I am trying to build a section in pages on Indigenous Issues- this is the first entry for the plastic shaman issue. I’ve got a load of stuff for the IdleNoMore section but I’ve been unable to get any of it to post. Apologies for the lack of structure as yet, I’ve been having a lot of problems getting wordpress to load or post anything, other than reblogs.
Selling American Indian Spirituality
is Big Business!
From Takatoka and Friends
Over the years, the Smoke Signal News published a number of stories about the foul way some people sell American Indian spiritual ways and ceremonies. Usually, those stories focused on individual incidents where a plastic shaman or two were caught and ran off with a few hundred bucks. On a rare occasion, the individual was arrested for fraud.
In the past three months, we reported on subjects that point to what seems to be an avalanche of desecration of American Indian ceremonies.
Sacred Ceremonies for a Price?
Sweat Lodge Deaths – Greed and Ignorance
The frequency of incidents and audacity of perpetrators is snowballing out of control. What was once random occurrences committed by individuals acting alone appears to have grown beyond belief and threatens American Indian spirituality at its core.
Today, organized teams of greedy culture thieves, large corporations and cartels of self-appointed “healers”, self-help gurus, and New Age mumbo-jumbo artists, have formed fraud syndicates that are cashing in on public ignorance and the growing need for spiritual guidance.
Several decades ago, after the veil of secrecy was lifted with the publication of books by Black Elk, Frank Fools Crow and other prominent spiritual elders, American Indian ceremony became popular among the masses of dominant culture. As an open and free culture, American Indian people willingly accepted outsiders who sat in sacred circles and began to learn the ancient ways. This was done in hopes non-Indians would begin the slow and deep soul-searching process of learning the sacred rites and ceremonies in an honorable and respectful way and as a result, the world would be better for all.
For a time, all this was good and many people found the Good Red Road fulfilled their spiritual needs. But, at the same time, pseudo-Indian groups and fake shamans (both non-Indian and Indian) took advantage of these gifts without seriously walking-the-talk. The good and wise elders of that time felt that the sacred circle should be open to anyone who came in a respectful way seeking spiritual enlightenment. But, once the horse was out of the barn, so to speak, there was no stopping greedy, self-appointed purveyors of fraud. Today, spiritual elders, such as Arvol Looking Horse, are attempting to close the barn door by restricting participation in ceremonies, but words of caution fall on deaf ears and fake ceremonies continue without much concern from the mass media, dominant society, the government or anyone except a few American Indians.
Now, because of complacency among legal authorities, elected representatives, and the media, the pseudo-shamans have honed their fraud skills, organized, employed large staffs, and financed huge gatherings that rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars — all at the expense of American Indian spirituality.
The tricksters use distorted and perverted versions of Indian ceremonies and often employ Indian actors from North, Central and South America to give their performances an appearance of authenticity. They claim the Indian actors are “spiritual elders” and “healers” among their tribes. Often, the paid Indian actors come from the bottom of Indian tribal society and are ostracized by their elders for refusing to follow tradition. Unfortunately, elders are powerless to stop errant tribal members when faced with fast-talking promoters, piles of money and large boosts to the egos of these misled actors.
A Case In Point – More Information Obtained
In April 2009, Adam “Yellowbird” DeArmon, who heads up a million-dollar organization called “The Institute for Cultural Awareness” (ICA) located near Sedona engaged the services of Ruben Saufkie, Sr., a Hopi tribal member, to help him organize the “Return of the Ancestors” Gathering and attract more paying participants in “sacred ceremonies”. It was the widely advertised intention of DeArmon and Saufkie to take dozens of bus loads and long caravans of cars to ancient sacred sites located on the Hopi Reservation. The Hopi Nation formerly notified both DeArmon and Saufkie in writing months before that the Gathering would not be allowed on Hopi land. But, DeArmon continued to sell high-dollar reservations to unsuspecting participants for months via the Internet and by U.S. Mail with full knowledge that the ceremonies would not take place.
