Readings on Cultural Respect

This letter appeared in 1994 in Isthmus newspaper (Madison),
and News From Indian Country (Lac Courtes Oreilles Res.):




Recently, posters have been popping up around Madison advertising "Native American sweat lodges" at a high-admission "festival" sponsored by the Tri-Unity Wellness Center. It seems that some New Agers are doing to Native Americans on the spiritual-cultural level what some white casino operators have done to Native Americans on a financial level.

European-Americans have stolen Native lands, Native resources, Native children, Native cultural images, and more recently Native profits. Now, some New Agers are taking Native American spirituality too. All of these thefts constitute violations of Native sovereignty - the inherent right of indigenous nations to govern themselves, and keep the lands, cultures, and economies that belong to them.

As long-term members of the Madison Treaty Rights Support Group, we find that it's easy for Madisonians to denounce racist "rednecks" up North. It is not so easy to criticize disrespectful behavior closer to home. The exploitation of Native American spirituality is not only done for profit, but for personal curiosity, social status, and self-indulgence. It exploits the legitimate desire of some Indian spiritual leaders for non-Indians to understand and respect their ways. It also exploits the hunger of many non-Indians for a culture that is closer to the Earth, and a religion which binds human beings together more profoundly than do most mainstream churches.

There is much to learn from cultures of different Native American nations, each of which has its own distinct ways and beliefs. But there is a difference between learning about a tradition, and learning the tradition. Non-Indians can draw inspiration from Indigenous beliefs, much as we can learn wisdom from the ancient Celts, St. Francis of Assisi, European Wiccans, Chinese Taoists, or African beliefs. But to actually adopt someone else's religion as your own, and especially to distort it and mix it with other traditions in a hodge-podge, borders on spiritual irresponsibility. It is more spiritually responsible to respect the autonomy of Native religions, and to respect how they survived a federal ban (lifted in 1978), than to turn religion into a weekend hobby.

As Mary Brave Bird wrote in Ohitika Woman. "well-meaning people can do as much harm as the conniving bullshit artists. A few days spent on a reservation, and a few hours reading a book about our ceremonies, do not authorize a person to put on imitation Sioux rituals.... It's a disease and it's catching....You don't have to participate, just observe, and learn. Don't try to jump into everything. We've shed blood, sweat, and tears over religion for generations."

It's clear that most Native Americans do not feel "honored" by racist school mascots. Similarly, we say to people who pay big bucks to attend "ceremonies", don't pretend that you're "honoring" or helping Native Americans. You're not helping the Mole Lake Chippewa, who are fighting to protect their wild rice beds from an Exxon mine. You're not helping the Prairie Island Dakota, who are trying to protect their Mississippi River island from nuclear waste storage. You're not helping Leonard Peltier, who is trying to win his freedom after two decades as a political prisoner. You're not helping any of these people.

          You're only helping yourself.

              Debra McNutt
              Judy Reinke
              Zoltán Grossman



Chrystos is a Native American (Menominee/Lithuanian), born in 1946 and raised in San Francisco. A political activist and speaker, as well as an artist and writer, she is self-educated. Her tireless momentum is directed at better understanding how issues of colonialism, genocide, class and gender affect lives of women and Native people. Chrystos makes Bainbridge Island in the Pacific Northwest her home. This poem is from Dream On (Press Gang Publishers, Vancouver, 1991; ISBN 0-88974-029-1.) It is in Honor of Muriel Miguel & Spiderwoman Theatre.

(there are many forms of genocide and this is one)


fake shamen give me some money
I'll make you a catholic priest in a week
couple thousand I'll name you pope
of our crystal breakfast cereal circle of healers
Give me some money you'll be free
Give me some money you'll be whole
Give me some money you'll be right
with past lives zooming by your door
Steal from anybody to make a paste-up tacked-on
holy cat box of nothing
I tell you I'm sincere & that excuses everything
I'm a sincere thief a sincere rapist a sincere killer
My heart is pure my head is fuzzy give me some money
& you'll be clear
Your pockets will be anyhow
Give me a dime I'll erase your crime
Give me a dollar give me ten give me a thousand
fastest growing business in america
is shame men shame women
You could have a sweat same as you took manhattan
you could initiate people same as into the elks
with a bit of light around your head
& some "Indian" jewelry from hong kong, why you're all set
Come on now take something more that doesn't belong to you
Come on & take that's what you know best
Whites take Red turns away
Listen I've got a whole bunch of holey underpants
you could use in a ceremony you can make up yourself
Be a born again Indian it's easy
You want to buy spiritual enlightenment we got plenty
& if you act today we'll throw in four free 100-watt lightbulbs
so you can have your own private halo
What did you say? You met lynn andrews in person?
That woman ought to be in a bitter herb stew
I'll sell you lies half-price better than hers
america is starving to death for spiritual meaning
It's the price you pay for taking everything
It's the price you pay for buying everything
It's the price you pay for loving your stuff more than life
Everything goes on without you
You can't hear the grass breathe
because you're too busy talking
about being a holy Indian woman two hundred years ago
You sure must stink if you didn't let go
The wind doesn't want to talk to you
because you're always right
even when you don't know what you're talking about
We've been polite for five hundred years
& you still don't get it
Take nothing you cannot return
Give to others give more
Walk quietly Do what needs to be done
Give thanks for your life
Respect all beings
& it doesn't cost a penny



