Manataka American Indian Council











By Lee Standing Bear Moore and Takatoka

Susan Bates recently reported in the American Indian Journal a story about a self-proclaimed Northern Cheyenne "Shaman", Nathan Cagle, a.k.a. "Windwalker," who was arrested and convicted in Yolo County California Superior Court on eight felony counts, including grand theft, theft by false pretenses, extortion, stalking, and embezzlement.

According to the Bates report, "Cagle conducted $300 sweat lodge ceremonies and $600 'vision quests' for New Agers and Wannabees who were only too glad to spend the money for an "authentic" Native American Sacred Ceremony.  He also offered traditional Native experiences to Girl Scouts and advertised rites of passage programs and pipe ceremonies."

Bates says, "Cool Indian Stuff" became popular as pseudo-Indian groups sprang up in the late 1970's talking about the environment and practicing altered versions of American Indian ceremonies. 

"...These ceremonies are sacred, given to us by Creator…it is important not to bastardize these traditions so that their true meaning can be passed down to generations yet to be born. Anyone can lead a sweat, but only a trained Cherokee can do a Cherokee ceremony and only a trained Cheyenne can lead a Cheyenne ceremony…," said Bates.

We share this view with Bates and the American Indian Journal, however, the problem as we see it, is not only the outsiders who are using our ceremonies improperly, but the bigger problem is our own people who are using sacred rites to enrich themselves.  They have gone the way of the materialistic Yonega man.  The problem is not just outsiders anymore, it's us.

News reports are coming in from all over the country about American Indians who are offering sacred ceremonies for money. 

Good Lessons
For example, some time ago several Arkansas members of Manataka were promised an 'authentic' Sun Dance ceremony by a man calling himself Lyman W----- B----, a so-called self-appointed Cheyenne "shaman" in exchange for several thousand dollars in cash and demands that 'gifts' be laid at his feet.  This one actually looked and talked the part, but luckily vigilance broke up the scam and the perpetrator weaseled back to Oklahoma before he could complete the scam.   (We learned this self-appointed Cheyenne holy man, has found other willing participants in Arkansas while his own people in Oklahoma reject him.)

More recently, Izzy Z-------, a Dakota man with good training and an honorable family nearly fooled our members with a promise to provide secrets of the Warrior Society in the sweat lodge.  Because of the good name of his family, the lodge and other arrangements were prepared and he was sent $150 travel money.   That is when he made the mistake of twice emailing a demand of $300 per participant, saying, "...the $300 is nothing compared to what I am bringing..."   We had it in writing - twice.  That is when we notified his family and asked him to go someplace else.   The family promptly declared his actions shameful and acted to bring an end to Izzy's years of running a sham game on the unsuspecting.  Of course their efforts failed - Izzy cares more for money than his good family.

Manataka is continually blessed with the many true spiritual leaders who visit these sacred grounds.  When these beautiful people come, they do not ask for money, but we are obliged and happy to provide lodging, meals, travel money and gifts.   

We are fortunate not to have a continual parade of money mongers and fakes rapping at our lodge, however, we have seen enough of both over the years to know the difference.

Is knowing the difference easy?  No. The real and fake look alike and sometimes speak alike.  Both have interesting stories to tell and both can mesmerize and entertain you. Both need finances and both are knowledgeable of ceremonies and history. With so many similarities, how is it possible to know the difference?       

We are thankful there is more than just a fine line that separates the real from the fake.  If given enough time, the differences become so evident, they glare in stark contrast like a full moon against a black sky.  If you know the differences, the Faker does not stand a chance.

The Differences
American Indians do not use the word "shaman" to describe one of their spiritual leaders.  The word shaman refers to an Russian - Siberian spiritual leader, not American Indian.   A spiritual leader or medicine man or woman is a person who heals the body using plants, minerals, and the forces of nature and the Creator and serves as a guide to the River of Meaning.   

