Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A closer look contains hints of sham artist, not a shaman

Last update: May 11, 2009 - 11:57 PM

A boy's life hangs in the balance in New Ulm, Minn., this week as a court decides if he should abide by the advice of prominent doctors or that of a group claiming to be American Indian healers whose website the boy's mother says she "found on the Internet."

The Internet is a funny thing. Perhaps Colleen Hauser, the mother of 13-year-old Danny, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, also looked a little deeper on the Web and discarded critical opinions about the group, the Nemenhah Band, but I doubt it.

Too bad, because Danny's life may depend on it.

If she had, she would have found case files in which Nemenhah's leader, Phillip (Cloudpiler) Landis, who submitted testimony in the case, had been convicted of fraud in two states. Or that another member of the band, James Mooney, won a case that allows him to claim religious exemption from law and sell drugs -- peyote.

Maybe she researched all possibilities and still decided to take the word of a convicted criminal over that of Mayo Clinic doctors?

Apparently not.

Calvin Johnson, the attorney for the Hausers, said neither he nor the family were aware of any possible criminal behavior of anyone associated with Nemenhah. And he didn't seem particularly concerned about it. In fact, he bristled at anyone who might question the Hausers' beliefs.

"We don't trample on the quality of someone's religious path," he said. "We don't do that. Danny has a wonderful soul and beautiful heart."

No one disputes the last statement. But many, including Native Americans, take issue with a family that chooses the claims of Landis, who has been convicted of fraud for misleading investors in an alternative-health mushroom-growing business, instead of Mayo Clinic doctors.

One is Al Carroll, a Mescalero Apache, Ph.D.-holding author and Fulbright scholar who moderates a website (www.newagefraud.org) dedicated to exposing people who exploit American Indian traditions for profit.

"I would argue from what I see on their sites that Nemenhah are alt-medicine types who hide behind a laughable pseudo-native facade," Carroll said in an e-mail from Indonesia, where he's teaching about native history. "That's pure Hollywood and New Age nonsense."

The Hausers, who are not Native American, joined the group by paying a fee, now $250, plus $100 monthly. Though the group calls it a donation, they warn members not to "neglect this part of the Adoption Covenant ... if they do, the Nemenhah Band cannot continue in its important work and its offering to Humanity globally."

Nonsense, said Carroll, who calls the group's leaders "plastic shaman[s]."

"No reputable traditional native healer would demand someone deny medical treatment which would save their lives, especially to a child," he said. "It's reprehensible beyond words. Only a crackpot fanatic who thinks modern medicine is part of some type of grand conspiracy would let a young boy die when there are good options to save him."

Carroll is not alone.

Nemenhah's website and forums refer members to other sites where they can -- surprise -- buy "sacraments" such as oils and herbs. One forum discusses how baking soda can cure cancer.

D'Shane Barnett, special projects officer of the Native American Health Center in California, called that a "pyramid scheme by profit-sharing through a referral program," adding, "This entire organization, Nemenhah and Native American Nutritionals ... is founded on the principles of profiting from the bastardization and tokening of Native American people and practices."

In other words, if Danny's Internet-purchased regimen doesn't work, critics say, he will live a tragically short life, but it won't be because the government interfered with religion. Call it death by multilevel marketing.

During an interview from Missouri, Landis was defiant. He said he has never counseled the Hausers on medical choices. He said that Nemenhah is not a tribe, but rather a church, and that churches frequently disagree with each other.

They also are allowed to take offerings, as are medicine men, he said, adding, "If not, this is not America."

Gabrielle Strong, a Dakota tribal consultant from Morton, Minn., said she doesn't blame the Hausers, but feels sorry for them. "I feel this group is taking advantage of vulnerable people," she said.

Strong, who said her mother is being treated for breast cancer with chemotherapy, along with spiritual remedies, said American Indians are abuzz about the Hauser case, but tribal leaders are hesitant to get involved.

"We are not the kind of people to impose our beliefs on people," she said. Yet, "I feel terrible for this family. This young man's life is on the line, and I wish someone legitimate [from the American Indian community] could talk to them."

So I made an offer to the Hausers through their lawyer: You got second opinions from medical doctors, who agreed chemo was needed. Give it another shot. Strong has said she would help me get you second opinions from Indian leaders in Minnesota familiar with traditional medicine. Then your family could reconsider.

You have my number, counselor. A kid's life is at stake.

Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702

A sad, curious tale of rampant duplicity and stupidity

ISHOU, HUNAN — The degree to which frauds can dupe the unsuspecting and to which otherwise intelligent people can believe utter nonsense never ceases to amaze me.

Take the sad case of Daniel Hauser, 13, who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He and his parents refused chemotherapy after his first treatment, saying it is contrary to their religious beliefs. Their refusal led the Brown County (Minn.) Attorney’s office to file a child endangerment complaint against the parents. The case is now in court.

The Hausers are “traditional catholics,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but the crux of their defense is their membership in the Nemenhah. Their attorneys insist that the Nemenhah’s religious beliefs are protected by federal Indian Affairs law, so the Hausers can do whatever they bloody well please.

The Star Trib and other media sources identify the Nemenhah as “an American Indian religious organization.”

