Manataka American Indian Council




Editorial Comment

by Takatoka and Friends




Sweat Lodge Deaths Attributed

to Greed and Ignorance



What Happened

You may have already heard about the tragic October 8 deaths of three people at a so-called "sweat lodge" at the Angle Valley Spiritual Retreat Center near Sedona, Arizona operated by the self-improvement guru James Arthur Ray. 


According to news reports, about 60 people were crowded into a makeshift 415-square-foot sweat lodge, as part of a "Spiritual Warrior" retreat. Participants paid $9,695 each for a series of exercises, seminars and American Indian ceremonies.   Ray has been selling American Indian ceremonies for at least seven years, according to the owner of Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat who annually rent their property to him, “tee pees” included.


Another similar incident occurred in mid-October 2005 when several people became violently ill during one of Ray's retreats.  People suffered from burns and others were found lying on the ground unconscious and two others suffered cardiac arrest.  The owner the retreat and participants in the October tragedy said they were not aware of the 2005 incident and James Ray is not talking -- some brave warrior he is.  


The local law enforcement agency probing the deaths of three people, says it is now treating the case as a homicide investigation.   Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said his office is focusing the inquiry on James Arthur Ray and anyone else involved in organizing the ceremony.   Ray immediately fled the scene and left the state and is refusing to speak with detectives  -- that really says a lot about his character.


Kirby Anne Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., James Scott Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, and Minnesota resident Lizabeth Neuman, 49, died and at least twenty people were treated for illness and injury at the hands of a greedy, ego-maniac who misappropriated American Indian ceremonies.  Funerals are being arranged while Ray continues ranking in money on his speaking circuit. 


American Indians are Appalled by Commercialization of Spiritual Ceremonies

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, said in a lengthy statement, "As Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, I am concerned for the [three] deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. My prayers go out for their families and loved ones for their loss... What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life!..." 


Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, publisher of Native Sun News and founder of the Native American Journalists Association, said "The outrage about the sweat lodge deaths reverberates around the country as everyone seeks an answer to questions they don’t even know how to pose.  I am not going to dance around the consequences of Arthur Ray’s stupidity because he was blatantly using a religious ceremony of the Native Americans to enrich himself and what is worse, he didn’t know any of the sacred rites that accompany the inipi nor did he know the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota language, an intricate part of the ceremony..."


"If you ask just about any Native American out there, they will be appalled by this," said Freddie Johnson, language and culture specialist at the Phoenix Indian Center. "It's disturbing to hear that there were three deaths from this so-called sweat lodge."


Rick Black Elk, head of the eastern Texas chapter of the American Indian Movement said, "The incident near Sedona unfairly calls legitimate sweat-lodge ceremonies into question."


Vernon Foster, an Arizona representative of the American Indian Movement is upset that James Ray and his staff apparently did not know how to conduct a sweat-lodge ceremony and placed the lives of sixty people in jeopardy through their ignorance and disrespect.


Valerie Taliman, a reporter for Indian Country Today, quotes Alvin Manitopyes, a healer from the Cree, Anishnawbe and Assiniboine nations, who said in 1993, “Our elders conduct sweat lodge ceremonies out of love for their people to help them in their healing and spiritual growth. When someone attaches a price tag to the ceremony, then the sacredness is gone and it comes down to them playing around with our sacred ceremonies.”


Other comments from American Indian leaders and spiritual elders across the country are pouring in to Manataka about the horrible tragedy in Sedona.  Most are deeply saddened by the deaths, illness and injury.  Some are angry and a few are demanding violent reprisals.   All are concerned that sacred traditions like the pipe ceremony, vision quests, purification lodge ceremonies, and the sundance are being altered by fast-buck impersonators.


Similar Groups Run For Cover

There are dozens of companies and hundreds of individuals who are making great sums of money selling American Indian spirituality.  While it is not possible to know the total dollar amount, Marketdata, Inc.,a market research firm, says Americans spent $11.3 billion last year on self-help products and services.  The industry has grown by by 5.5% annually over the past few years.  James Ray International enjoyed $10 million in revenue and 547.4% growth over the past three years, Inc. magazine reports.  While the number of individuals, groups and companies and the amount of money they rake in each year selling American Indian ceremonies is impossible to know, it can be assumed the practice is lucrative enough to attract an ever growing number of people who are willing to sacrifice honor and respect in exchange for money.    