According to Al Swilling, founder of Southeast Native American Association (SENAA) International, "...The medicine person is both physician and spiritual leader, not simply a spiritual leader. Any medicine person worth his or her salt, and virtually every Indigenous American who has grown up in his or her culture, knows that spiritual and physical health work hand-in-hand, not separately.  Virtually every spiritual path on Mother Earth teaches this fundamental truth. In cases where there is a chronic or incurable physical disability or disease, the Didanvwisgi's [medicine man/woman] duty is to nurture the inflicted person's spiritual well-being and see to it that the person is as physically healthy and comfortable as possible under the circumstances..." 

A spiritual elder is trained in the ancient ways of the people and his or her words and actions are carefully guarded.   A spiritual person is not self-appointed, but is given this distinction by close observation of their actions over a long period of time.  The Great Mystery anoints the person with the Spirit.  And, it is Spirit who instructs and directs the person in his or her walk on the Good Red Road.  This Road or path in life is not easy.  It is filled with personal sacrifice and self-denial of creature comforts.  Problems come in waves and there is much danger from worldly temptation.  The Good Red Road is not really red.  It is the many colors of all races and religions.  It is the spiritual path.

Our ceremonies, dances, songs and symbols are sacred.  They must be protected from theft, exploitation and desecration.  We should encourage all people to seek their own ways of spiritual expression, the ways of their ancestors.

Fakers Control

A Faker has three primary objectives when establishing a relationship with an individual or a group. 

First, the Faker wants to control the situation by convincing the prey of his/her legitimacy. The Faker will go to great lengths to impress you with their background, knowledge, and "Indian-ness".  The Fake will often use unsuspecting common acquaintances and drop names of well-known and respected people to further their quest for legitimacy.

A Faker will quickly determine your personal needs and capitalize on this by dangling an emotional or spiritual carrot that will somehow satisfy that need.  By controlling the carrot, the Faker controls you.  The Fake is a master of emotions and uses this tool to open your pocket book through your heart.

The process of usurping your trust does not happen overnight. The experienced Fake is patient and allows time to soften your defenses.  Often, the Faker works on several individuals and groups unknown to each other so comparing notes is more difficult.   

Second, the Faker wants you to feed their ego and sense of grandeur.   Fakes like to give themselves respected titles (impossible to verify) and assume positions within small groups to feed insecurities.  They probably want this more than money.  But, money is still the primary goal if only as icing on the cake.

Third, the Faker may start by asking for small gifts or favors, then as you appear to be getting closer to the carrot, the ante goes up and larger gifts and more money are required.  Often, the Faker will create elaborate fundraising schemes, ostensibly for the 'needy', from which he will rake his profit.   

Some American Indian Fakes are not so sly or patient.  Reminiscent of the flim-flam con men, they promote sweat lodge ceremonies, sun dances, pipe ceremonies, rites of passage and other sacred ceremonies for a price, ranging anywhere from $100 to $1,000.  They are here today and gone tomorrow.

A real spiritual elder does not take - but gives.  Love for all  God's creation is quietly evident.  A medicine man places others first and seeks to bring peace and harmony to all things.  Dealing with the heartaches of others comes naturally and easily without judgment or pity.  Payment for their services in money or gifts is not important to them.  Payment was already rendered by the Spirit long before the person in need sought help.     

The Path

On the path to becoming a spiritual elder, a spiritual leader studies for years under supervision by the elders of his people. Learning does not come from books, but is 'experiential', knowing is by doing.  When the road becomes difficult and the burdens are heavy, the spiritual leader strives for more understanding.  Finally, when the Creator has honed and polished the heart, mind and spirit, a beautiful, light filled awakening takes place.  By this anointing by the Spirit of the Creator, the "True One", as this author calls those who have been given blessings of wisdom, strength, faith and knowledge to be used in service to those in need.       

What else can be said to help you know the difference between a Faker and True One?   Ask the Great Mystery.  Pray for discernment, understanding and vision.  Trust your gut instincts. 

Finally, as Susan Bates says, "...Remember, our religion is not for sale... Beware of IRAB (I Read A Book) Medicine Men who charge money [and] make you suffer while they laugh all the way to the bank…"


And, Lee Standing Bear Moore says, "...Do not pay for sacred ceremonies.  If people stop paying the motivation to desecrate will be removed..."

Our thanks to:

Susan Bates and Lee Standing Bear Moore