The following poem by Chrystos is from Not Vanishing (Press Gang Publishers, Vancouver, 1988; SBN 0-88974-015-1). It is especially for Dee Johnson.


    Sandpaper between two cultures which tear
    one another apart I'm not
    a means by which you can reach spiritual understanding or even
    learn to do beadwork
    I'm only willing to tell you how to make fry bread
    1 cup flour, spoon of salt, spoon of baking powder
    Stir Add milk or water or beer until it holds together
    Slap each piece into rounds Let rest
    Fry in hot grease until golden
    This is Indian food
    only if you know that Indian is a government word
    which has nothing to do with our names for ourselves
    I won't chant for you
    I admit no spirituality to you
    I will not sweat with you or ease your guilt with fine turtle tales
    I will not wear dancing clothes to read poetry or
    explain hardly anything at all
    I don't think your attempts to understand us are going to work so
    I'd rather you left us in whatever peace we can still
    scramble up after all you continue to do
    If you send me one more damn flyer about how to heal myself
    for $300 with special feminist counseling
    I'll probably set fire to something
    If you tell me one more time that I'm wise I'll throw up on you
    Look at me
    See my confusion Loneliness fear worrying about all our
    struggles to keep what little is left for us
    Look at my heart not your fantasies Please don't ever
    again tell me about your Cherokee great-great grandmother
    Don't assume I know every other Native Activist
    in the world personally That I even know names of all the tribes
    or can pronounce names I've never heard
    or that I'm expert at the peyote stitch
    If you ever
    again tell me
    how strong I am
    I'll lay down on the ground & moan so you'll see
    at last my human weakness like your own
    I'm not strong I'm scraped
    I'm blessed with life while so many I've known are dead
    I have work to do dishes to wash a house to clean
    There is no magic
    See my simple cracked hands which have washed the same things
    you wash See my eyes dark with fear in a house by myself
    late at night See that to pity me or to adore me
    are the same
    1 cup flour, spoon of salt, spoon of baking powder, liquid to hold
    Remember this is only my recipe There are many others
    Let me rest
    at least


    Andy Smith is a Cherokee woman, a co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (W.A.R.N.) and is active in the anti-sexual assault movement. This article appeared in the Winter 1991 issue of Women of Power. Other versions have appeared in various places. It is hoped that those of male gender reading this do not feel excused because it speaks only to "feminists" and white women. This version was written for a feminist publication; however, Ms. Smith did not intend to exclude anyone.


                  By Andy Smith

The New Age Movement has sparked new interest in Native American Traditional spirituality among white women who claim to be feminists. Indian spirituality, with it's respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, is often presented as the panacea for all individual and global problems. Not surprisingly, many white "feminists" see the opportunity to make a great profit from this craze. They sell sweat lodges or sacred pipe ceremonies, which promise to bring individual and global healing. Or they sell books and records that supposedly describe Indian traditional practices so that you, too, can be Indian.

On the surface, it may appear that this new craze is based on a respect for Indian spirituality. In fact, the New Age movement is part of a very old story of white racism and genocide against the Indian people. The "Indian" ways that these white, New Age feminists are practicing have little grounding in Native American reality.

True spiritual leaders do not make a profit from their teachings, whether it's through selling books, workshops, sweat lodges, or otherwise. Spiritual leaders teach the people because it is their responsibility to pass what they have learned from their elders to the younger generation. They do not charge for their services.

Indian religions are community-based, not proselytizing, religions. There is not one Indian religion, as many New Ager's would have you believe. Indian spiritual practices reflect the needs of a particular community. Indians do not generally believe that their way is "the" way, and consequently, they have no desire to tell outsiders about their practices. A medicine woman would be more likely to advise a white woman to look into her own culture and find what is liberating in it.