The Institute For Cultural Awareness located near Sedona and headed up by Adam "Yellowbird" DeArmon charges large sums of money to unsuspecting seekers of spiritual enlightenment to participate in so-called American Indian ceremonies.  In April 2009, the Hopi Nation barred the IFCA from holding its "Return of the Ancestors" gathering on "any portion of Hopi land" and directed its law enforcement officials to enforce the ban.  DeArmon and the IFCA has come under scrutiny by American Indian tribes and organizations.


Shortly after the October 8 deaths, Jim Beard, a spokesman for Adam "Yellowbird" DeArmon and the Institute For Cultural Awareness said in an email directed to "like-minded" people, "We need to come to a consensus on broad protocols of conducting Sweat Lodges, including any energy exchange that may be taking place."  


There is nothing to be gained by "like-minded" people who meet to agree on "broad protocols of conducting Sweat Lodges".   It has taken our grandfathers and grandmothers thousands of years to learn the right ways to conduct Purification Lodge ceremonies.  The protocols of the lodge are not "broad" -- they are very narrow for specific reasons.  Who are these people who think they can sit down and write up a list of rules about our ceremonies to suit themselves?  Who are they trying to fool but each other?  The protocols of the Purification Lodge vary slightly from tribe to tribe, but the basic philosophy and respect displayed during ceremonies is constant.  Any time money is present, the entire ceremony is tainted.


A close associate of DeArmon is James "Tyberonn" Tipton, of Conroe, Texas who operates regularly hosts gatherings featuring American Indian spirituality -- for a big price.  A few years ago, DeArmon allegedly taught Tipton how to conduct American Indian ceremonies in exchange for several thousand dollars. DeArmon and Tipton are not American Indians.  


Tipton, who says he "channels" an Archangel he calls "Metatron", rakes in large sums of money for "healing" sessions featuring American Indian ceremonies.  In September 2009, the Arkansas Attorney General's office was asked by local law enforcement authorities to investigate the "09-09-09" gathering at the Mount Magazine State Park in Arkansas hosted by Tipton.  The event featured a number of so-called "healers", including one Hopi Indian, Ruben Saufkie, that Tipton alleged was a "Hopi Elder" and "Hopi Eagle Dancer".   In letters to local groups and officials, the Hopi Nation and seven Hopi spiritual elders said that Mr. Saufkie " not who he says he is..." and said he was never trained by spiritual elders and Saufkie was not authorized or recognized as an Eagle Dancer by the tribe.  It is estimated that Tipton put more than $155,000 in his pocket that day.


Like James Ray, some hucksters have gotten lawyered-up in recent years and believe they are better protected from law suits by forcing participants to sign a release of liability forms.  No traditional American Indian does that sort of thing -- only coyotes do that. 


Like James Arthur Ray, elders have attempted to dissuade DeArmon and Tipton too.  Will they listen?  Or, will they experience a tragedy?


Read Sacred Ceremonies for a Price? 


DeArmon and his associates may wish to distance themselves from their friend and neighbor James Arthur Ray, but they will not succeed hiding their deliberate actions that demean and desecrate American Indian sacred ceremonies by charging money.  Other organizers and promoters of events, large or small that appropriate American Indian ceremonies to enrich themselves will not escape the wrath of the Creator.  Blasphemy of anything sacred is wrong and has grave consequences for those who not heed this warning.  They will not escape the wrath of people who demand swift action by state and federal authorities.


What Did Ray Do Wrong?

James Arthur Ray may seem like a very intelligent, intuitive person with great knowledge and experience.  But, James Arthur Ray is ignorant because he refused to listen when American Indian elders came to him several times in recent years asking him to stop conducting sweat lodges because he was hurting people.  Several times they came and every time Ray refused to listen.


The 415 square foot tent-like structure Ray used was far too big for a sweat lodge ceremony.  A typical lodge is small, capable of holding no more than 15 to 20 people - most accommodate 10 to 12 people or less.  The fewer number of participants is important because the lodge leader must be completely aware of the physical and mental condition of all participants to help insure their safety and well-being.  It was impossible for Ray to know these things with a group of sixty people -- especially when the only person he recognized was his over-inflated ego.  He used a larger lodge to fit in more paying suckers. 


The types of herbal medicines used to sprinkle lightly on the red-hot stones comes from specific knowledge gained after hundreds of years of use by trained elders.  It is alleged Ray used all sorts of weird, non-traditional concoctions that were liberally poured on the hot stones creating a thick cloud of smoke in the crowded confines of his make-shift structure.  It is no wonder people where found laying on the ground unconscious. 


The traditional sweat lodge is supposed to be round and emulate Mother Earth. Ray's lodge looked like a small oblong stadium.   Failure to respect tradition is not wise.


