Here in Boulder, Native people used to hold inipi ceremonies on Valmont Butte. Then one night, a sweat lodge was broken up by law enforcement officials, who got a complaint about the fire and didn’t know that Indian people have used the Butte, which they consider sacred, since before white folks came to this valley. Try to imagine being forced out of your church or synagogue in the middle of prayer. It was a desecration.
Once apologies were issued and it was established that Indians can, indeed, use Valmont Butte for sweat lodge ceremonies, additional hassles arose. The spiritual leader who ran the lodges was told he would have to get a permit for the fire before planning a ceremony. As a result, Valmont Butte has fallen silent, and songs are now sung elsewhere.[ If people had the proper respect for Native culture, the three people who died in Sedona would still be alive. ]
Who wants to get a permit to be able to pray?
Many Indian spiritual leaders worry that local and state governments will use the Sedona debacle as an excuse to regulate Native inipi ceremonies. Fire permits.
Building permits. Maximum occupancy regulations. Licensing. The potential list goes on.
If people had the proper respect for Native culture, the three people who died in Sedona would still be alive. And yet Ray and those like him — men and women who pirate Native culture — probably don’t think of themselves as being disrespectful. Something about the Native way of life calls to them, and they respond, seeking connection. But too often they respond in an egoistic way, demanding rather than humbly asking and bypassing tradition in favor of shortcuts to personal fulfillment.
A dear friend of mine — a Native spiritual leader — has had strangers show up at his door, checkbooks in hand, wanting to know how they can arrange an Indian naming ceremony so that they can finally get the Indian name they picked out for themselves (inevitably something with “Wolf ” or “Eagle” in it). He’s had men and women come to him uninvited, holding pipes they bought in tourist shops, wanting to be made “pipe carriers.” He’s had people he doesn’t know ask him how much he charges to run a vision quest ceremony.
If it weren’t so pathetic and insulting, it might be funny.
For so long, the message from the Native world has been, “If you respect us and want to know more about our way of life, approach us and ask in a humble way.”
How sad it will be if James Arthur Ray’s selfish actions, which have already sown tragedy enough, bring trouble to the elders who have safeguarded these ceremonies for centuries.