However, white women seem determined NOT to look into their own cultures for sources of strength. This is puzzling, since pre-Christian European cultures are also earth-based and contain many of the same elements that white are ostensibly looking for in Native American cultures. This phenomenon leads me to suspect that there is a more insidious motive for white "feminists" latching onto Indian spirituality.

When white "feminists" see how white people have historically oppressed others and how they are coming to very close to destroying the earth, they often want to dissociate themselves from their whiteness. They do this by opting to "become Indian." In this way, they can escape responsibility and accountability for white racism.

Of course, white "feminists" want to become only partly Indian. They do not want to be part of our struggles for survival against genocide; they do not want to fight for treaty rights or an end to substance abuse or sterilization abuse. They do not want to do anything that would tarnish their romanticized notions of what it means to become an Indian.

Moreover, white women want to become Indian without holding themselves accountable to Indian communities. If they did, they would have to listen to Indians telling them to stop carrying around sacred pipes, stop doing their own sweat lodges, and stop appropriating our spiritual practices. Rather, these New Agers see Indians as romanticized gurus who exist only to meet their consumerist needs. Consequently, they do not understand Indian people or our struggles for survival, and thus they can have no genuine understanding of Indian spiritual practices.

While New Agers may think that they are escaping white racism by becoming "Indian," they are, in fact, continuing the same genocidal practices of their forefathers/foremothers. The one thing that has maintained the survival of Indian people through 500 hundred years colonialism has been the spiritual bonds that keep us together. When the colonizers saw the strength of our spirituality, they tried to destroy Indian religions by making illegal. They forced Indian children into white missionary schools and cut their tongues if they spoke their native languages. Sundances were made illegal and Indian participation in the Ghost Dance precipitated the Wounded Knee massacre. Our colonizers recognized that it was our spirituality that maintained our spirit of resistance and sense of community. Even today, Indians are the only people in the United States who do not have religious freedom. This was made clear when the Supreme Court recently ruled that the First Amendment does not guarantee our right to use peyote in sacred ceremonies.

Many white, New Age "feminists" are continuing this practice of destroying spirituality. They trivialize Native American practices so that these practices lose their spiritual power. They have the white privileges and power to make themselves heard at the expense of Native Americans. Consumers like what many of these white writers have to tell them and do not want to become concerned with the facts presented by Native Americans. Our voices are silenced, and consequently, the younger generation of Indians who are trying to find their way back to the Old Ways become hopelessly lost in this morass of consumerist spirituality.

These practices also promote the subordination of Indian women to white women. Many white "feminists" tell us how greedy we are when we don't share our spirituality, and that we have to tell them everything they want to know because prophesies say we must. Apparently, it is our burden to service white women's needs rather than to spend time organizing within our own communities.

The New Age movement completely trivializes the oppression that we, as Indian women face: that Indian women are forcibly sterilized and are tested with unsafe drugs such as Depo-Provera; that we have a life expectancy of forty seven years; that we generally live below poverty level and face a seventy-five percent unemployment rate. No, ignoring our realities, the New Age movement sees Indian women as cool and spiritual and therefore, available to teach white women to be cool and spiritual.

This trivialization of our oppression is compounded by the fact that, nowadays, anyone can be Indian if she wants to be. All that is required is that a white woman be Indian in a former life or that she take part in a sweat lodge or be mentored by a "medicine woman" or read a "how to" book.

Since, according to this theory, anyone can now be "Indian," the term "Indian" no longer refers only to those groups of people who have survived five hundred years of colonization and genocide. This phenomenon furthers the goal of white supremists to abrogate treaty rights and to take away what little we have left by promoting the idea that some Indians need to have their land base protected, but even more Indians [those that are really white] have plenty of land. According to this logic, "Indians" as a whole do not need treaty rights. When everyone becomes "Indian" it is easy to lose sight of the specificity of oppression faced by those who are Indian in this life. It is no wonder we have such a difficult time getting non-Indians to support our struggles when the New Age movement has completely disguised our oppression.

The most disturbing aspect of these racist practices is that they are promoted in the name of feminism. Sometimes it seems that I can't open a feminist periodical without seeing ads with little medicine wheel designs promoting white "feminist" businesses. I can't seem to go to a feminist conference without the only Indian presenter being the woman who begins the conference with a ceremony. Participants feel so "spiritual" after this opening that they fail to notice the absence of Indian women in the rest of the conference or that nobody is discussing any pressing issues in Native American communities. And I certainly can't go to a feminist bookstore without seeing books by white women promoting Native spirituality. It seems that, while feminism is supposed to signify the empowerment of all women, it obviously does not include Indian women. If white feminists are going to act in solidarity with their Indian sisters, they are gong to have to take a stand against Indian spiritual abuse.

