxes are to be paid by the land owner, the person Ms. Waterman really needs to take up her case with is the head of the Department of the Interior. Go ahead and ask the Department why they don't pay taxes on the land they own.

"Does that give them the right to be a sovereign people within a sovereign nation? To be free of the laws of our land? Where is the equality in that notion? Ethnicity does not convey privilege!" Oh, if only ethnicity did not convey privilege. How hypocritical of Ms. Waterman to make that statement, since she is of the only ethnicity in the United States to be conveyed privilege!! What gives us the right, dear, dear Katie, is not only the United States constitution, but also the fact that we made the concessions that allowed your people to populate this country! If we as Indian people had chosen to be the barbaric savages that Europeans and their ancestors have proven themselves to be time after time, then the moment the first ship hit the shores of this country, we would have slaughtered every man, woman and child aboard. And we would have continued to do so until this very day. However, we made the concession of showing civility and respect from the very beginning and, in return for this concession, your ancestors (and the ancestors of any American with more than two generations in this country) chose to repay our kindness by massacring our loved ones, introducing disease and pestilence that had never existed on this continent before, and usurping the very land that has been a mother to our people for hundreds of generations. Oh what a proud legacy your people have, Ms. Waterman, and you are right indeed to question the integrity of Indian people everywhere.

As far as Indian people being "free of the law of the land" I can't imagine a more absurd statement. Have you ever heard of the Department of the Interior?? The government agency that enforces regulations on Indian people that are not enforced on any other people in this country?? Did you know that Indian people were not even granted the freedom of religion until 1978?? When the "laws of your land" finally granted us permission to practice our own religion without fear of death or imprisonment. And if you really think that Indian people are not subject to the laws of the land, then explain how an entire field of law practice known as Indian Law could even exist?? Not only that, but if Indian people are not subject to the law of the land, then how come Native Americans are extremely over-represented in the U.S. prison population?? We are not only subject to the laws of your land, Ms. Waterman, we are abused by them more so than any other people in this nation today. Your statement above is by far the one I, as an Indian person, take the most offense to. Actually, it disgusts me to no end.

"I detest prejudice as much as I am dismayed by those who victimize minorities with the rhetoric of 'poor!'" If only you detested your own ignorance as much as you claim to detest prejudice. And, as Mr. Brown already brought to your attention, most racists claim to detest racism. Hypocrisy is even less of a defense than ignorance, Ms. Waterman. In your position as leader of a community, you have let down all of the people that you were elected to represent, by choosing bigotry and hate over an opportunity to learn about the true history of your great nation.

Paying to teach and 'play Indian'

The following article, printed in Indian Country Today, can be found at

by: Shadi Rahimi

SAN FRANCISCO - They climb mountains on a quest for a vision. They beat drums and shake rattles. They pray in sweat lodges. Some study for years and later teach others the spirituality they paid to learn.

They are a growing population. But they are not Native. And as self-proclaimed medicine men and women or shaman - referred to by some critics as ''plastic medicine men'' or ''shake and bake shaman'' - they often charge for spiritual services.

That, for many Natives here, is a big problem.

''Even if they're not charging for money, they have no idea about our people's ways, they have no idea what they're doing and how catastrophic it can be,'' said Jimmy Red Elk, 32, a traditional Oglala Lakota who lives in Los Angeles. ''It's really bad out here.''

The liberal-leaning state has always been abundant with New Age centers and people who advertise Native-themed services ranging from ''Native healing and ceremonies'' to ''pilgrimages to sacred places.''

Over the past two decades, such centers and retreats run by non-Natives have spread across the state - and the country - sometimes with deadly results. In 2002, two people died after spending more than an hour in a sweat lodge in southern California run by the group the Shamanic Fellowship.

Traditional elders, activists and groups have written resolutions and held protests denouncing such services. Some have even forcibly shut down questionable practitioners by dissembling their sweat lodges.

But such practices have only increased. And, in recent years, even more groups have sprouted up online.