DeArmon and his supporters claim the Hopi Nation and its spiritual elders denied entry to their sacred sites because “ceremonial protocol was broken”. Yes, that is partly true. But DeArmon and his ICA supporters fail to mention specifics of their actions that precipitated the strong Hopi back-lash. Telling a different story, Ruben Saufkie claims that Hopi “politics” is the reason why ceremonies were prohibited. Saufkie says he is a “progressive leader” and the traditional elders are against him. DeArmon and his supporters now say “…the Hopi are not as important as many people think…” h
DeArmon also advertised ceremonies allegedly to take place at the Northern Arizona University during the Return of the Ancestors Gathering with prestigious elders and educators. However, months before the event was planned to take place, DeArmon was notified in writing that NAU would not allow event to take place on university property. This is another event during the “Return of the Ancestors” Gathering that was cancelled and DeArmon had full knowledge of this months before the event was to take place. DeArmon is silent on the subject of NAU’s denial. Regardless of these facts, DeArmon and Saufkie continued their masquerade as hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into DeArmon’s bank.
The ICA website challenged paying guests to the Return of the Ancestors Gathering to anti-up 1.5 million dollars to hear so-called spiritual elders, primarily from Mexico and South America, pontificate about prophesy, ways to achieve peace and participate in “sacred ceremonies”. After his initial goal was reached, DeArmon increased his demand to 3 million dollars to “…Create a social impact like no other!…” The ICA website also says, “All donations are completely tax deductible and go towards the gathering.”
A long-time ICA supporter and associate of DeArmon is a man living in Sedona who goes by the alias, Drunvalo Melchizedek. Melchizedek says on his website that “Every penny you gave to the ICA, either for tickets or donations, went to the elders in the form of airline tickets, bussing, shelter, food etc,….”
That is an interesting statement coming from an ICA insider. The Institute for Cultural Awareness’ goal was to sponsor 72 or more global spiritual/cultural leaders and 28 youth council leaders. Even though many invited speakers drove to the event, let’s pretend that 100 airline tickets were purchased at an extremely high cost of $3,000.00 each, thus the bill would be $300,000. That leaves over a million dollars to feed and house the speakers.
Eye-witnesses say that invited elders were begging participants to buy them blankets because they were cold from staying in make-shift quarters and many complained to participants that they were hungry. Hundreds of paying participants wandered around for hours trying to find advertised events. Food was not available at stated times and places. Emergency services and first-aid stations were not available for some people who got sick. It appeared to many ticket buyers the main concern of the strong-arm security staff was preventing anyone from recording the event. Many people were frisked and threatened about taking “authorized” pictures. A horde of paid photographers, video crews and equipment, security staff, and hawkers blocked the view of for many. Schedules were changed without notice and no printed schedules were available for most participants.
Promoters of the Return of the Ancestors Gathering disregarded the safety and welfare of ticket holders and violated numerous state laws. The ICA and Adam DeArmon committed fraud by continuing to sell tickets and accepting cash donations for events they knew would not take place. Local and state law enforcement officials have a responsibility to investigate these claims.
After light began to show through the thin veil of the million-dollar scam, DeArmon disabled most areas of his website and the only area that appears to be open is page titled “501(c)(3) Donations” http://www.instituteforculturalawareness.com/ http://www.ica8.org DeArmon did respond once to our emails asking for his comments, but his only response was, “That is not the truth.” He failed to answer subsequent email questions asking what is the truth and what is not the truth. DeArmon is difficult to reach for a statement, but he promises on his website that “the work will continue”. We hope not.
The Scam Saga Continues
Earlier this year, Arkansas authorities investigated the 09-09-09 Gathering at the Mount Magazine State Park hosted by an associate of Jason “Yellowbird” DeArmon, James “Tyberonn” Tipton, of Texas. DeArmon’s actor, Ruben Saufkie turns up at the event and Tipton falsely identified him in Internet advertising, posters, and letters as a Hopi Spiritual Elder, a Healer and Eagle Dancer in order to attract paying participants in “sacred healing ceremonies”.
Even though Tipton knew Saufkie’s real background at least as early 2009, he continued to widely advertise the event featuring Saufkie. According to written information from Hopi spiritual elders and from the Hopi Nation, Saufkie is not a respected elder nor is he an Eagle Dancer. Saufkie possesses no training as a Hopi spiritual elder and has no special healing powers. Saufkie is an Indian actor whose only credits include helping to produce and appear at bogus sacred ceremonies promoted by pseudo-shamans. Saufkie may be a political progressive on the Hopi Reservation, but he is only a paid actor whenever he attempts to export sacred Hopi ceremonies to off-reservation events.
Tipton claims he “channels” a new Archangel he calls “Metatron” that only Tipton can see and hear. During the 09-09-09 Gathering, participants paid $444 each to witness Tipton communicate with the spirit world and summon the Archangel who delivered special messages he relayed to the audience. Tipton asked everyone with a digital camera to take pictures of the blank back wall of the large meeting room. The audience was suitably impressed and very well entertained when their camera viewers clearly showed a large image of a spirit-being. One female participant said, “It was fantastic to see a picture of a real spirit!”
However, it was later discovered that prior to the 09-09-09 Gathering, Tipton locked himself in the large meeting room for over an hour. A side door to the meeting room was left slightly ajar and a number of guests at the lodge, who were not participants in the Gathering, accidently opened the door to find Tipton spraying something on the back wall. The substance sprayed was similar to a newly patented invention called Kameraflage, a substance that is invisible to the naked eye but digital cameras see a broader spectrum of light than human eyes. By rendering content, spirit images, in these wavelengths the substance creates displays that are invisible to the naked eye, yet can be seen when imaged with a digital camera. So much for Metatron.
Saufkie and other actors also turn up on lists of known associates of James Arthur Ray, the now infamous self-help guru who in October, 2009 charged nearly $10,000 a pop for a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona where three people lost their lives and twenty were hospitalized.
In October, Nina Rehfeld, a writer for a popular Internet magazine, Sedona.biz, reported that “…It was not the first time that a Sedona sweat lodge went wrong. There have been reports of several emergency calls to sweat lodges over the past years. And Madak Kadam, an engineer and artist in Sedona, says that during a sweat lodge ceremony in 2003 held by the Institute for Cultural Awareness [Adam “Yellowbird” DeArmon], he suffered a heart attack. “I suddenly had these chest pains that made me roll on the floor, screaming. But instead of calling an ambulance, they were drumming over my head, telling me to accept the pain and go through it.” Kadam says he did not get to a hospital until two hours later, when an old lady offered him a ride. He says that although he confronted the organizers [Adam DeArmon] of the lodge about the incident, he has yet to receive an apology.”
“…And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves… – Matthew 21:12-13
An American Indian ceremony is also a place where God dwells. It is our church. Throw out the moneychangers and profiteers.
The Syndicate is Growing
James Arthur Ray, James “Tyberonn” Tipton, and Adam “Yellowbird” DeArmon are captains of their own enterprises and engage a cadre of people to expand their empires. The insiders learn event planning, marketing techniques, security and sacred ceremonies. These are not the only known associates who are busy honing their so-called spiritual talents. There are at least a dozen other major players and snake-oil salesmen in the syndicate who commercialize sacred American Indian ways.
When Will It End?
How many people will loose their lives before pseudo-shamans are stopped? How many people will suffer physical, emotional and spiritual harm before legal authorities step in and arrest the perpetrators? How many more people will be duped out of their money before these people are brought into a court room? How many more times will American Indian spirituality be assaulted, demeaned, distorted and perverted before American Indian people, and all people of faith, stand up and say, “No More!
*This article is not intended to impugn the integrity of those hundreds of people who paid to attend the Return of the Ancestors Gathering or the 09-09-09 Gathering. They were, in our opinion, the victims of a terrible, unfortunate charade, even though a few had a good experience. We assume most, if not all, the elders who attended, are honest and well-intended people, who were, in our opinion, unfairly used to accomplish the greedy, unsavory goals of the promoters. This article assumes the volunteers who worked on the events were well-intended, good-hearted people who were simply caught up in the dream. We do question the wisdom of participants who failed to use discernment. ~Takatoka and friends.