Feminist book and record stores selling these products, and feminist periodicals should stop advertising these products. Women who call themselves feminists should denounce exploitative practices where ever they see them.

Many white feminists have claimed that Indians are not respecting "freedom of speech" by demanding that whites stop promoting and selling books that exploit Indian spirituality. However, promotion of this material is destroying freedom of speech for Native Americans by ensuring that our voices will never be heard. Furthermore, feminists already make choices about what they will promote. I haven't seen many books by right-wing fundamentalist women sold in feminist bookstores, since feminists recognized that these books are oppressive to women. It is not a radical move to ask that white women extend their feminist concerns to include Indian women. The issue is not censorship; the issue is racism. Feminists must have a choice, will they respect Indian political and spiritual autonomy or will they promote materials that are fundamentally racist under the guise of "freedom of speech."

White feminists should know that as long as they take part in Indian spiritual abuse, either by being consumers of it or by refusing to take a stand on it, Indian women will consider white "feminists" to be nothing more than agents in the genocide of our people.

Our spirituality is not for sale!


  This story imagines a parallel universe in which Native Americans
have conquered and settled Europe. Part of the point is that Native
Americans would not  have done to Europeans what Europeans actually
did to Native Americans. The main point is (as Sherman Alexie says)
to  "turn it around," in order to expose cultural double standards.
Versions of  this piece were published in 1992 in  Akwesasne Notes,
News From Indian Country, Report on the Americas, and other period-
icals."Wanblee Johnson" is a fictitious character thought up by Zol-
tán Grossman.

A Letter to the Public from European Rights Activist Wanblee Johnson

It was 500 years ago that Callicoatl sailed across the ocean with three Aztec boats, and found a new continent, a new Eastern Hemisphere. The commemoration of this event is being marked with great fanfare and celebration. Every child has been taught the story: how Callicoatl convinced Montezuma II to support his journey, how the Aztec sailors nearly despaired on the journey, and how they "discovered" a strange white-skinned race in the "New World."

But that is only part of the story. It is important that in this, the 500th anniversary of Callicoat's voyage, the record be set straight.

For Callicoatl did not "discover" this continent, he invaded it. It was already inhabited by many nations of people, living our own cultures, and practicing our own religions, on our own land. Over the past five centuries, we, the Native peoples of Europe, have seen our natural resources and our spirituality stolen, and our relatives enslaved. That is hardly a history worth celebrating.

In the Pre-Callicoatlian era, great empires were ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Moors, and many other indigenous peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere. They contributed much to the world, as attested to by the great temples and pyramids they left behind. They had detailed knowledge of astronomy, law, agriculture, and religion. True, there were wars among these peoples, and persecution of those who did not follow the state religion. But they were no more oppressive than the empires of Montezuma II or the Inca Tupac Yupanki in the "Old World" 500 years ago. And, like in the Western Hemisphere, there were many peoples still living in harmony with the land, here in our hemisphere.

There were many other explorers who sailed to these shores, and even some who claimed to have arrived before Callicoatl - the Arawak, the Beothuk, and the Lenni-Lenape. But it was the Aztec flag of Anauak and the Inca flag of Tawantinsuyo that were first firmly planted on our soil. Soon after Callicoatl arrived, this land was named Omequauh after another Aztec-sponsored explorer. The Aztecs and Incas conquered and divided up South and Central Omequauh - the lands we call Africa, Iberia, and the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. Later, the Dakota and Ojibwe fought over and divided North Omequauh, my home continent, which we call "Europe."

Some great "European" leaders pulled together alliances of knights to resist the settlers, but our freedom fighters were never unified enough to prevail. Some of our Native peoples - among them the Irish, Corsicans, and Sardinians - were wiped out, their cultures lost to history.

You may know us as "Native Omequauhns", but we prefer to be called the "Original Europeans," or the "First Nations." We are not one people but many peoples, following different customs. We speak many tongues, which you may call "dialects," but we prefer to equate with your languages. We worship under different religions that were outlawed until recently, and are ridiculed to this day as mere superstition. The religion of my ancestors was known as "Christianity," and there are some of us who even today pray to a single god and his son.

Though we are commonly called "tribes," we have historically existed as nations, with our own borders, provinces, and capitals. The capital of my ancestors, London, was as great in its time as Cuzco or Tenochtitlan, until it was sacked by the invaders. My people, the York band of the English tribe, were once citizens of Yorkshire county (or province) in the English Nation (or "England"). Many of our peoples are not even called by their original names, but by derogatory names that others have given them. The Krauts, for instance, are more properly called the "Germans," or Deutsche in their own language. Similarly, the Frogs should be called the "French," or Français in their own tongue.