''Our ways are not for sale!'' wrote D'Shane Barnett, 31, a member of the Mandan and Arikara tribes, in an e-mail sent recently to dozens. ''People cannot claim to understand our ways with one breath and then offer to sell them with their next breath.''

Barnett, a special projects officer at the Native American Health Center in Oakland, was referring to an e-mail he received by mistake, intended for a company called Native American Nutritionals. From their site he had been lead to another,

There, he found an offer of ''spiritual adoption'' for a $90 donation and $5 in monthly payments by the Nemenhah Band and Native American Traditional Organization of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Sanpete.

The group is an ''independent band'' which offers enrollment in an online college where people can pay to qualify as medicine men or women, healers and Native practitioners, according to their Web site.

Courses range from online lessons in smudging to a six-hour ''Unipi Ceremony Practicum,'' which requires a mentor to ''come to your lodge.''

Each member receives a ''ministerial card'' that is valid as long as they are progressing and ''making regular offerings,'' according to the Web site.

Similar Native-themed services are offered for a price across the country. In Washington, Tana ''Blue Deer Woman'' Hamiter offers vision quests for $300 on A ''Southwest Spirit Quest Tour'' offered by www.divine includes ''a night spent in a traditional Navajo hogan'' and ''authentic Native ceremonies.''

''My first reaction was anger,'' Barnett said. ''But when I spoke with a couple of different medicine people, the way they explained it to me is that I need to pity these people. What they are doing is filling a void.''

Though it may not appear so, seekers of Native spirituality are often well-intentioned, said Ann Riley, a shamanic counselor in the East Bay.

''The yearning for a spiritual connection is common,'' said Riley, 70. ''Americans are very drawn to the Native American spirituality because it's the indigenous spiritually of this continent.''

Riley is a white, retired schoolteacher who for 15 years has studied ''shamanism'' - which she defines as a technique for connecting with ''spirits for healing and problem solving'' - with a shamanic center in Marin.

Today, she charges $75 for a 1 and 1/2 - 2 hour session, during which she uses a drum or rattle to help students ''enter an altered state'' from which they connect with spirits, she said. It usually takes four to five lessons, she explained.

At her El Cerrito office she holds drumming circles and long-distance group healing. Her students include teenagers and ''lots of psychologists,'' she said.

She has known self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who have gotten sick by taking hallucinogenic drugs from South America or Mexico in ceremony.

''Sometimes white Americans go to some other culture or read about something and think they know how to do it,'' she said. ''It's really something that you have to immerse yourself in. I see it really as lack of respect.''

Philip Scott, 44, said he has immersed himself in ''the Native Path for more than 25 years,'' in an ad in the New Age magazine Open Exchange.

Today, the founder of the Ancestral Voice - Center for Indigenous Lifeways in Novato, he offers services including ''Rites of Passage'' ceremonies and classes in ''Native drum and flute.''

Scott said he is of European and Cherokee ancestry, though he isn't sure how much. And, he is Lakota not ''by blood ancestry, but by affiliation,'' he said. After years of studying various spiritual practices, he had a dream about the Sun Dance, he said. He received permission to dance in South Dakota, he explained.

''During my third Sun Dance, the spirits came to me and said I need to create a center,'' he said. Scott said he was ''bonneted'' at a Texas Sun Dance as a ceremonial leader.

Today, Scott holds Sweatlodge ceremonies - some of which have included newborn babies, he said - and doctoring, birthing and death ceremonies in the Lakota tradition. He has taught ''warriorship practices'' to youth and has worked as a Native spiritual adviser at the Napa State Hospital in Marin.

And he takes people on vision quests. ''I help people learn how to be human, responsible stewards of the Earth,'' he said. ''I listen to the directions the ancestors give me.''

Scott is earnest, saying he rarely receives criticism, and that people's doubts quickly dissipate when they see him in action.

''There is a lot of appropriation of Native practices and tradition,'' he said. ''There has to be that level of intent and experience that you bring. In time, the spirits will make clear who is legitimate and who is not.''