The amount of time spent inside the sweat lodge is usually between 15 - 20 minutes per "round" with a break between each of the four rounds.  Ray's marathon two to three hour sweats without a break was designed to prove his "macho" he-man image and completely disregarded the well-being of participants. 


The entrance to a traditional lodge is round and small and requires one to crawl inside. Kissing the earth, offering thanks and asking permission to enter is a reminder to participants to be humble.  The entrance to Ray's lodge was square and was large enough for people to simply stoop down. 


A traditional lodge uses only natural materials that allows it to breathe with the wind and emulate the Mother Earth.  Ray used plastic covers and other man-made materials that may have contributed to the toxic fumes that made some participants delirious and rendered many unconscious.


Ceremonies performed inside a traditional Purification Lodge do not originate in the Orient, East India, Europe, Africa or the Middle East.  They are completely from Turtle Island -- this continent.   Is it appropriate to sit inside a Catholic church singing a Tibetan chant?  Is right for a Baptist preacher to conduct a Hindu wedding?   The Purification Lodge is American Indian.  It does not belong to those who wish to make something else.  Stealing our ceremonies to make it appear that the hosts are some how endowed with some special spiritual knowledge is fraud.


The intent of the Purification lodge is to provide healing and enhance spiritual growth, restore balance and harmony within, and make a reverent connection between the Great Mystery and its participants. We call it a "Purification Lodge", not a sweat lodge, because its purpose is not to sweat as in a sauna, but instead its aim is to purify the body, mind, and soul.   The intent of promoters of pseudo -sweat lodges is to enrich themselves.


A few participants who attended the death sweat in Sedona who defend the actions of Ray on October 8.   They cannot bring themselves to admit their own culpability in the crimes committed on that day.  They remain mesmerized by Ray's powerful charisma and New Age mumbo-jumbo that got them involved in the tragic situation.  


There are many other things about Ray's farce of a sweat lodge that are wrong.  The only way to make them right is for all these money mongers to stop offering American Indian ceremonies for a price.


What Can Be Done Stop These Idiots?


1.    If someone asks you for money for the privilege of attending American Indian ceremonies, refuse and walk away.  Traditional people do not charge for ceremonies.  Period.


2.    If someone invites you at attend a "seminar" where American Indian ceremonies will be performed and an admission price is charged, refuse and walk away.


3.    If you hear about anyone who is performing ceremonies for a price, contact local law enforcement officials and ask for an investigation.  Authorities take a dim view of frauds who offer religious ceremonies or healing for a price.


4.    If you have personal knowledge or experience of a person who is selling American Indian ceremonies, write a letter the editor of your local newspaper and national news agencies; send copies to prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and political office holders.  Name names, give dates, places and a short narrative. 


5.    These people are human predators who prey on those in need of spiritual help.  They are no better than child molesters or those who rob the elderly.   They sometimes appear to be American Indian and sometimes they are New Age mumbo-jumbo crazies, or well-polished and wealthy self-help frauds like Ray.  Regardless, exposure is the key -- they hate the light of day.


6.    Educate yourself and others about what constitutes traditional American Indian ceremonies. 


7.    Investigate the credentials of anyone offering American Indian ceremonies.  If they say, "Thomas Long Wolf" or "Grandpa Jones" or whoever trained them, get specifics, phone numbers, addresses, dates, names of other participants and witnesses.  Do not feel shy about asking.  It is your spiritual health and integrity that is at stake.   Ask reputable, recognized elders or people who walk the Good Red Road on a consistent basis.  


8.    Most of all, follow your own gut feelings.  If the answers are nebulous or sketchy, walk away quickly.  Practice using good discretion.


9.    If you do participate in a Purification Lodge ceremony, or any other American Indian rites, and you start to feel uneasy or ill, ask to be excused immediately.  Responsible lodge leaders are trained to keep a close watch on all participants and will often ask each person several times during the course of the ceremony about their well-being.   A Purification Lodge is not a marathon intended to test ones physical, emotional or spiritual endurance.


10.  People who attend and observe American Indian ceremonies, including non-Native and Natives, who think they can do the ceremonies themselves without proper training and without a true spiritual calling from the Spirit world and the Creator, are toying with the sacred ways and they will pay the price --- a whole lot more than they ever received from the pockets of the public.




The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Manataka American Indian Council.  The views expressed in articles clearly marked Editorial Comment, Letters to the Editor, and Feature, published on the Manataka website are those of the authors alone and do not represent the opinions or views of the Manataka American Indian Council.   All content presented on this website represent the expressed views and opinions of the editors, authors and contributors, and does not reflect the views of the sponsors and advertisers of the website.




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