These terms are important if we are to reclaim our nationhood. But even more important is reclaiming our ancestral land rights, which have been steadily whittled away over the past 500 years. My English people, for instance, are scattered in over 50 small reservations throughout of island of Newfoundland (which we have always called "Britain"), and on the continental mainland where one-third of us were forcible relocated a century ago. Despite disease, removal, and loss of lands where we hunted and farmed, our traditional forms of local government have been carried on to this day.

Agreements we signed with the settlers guarantee that we still have access to natural resources on lands we used to own. Most of these agreements were broken, and many lands were stolen without any agreements whatsoever. Today, some descendants of the settlers don't understand why we continue to exercise these rights. Some of them even tell us to go back where we came from!

My people were forced into dependency after the warriors (who we called the "Long Arrows") slaughtered our sheep - our main livelihood. The children began to be sent to schools where they were forced to use Dakota names to replace their English names, and were beaten if they spoke English. Through the generations, many of our people became so assimilated that they began to look, dress, walk and talk like the settlers. But they still retained their identity, hidden from view.

It was only about 25 years ago that our peoples started to reclaim their European heritage. On my reservation, that meant young people starting to relearn the English language. We also began to communicate with Native peoples in South and Central Omequauh, some of whom actually form a majority in their countries. Though they speak different colonial languages (Nahuatl and Quechua), our concerns are similar.

Reclaiming our cultures means learning from our elders, and reading the great works of Chaucer and other ancient prophets. It means challenging stereotypes, such as the view that all of our people wear suits of armor, or live in thatched-roof huts. Above all, it means countering the despair on many of our reservations - the poverty, the consumption of beer and chicha, and the low self-esteem among Native youth.

This new pride has led to conflict with the governments occupying our lands. We have had to take on the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs (BCA), which has controlled our economies and prevented any independent Native voices from speaking out. We are attacked for being poor, and then criticized for methods we use to get out of poverty. We have also had to deal with collaborators among our own people, in some of the councils that the BCA established years ago to replace our traditional governments, and to sell off what is left of our land. Some of the Europeans on these councils are so obedient to authority that we call the "conches" - white on the outside, but red on the inside.

The rebirth of our European cultures has also stimulated interest on the part of mainstream non-European society. Nowadays, some children playing "Warriors and Knights" actually want to be the knights. While this trend is welcome, we also find non-Europeans romanticizing our cultures, and trying to usurp them in the same way they usurped our land. We loathe seeing non-Europeans dressing up like our own priests, and conducting the sacred catechism ceremony, for the benefit of their own curiosity. We don't appreciate seeing ethnic Dakota wearing powdered wigs, or putting on ballroom dances. And we roll our eyes whenever one of these 'wannabes' says that their great-grandmother was a Swedish princess.

There was a time when our land would be stolen and out people divided and relocated, with only a passive response. But no more. The European Wars are being rekindled, as more nations are defending the lands our ancestors are buried under. Many remember the armed confrontations at the Long Fjord Norwegian Reservation about two decades ago, or at the Lake Balaton Hungarian Reservation two years ago. If our sovereignty is not recognized, these skirmishes are likely to continue.

It should be clear to you, the non-European public, that despite 500 years of colonization, we still exist as peoples and nations. In the face of overwhelming odds - the near-extinction of our population, and the theft of our religions and lands - we have survived. When you talk about "celebrating" the arrival of Callicoatl, it sends a chill up our spines. Even Callicoatl's name, in the Nahuatl language, means "Serpent from the West." If you do not recognize that our people were here when he arrived in our land, you will never be able to recognize that we are here, in front of you, today.

This story available in:
German (Deutsche) ,
French (Francais)
Russian (Pусский)




Spiritual Commodification and Misappropriation
What Native People Want You To Understand

Compiled by Mariah Jones
Sonoma County Free Press Home Page, California

There is a disinformation campaign in progress in Sonoma County to undermine Native peoples' nationwide efforts to protect their ceremonial processes from abuse. The promulgators would have you believe that only a few "militant" Indians are concerned about this exploitation by those who have no real knowledge of the deep inner meaning inherent in these ceremonies. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Native people DO object to this phenomenon.

If you stand with Indian people, then you respect their moral right to decide under which circumstances their ceremonies will be "shared" with non-Indians. Please read the following statements by Native people. They are spiritual leaders, authors, attorneys, anthropologists, scholars, activists, educators and tribal leaders. Though they represent just a small percentage of those who have spoken out on this issue, the concepts presented will give you some idea of the perspective you are being asked to consider.