Well, it ain’t.

The Hausers are probably very nice people, and perhaps they would prefer not to see their young son suffer through chemo, but they are dupes, plain and simple.

Here is what I have been able to piece together about the Nemenhah Band, to which the Hausers apparently belong.

The Nemenhah are not a true Native American tribe, nation or group. They are wannabe Natives — white folks who adopt Native-sounding names and steal adopt Native American ways. This behavior has recently become a trend among New Agers in the USA, who have pretty much milked Eastern medicine and philosophy for ideas to peddle to the ignorant here. Now they are robbing Native American culture for fresh ideas to sell.

The Nemenhah’s websites claim, however, that the people known as the Nemenhah came to North America from the Middle East before the Christian era, and settled in the Four Corners area. Records (the Mentinah Archives) of their history and beliefs were preserved there, and only were recently (2004) translated into English. If this history sounds awfully like what is in the Book of Mormon, then it may interest you to know that the Nemenhah supposedly joined Hagoth, a figure in the BoM, when he left his homeland.

The LDS church, however, does not recognize the Mentinah Archives as authentic. The irony there is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

For suggested initial and monthly “donations,” you too can become a member of the Nemenhah, can buy their tribal medicinals, and can even sell them to your friends and family by joining the Nemenhah MLM.

Being afforded “spiritual adoption” means protection under federal law, the Nemenhah website says. “As a Nemenhah Medicine Man or Woman you will be able to practice your Healing Ministry under the full weight and protection of the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act 1993 (NAFERA) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act 1993 (RFRA).”

There is no archeological or historical evidence of a people named the Nemenhah living in the Four Corners, however. (There is also no similar evidence corroborating the Book of Mormon, but that’s another story.) The US Bureau of Indian Affairs and Native American organizations do not recognize the Nemenhah as a valid tribe or nation, either.

Contrary to Native American practice, the Nemenhah’s online healing academy charges money (aka donations) for training to be a medicine man or woman. The Hausers, including Daniel, are medicine men, according to news reports.

You cannot become a member of a recognized Native American nation, tribe or people by paying money. To gain membership, your ancestors had to have been Native Americans, and you have to prove it. Saying your great-grandfather was Cherokee, for example, does not mean you are a Cherokee.

For that matter, paying money to a church for training or religious education is pretty atypical, unless the church happens to be the Church of Scientology.

The presumed head of the organization, known formally as the Nemenhah Band and Native American Traditional Organization (Oklevueha Native American Church of Sanpete), is Phillip R. Landis, who goes by the pseudo-Native name of “Cloudpiler.” Landis is a naturopath by profession.

Landis, coincidentally, wrote the foreword to the “translation” of the Mentinah Archives and published the English translation. The original texts are supposedly locked away in a safe location, while five unnamed translators voluntarily work on the translation.

Someone on a Mormon forum site challenged the authenticity of the Mentinah Archives. Landis, under the unlikely name of Ea-lea Powitz Peopeo, responded with a lengthy diatribe providing arcane details about the Nemenhah and the archives, all couched in language to appeal to a Mormon readership.

Those who want a better idea of what the Lord is doing to bring forth these translations can go back and study how the Lord did it with Joseph Smith. It is very similar. The heavens are opened. The original writers and God are very much involved in helping the translators. This should not be a surprise to anyone, yet it is a great stumbling block for many because of the condition the prophets and Christ said the Church and the world would be in in our day. For example, there are those who simply do not believe that God will allow anyone to be a translator unless he is one of the General Authorities of the Church. They don’t recognize that Joseph Smith was a translator before he was called to be the head of the Church. The fact is, God can call anyone He wants to be a translator, even an ignorant farm boy.

More of his rationalizations can be found here: http://blog.nemenhah.org/ The organization and financial structure of the Nemenhah and its MLM seem pretty sketchy to me, but I am not a lawyer.

Speaking of the law, Landis several years ago had some legal problems in Montana and Idaho regarding a mushroom-growing business that encouraged farmers to grow reishi mushers and be paid for their harvest. Some farmers allegedly never got paid.

The layers of deceit in this story are almost too many to count. We have a family who have bought into (literally) a supposed Native American church. This church claims to give its members protection under federal Indian Affairs law, but the church and the Nemenhah tribe in fact are not recognized Native American entites.

Meanwhile, the sole reason for the Nemenhah Band’s existence apparently is to peddle a line of “traditional” medicinals, using a dubious MLM scheme, to people like the Hausers, who want alternative ways to stay healthy.

[There is of course the additional question of whether alternative medicine (herbs and such) can effectively treat cancers like Daniel Hauser's. Most medical doctors say no.]

A decision on the child endangerment complain is expected Tuesday. We’ll see how successful the Nemenhah Band has been in convincing the judge of their authenticity.

Minnesota Public Radio report: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/05/07/parents_refuse_treatment_for_son/
Indian Country Today report on the Nemenhah:

Whistling Elk blog - American Indian Voice of Spirit and Reason commentary
New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans - a Native American site criticizing pseudo-Native healers, schools, etc.
Links at the site specific to Nemenhah:
Nemenhah-related sites: