Spirit In Action

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Selling American Indian Spirituality is Big Business!

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.”

Holy Ground

“…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.


8 thoughts on “Selling American Indian Spirituality is Big Business!

  1. Spiritual fraud has been big business since the concept of civilisation was invented, I have seen this as historian down the ages. Spiritual consumerism based on ignorance. The theft of culture and to use the term of the Maori their “dreamings”. The basic failure to organise events well so people suffer disgusts me too. If someone uses indigenous people’s culture without permission then there are legal remedies under intellectual law and copyright that can be used against them which is recognised in most world courts specifically in North America.

    • Unfortunately the courts have not been a lot of help with this, to my knowledge. Possibly because of technicalities such as the co-opters using a mishmash of nonsense “based on” Native tradition and simply calling it whatever they like. There have been a lot of UN and World Court decisions favorable to Native peoples that are never implemented due to the corruption of the colonizers and their governing style being “We have the biggest weapons, we do as we please”.

      Sometimes they make attempts to justify this with things like the legal fiction of “domestic dependent nations”, others they simply keep firing judges til they get one who decides the way they want;-/ (See the Black Hills suit for an example of this)

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge. That, I think, is the main way we create change since in the end each person is responsible for using their own discernment and inner moral compass in making choices.

      That is one reason I created my blog-to share information on this topic since so many people I met in the new age movement were very sincere about making good moral choices, but simply very unaware of the facts and details in issues like this one.

      Being of mixed ancestry I also spent a lot of my life researching history, and I believe strongly that everyone on Earth is descended form indigenous people. The problem is many were colonized so long ago that nearly all of their culture and traditions have been buried and obscured.

      Some, like the British Druid Order, Asatru and others in Europe have been doing a great job of rebuilding, recovering and renewing their ancient traditions. Others like Z Budapest are living inheritors of the buried and hidden traditions working to spread the knowledge to others (Z is Hungarian).

      Others, like the Church of All Worlds are co-creating new traditions that are based in the same understanding and relationship with the Universe as the ancient ones.

      There are so many creative and beautiful alternatives to co-opting and degrading another people’s culture that are authentic and resonant with myth and truth, that it seems utterly pointless to me for people to do so.

  2. I loved reading this article. Thank you. I’m a “white guy” who became a pipe carrier, in the Lakota-sioux tradition. I’ve experienced the frustrations of folks who disapproved of this path / expression of energy. But I learned that being a pipe carrier is not about carrying a pipe made of wood and pipestone, it is not about being an “Indian”, it is about being true to yourself. It means carrying love in your heart every day. We can restrict ourselves with our traditions or we can use those traditions as a tool to set us free.

    All my relations.

    • Thank you for your comment, and for your dedication to the well being of the Lakota Nation.
      As a pipe carrier I am sure you are quite aware of the terrible conditions in Lakota country and fully involved with doing all you can in the real physical world to help the real,living Lakota people.
      It is heartbreaking to me to know the reality of suffering and poverty the people endure while these self absorbed (service to self) individuals make money tricking innocent white (black, Asian etc) people out of their money in exchange for “plain lies dressed up in fancy words” as an elder once put it to me.
      If more people of all nations and peoples could come together in honest exchange from the heart, with true respect for the sacred, I believe we would all be on the same page.
      Spirituality is based in love and respect in caring, compassion and awe so how anyone could think dressing up, role playing and making money are spiritual is beyond me.
      Thank you for all you do in Lakota communities to help the people. I am sure you already know this from working with real Lakota folks in their homes but to most ndn people I know it’s not a bout your skin but about your heart which is so readily shown by your actions.
      It takes great dedication to leave the colonized world you were raised in and move to the rez in the middle of nowhere and spend your life helping others without pay as a pipe carrier.
      Are you anywhere near any of the prrmaculture projects? One of the coordinators also works with my local permie and Transition Town groups and I had heard last winter there was need for materials to repair elders homes against the cold. I was really ill at the time and couldn’t do much but I wondered then if there could be some overlap between lightworker and permie groups maybe we could get more done for those in such desperate need.
      If there is anything like that going on in any of the rez communities you work in, please feel free to post it here (or let me know to reblog if you make regular posting about needs in your communities)
      I wanted to have a page specifically for that but thanks to computer trouble I don’t currently hsve regular contact with the friends who used to let me know about a lot of those urgent, immediate needs (like heating oil for elders in winter, or school supplies for the kids which is proba bly the most current one I am missing:-/