"What's at issue here is the same old question that Europeans have always posed with regard to American Indians, whether what's ours isn't somehow theirs. And, of course, they've always answered in the affirmative. Now, being spiritually bankrupt themselves, they want our spirituality as well. So, they make up rationalizations to explain why they're entitled to it."

Russell Means (Lakota) "The process is ultimately intended to supplant Indians, even in areas of their own customs and spirituality. In the end, non-Indians will have complete power to define what is and is not Indian, even for Indians. When this happens, the last vestiges of real Indian society and Indian rights will disappear. Non-Indians will then "own" our heritage and ideas as thoroughly as they now claim to own our land and resources."

Pam Colorado (Oneida) "...On the other hand, the stereotypical and grossly distortive work of Hyemeyohsts Storm, a man only marginally Indian, has earned him the wrath of the Northern Cheyenne people with whom he claimed affiliation."

Wendy Rose (Hopi) "Do the names Sun Bear, Wallace Black Elk, Oh Shinna Fast Wolf, Brook Medicine Eagle, Harley Reagan Swiftdeer, Buck Ghost Horse, or Mary Thunder mean anything to you? Well, they should, because these pseudo-medicine quacks are passing themselves off as Native American spiritual leaders. Native American spirituality has become a fad to many New Age non-Indians and their naivete is being exploited to the limit by plastic medicine people, much to the dismay of traditional elders. Practicing Native American spirituality out of the context of Native American culture diminishes the integrity of both.

Many of these people are actually Indians who are spreading false rituals for profit. The rest are white men and women who claim to be Indian. For the most part they have changed their names to Indian names to lend authenticity to their flock.

One way to tell if these people are legitimate is whether they go into the Native American communities they claim to be from and perform the same rituals."

l99l Turtle Island Project Newsletter Chairperson--Betty Cooper (Blackfeet) "There are some obvious tip-offs for people interested in Indian customs and ceremonies. One is simplistic vision quests. You can wait a whole lifetime for a vision--these guys have visions about every week."

Avis Little Eagle (Lakota) "They want to become Indian without holding themselves accountable to Indian communities. If they did, they would have to listen to Indians telling them to stop carrying around sacred pipes...and to stop appropriating our spiritual practices. Rather, these New Agers see Indians as romanticized gurus who exist only to meet their consumerist needs...They trivialize Native American practices so that these practices lose their spiritual force....Their perceived need for warm and fuzzy mysticism takes precedence over our need to survive."

Andy Smith (Cherokee) "The realities of Indian belief and existence have become so misunderstood and distorted at this point that when a real Indian stands up and speaks the truth at any given moment, he or she is not only unlikely to be believed, but will probably be publicly contradicted and "corrected" by the citation of some non-Indian and totally inaccurate "expert".

Vine Deloria, Jr. (Lakota) "These people have nothing to say on the matters they claim to be so expert about. To whites, they claim they're "messengers", but from whom? They are not the messengers of

Thomas Banyacya (Hopi) "We cannot prevent people from throwing their money away on so-called "Indian Ceremonies", but we can challenge those who misuse our sacred pipes, sweatlodges and ceremonies."

The Traditional Circle of Elders "Non-Indians have become so used to all this hype on the part of impostors and liars that when a real Indian spiritual leader tries to offer them useful advice, he is rejected. He isn't "Indian" enough for all these non-Indian experts on Indian religion.

Now, this is not only degrading to Indian people, it's downright delusional behavior...We've got real problems today, tremendous problems which threaten the survival of the planet. Indians and non-Indians must confront these problems together,...but this dialogue is impossible so long as non-Indians remain deluded about things as basic as Indian spirituality."

Chief Oren Lyons (Onondaga) "What about the quest for Native spirituality? It is mostly ESCAPIST, and people like Lynn Andrews, and other would-be shamans would rather look to an ideal, romanticized "Native" living in never-never land than confront the reality of what being Native means in this society.

Our elders and traditional teachers want to share the beauty of Native cultures, the Native way. But appropriation is not sharing. Appropriation exploits and commercializes Native cultures, and is harmful to innocent people."

Lenore Keeshig-Tobias (Ojibwe) "Not Just Entertainment" Whole Earth Review '91 "Each tribe has their own unique ways which only they can fully understand...each tribe has their own sacred ceremonies, songs, dances and prayers which form their own tribal religious ways. These come from each tribe's history, science, environment and all the things which make up our different cultures. I am Ponca because of over l0,000 years of intermingling the lives, blood and history of my tribe upon Ponca land. Every movement and action is blessed with a meaning handed down by generations of ancestors and held within our tribal memory.

I say these things because I want to warn people about some bad things happening to traditional ways. All across Indian country, in every city and state, white people are commercializing Lakota ceremonies. Our ways cannot be bought and sold like bibles. No knowledge, no science, no language, no culture is involved in their pitiful mockery of traditional ways.

They actually believe that by singing or drumming the right song, they are doing something Indian. Medicine equals magic to them. Their ignorance is an insult to even the very simplest of our ceremonies, but their white arrogance leads them to believe they can learn in a week what an Indian learns in many lifetimes.

It is time we who value old ways begin to explain to our non-Indian guests that our basic philosophy of respect for the circle of life is open to the understanding of all races. But if our tribal ceremonies are to survive with meaning and dignity for our children, we must explain to the wasoci that it is not necessary for them to pretend to be Indian to understand the nature of the circle. How can Lakota children find the same respect for tribal ways our grandfathers handed down to us if hundreds of these pitiful ones are out waving Pipes, pouring water, singing songs learned from cassettes and whipping a drum?

Carter Camp (Ponca) Lakota Times "...Those of the New Age have proven themselves willing to disregard the right of American Indians to a modicum of cultural sanctity or psychological sanctity. They too, willfully and consistently disregard the protests and objections of their victims, speaking only of their own "right to know" and to victimize. They too, have persistently shown themselves willing to lie, distort, fabricate, cheat and steal in order to accomplish their agenda. Why? The answers are as simple as the fact that they are here and that they fully plan to stay. While the New Age can hardly be accused rationally of performing the conquest of the Americas, and its adherents go to great lengths in expressing their dismay at their methods used therein, they have clearly inherited what their ancestors gained by conquest, both in terms of resources and in terms of relative power.

The New Agers, for all their protestations to the contrary, aren't about to give up any power. It is a somewhat tricky psychological project to be able to "feel good about themselves" through "legitimizing" the maintenance of their own colonial privilege.

The invaders' "contributions", however invented they may be, inevitably "entitle" them to superior status; there may have been a problem once, but it's in the past so forget it; we're all in this together now, so let's move forward (with me in the lead); I'm OK, you"re OK (so long as you stay in your place and don't upset me with questions of, or challenges to my privilege)"

M. Annette Jaimes (Juaneno/Yaqui) "I'm just tired of people going around representing themselves as healers and medicine people. We hear of it all the time, and no one is bothering to check their credibility or credentials."


Top 10 Things You Can Say
To A White Person Upon First Meeting:

10. How much white are you?

9. I'm part white myself, you know.

8. I learned all your people's ways in the Boy Scouts (Order of the Bullet).

7. My great-great-grandmother was a full-blooded white-American princess.

6. Funny, you don't look white.

5. Where's your powdered wig and knickers?

4. Do you live in a covered wagon?

3. What's the meaning behind the square dance?

2. What's your feeling about river-boat casinos? Do they really help your people, or are they just a short-term fix?

1. Oh wow, I really love your hair! Can I touch it?

Andr´┐Ż Cramblit, Operations Director-Northern California Indian Development Council


Watch your language!

by Suzan Shown Harjo

An "Indian" lexicon lies within the English language, coloring attitudes and actions toward Native Peoples. Most English-speakers do not even notice it exists, let alone that it degrades the Native subjects and the spoken and written word.

This sub rosa language uses the past tense almost exclusively, suggesting that Native Peoples do not live in the present or have a future. Commonly, American Indians once were and used to be, but rarely are or will be.

Curiously, with such an emphasis on the past, Native American history is scarcely recognized. In its place are legends, stories, myths or tales, and pre-history, meaning time before the 1492 Invasion. Which brings us to discover, as in, Europeans discovered India - that is, the Western Hemisphere - and (ahem) Indians.

In the language of discovery, they found and claimed our countries in the name of Manifest Destiny and the divine right of kings. Now, non-Natives are landowners, while American Indians are mere inhabitants who occupied this territory.

But, read on through the "Indian" dictionary and, if you need a guide, just ask the nearest scout.

American Indians eat maize, rather than corn, and game, not meat or fish. American Indians have ponies, rather than horses, and bison, instead of buffalo. And American Indian runners and ponies are swift - not fast, not speedy, only swift.

That's not Native American music or singing you hear - it's American Indian chanting and drumming. And Native American writing and art? Nope, only symbols or markings. American Indians have pow wows, not business meetings. Only American Indians seem to have plights.

Let others wear clothes, fashion and finery. American Indians are decked out in garb. Full Clevelands, Santa Fe style outfits, dashikis and saris all have their distinct identities on folks who are dressed, attired and adorned. Not us. We're garbed, in feathers, war paint, beads, braids, regalia, costumes and, well, you know - "Indian" garb.

It is important for Native Peoples to be familiar with this "Indian" lexicon, not only to try to change outside references and related behavior, but to avoid using the isolating and charged terminology ourselves and to communicate Native American messages in no uncertain terms.

American Indian children, when imprisoned in church and state schools, were force-fed an English that marginalized and belittled both relatives and cultures as savage and uncivilized. The kids were rewarded for using words that demeaned or distanced them from their past. They were punished for speaking their own languages or for expressing favorable thoughts about their homes and families.

After a century of generational indoctrination, many Native American adults today have internalized both the self-denigrating terminology and the attitudes, and often are the harshest critics of Native American languages and traditions.

Ordinarily, language is a tool of art and communication. In an abusive society, language is a control mechanism, too, and words are weapons used to signal status information, such as who are the inferior and superior folks.

Bullies communicate their status by size, stance, volume, numbers. Verbal bullies do so through put-downs, technical jargon, threats and lies.

The bully strips away self-identifiers - starting with group and individual names - and replaces them with terms of diminution or derision. Traditional names and pejoratives are then co-opted for the bully's playthings and places.

Over the past 150 years, for example, the historic white man all but eliminated Dakota, Lakota and Nakota as recognized titles of languages and nations, converting them to names of locations, vehicles, teams and products. These national names were reshaped into one distorted identity, Sioux, a word in the Anishnabe language for snake or enemy.

Name-calling and cultural thievery are most noticeable in sports these days. When objections are raised, the practices are recast as the innocent sounding nicknaming. A reasonable person can understand why another would object to leveling epithets or stealing identities, but it sounds petty to struggle against a little ol' nickname. In this way, the issue and the person raising it are held up to ridicule, mostly in news stories about objections to ridiculing.

While nouns pose the worst problem - redskins and squaws most prominently - the verbs are troubling, as well. Sports writers never write that cowboys or Vikings scalp anyone, despite ample historical evidence to the contrary. No, in sports headlines, scalping is done by chiefs, Indians and braves.

Don't look in literature or educational materials for American Indians who walk, jump or skip. "Indians" roam. Antelope and elk roam, but "Indians" are the only people who do. The United States even officially outlawed "Indian" roaming, for 56 years in the 1800s and 1900s, regulating that "all nomadic Indians ... will not be allowed to roam away from their reservations without any specific object in view."

A term from that era is used today for those who fail to tow the political or military line - that they are "off the reservation" - but the non-Native Americans are said to have strayed, not roamed.

The "Indian" lexicon reveals its most pronounced bias in religious terminology. Native Peoples seldom are characterized as praying or having religions at all. "Indians" have dances and rites and rituals and worship their gods - always little "g" and plural.

For the great record in the sky, Native Peoples have God, Creator, Great Spirit, Great Mystery, All Being. We just know how to say it more than one way.

Native Peoples have sacred places, which non-Native Americans call ruins.

"Indian" spiritual beliefs are called pagan and heathen practices. Complex and intricate Native American cosmologies are called primitive.

Sometimes it is necessary to legislate changes in offensive terminology. During negotiations for the 1989 and 1990 federal repatriation laws, scientists referred to deceased Native American people as specimens, resources, bones and skeletons. None of their terms was what anyone would call scientific, and the last two left out hair and other human remains.

Some scientists did not want to use the term human remains because of the implication for Native American human rights. Several disassociated themselves by name from any human or legal rights recognitions in a 1990 national repatriation report to Congress.

They insisted, but did not prevail on other "scientific" terms that some lazy museologists still use today: the crass commercial term grave goods, for instance, rather than funerary items, which encompasses the whole of the funeral process and not just material that is buried. They also objected mightily to the use of sacred to describe objects Congress meant to return to Native Peoples.

Oftentimes, misleading and demeaning words are widely used in the "Indian" lexicon, even when preferable words already have standing in law. One such term is member, in place of citizen. Member reduces national sovereignty to a seat in a club and leads some non-Native Americans to believe they can purchase Native American political citizenship status with membership dues.

While we're at it, a final word on sovereignties. Many Native Peoples and others use tribe solely or use nation and tribe interchangeably, but they are quite different. Nation arises from the lexicon of sovereignty. Tribe is perceived as less substantial - a step up from gaggle - a bunch of folks roaming around together or hunkering down in the same place.

Now that reality television has totally ruined the term, let's just have done with it and say that the tribe, er, the nation has spoken.

Editor's note: Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.