      • I agree 100% with what you say. I am not involved with First Nations communities – this might sound somewhat “callous” but I haven’t felt that my path is focused on maintaining the old 3d paradigm. When I try to spend my energy in this way I meet with a dead end, or it doesn’t feel “right”. Weird, huh? I feel bad about this sometimes, but I have also done much soul-searching on what you say about spiritual development. The only solution I can see to these problems is if the leaders follow a service-to-others path. And this is a problem that is global… not limited to First Nations communities. Being the change you want to see in others is the first step… whether or not folks wish to follow a similar path is up to them.

        I had the opportunity to visit Cherokee, NC and that was an eye opener. They have an interpretive village there, and there is tension between the “commercial” and the “spiritual”. The village is like a shrine- lots of great energy there. I live near Washington DC and I do try to attend cultural festivals and events in the area when they come up. They’re small, but it’s quality over quantity!

  3. I totally stumbled onto this site searching for Part II to Synchronicity key. I agree that these ‘plastic shamans’ are shameful. But anyone with any sense can see they are not practicity any true ‘spirituality’-personally it seems like you can get a flavor or a feeling for the depth and truth of the leader. And after the Sedona debacle I saw very many articles advising on warning flags to look for in new movements, organizations and specifically ‘leaders’ claiming to offer spiritual services.

    I used to correspond with a fellow from Pine Ridge that was involved with the Indiginous movement for true sovereignty. He used to go to Switzerland all the time for UN type meetings for indiginous peoples-and he even went to Baghadad in the 80s. Are you in contact with anyone from Pine Ridge? Do you know anyone doing that type of work now?

    You have a beautiful website-don’t apologiize for anything-it is beautiful and well laid out. You have done a nice job. I am so glad to have come across it and marked it so I can be a regular visitor.

    Mitakuye Oyasin (sp?)

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I do know a few people who are active in Lakota country tho more with social/local issues like the youth suicide problem, the alcoholism/Whiteclay problem and environmental issues. I have a good friend who graduated from the indigenous leadership program at U-Vic who has worked on treaty issues. I am not sure if she has done anything at UN. I was planning to work at UN on indigenous and environmental issues before I became so ill. I have been very inspired by the writing online by the young scholars in indigenous issues so I feel the next generation is likely to achieve great things as far as sovereignty and environmental protection.
      I am glad to read that the new age community published warnings and that people are becoming more aware. It is heartbreaking to read of huge sums of money being taken in by these charlatans at the same time as elders go begging for money to pay for heating oil in winter, and there is always a donation drive for ndn kids school supplies-100 ndn kids could attend state colleges for a year on what they make in a weekend!
      I guess I just wish if people want to learn about ndn spirituality they would start with the fundamental truth common to all of us-walking the good red road always involves giving to the community. Spirituality is rooted in the people and the land. It is not separable from those essentials. No one can buy their way into being anything no matter who is selling. It requires actively giving of yourself to the community especially those in dire need, and living respect for all living beings.
      Anyone can form a personal relationship with the land and other living beings directly. I guess I just don’t understand the desire to associate ones spiritual path with Native culture without any interest in giving of oneself, or becoming involved with real Native Americans as human beings.
      It is good to see more people who care and do have respect, thank you again for commenting and sharing your knowledge and kindness!

  4. I, too, know of wonderful healings within indigenous communities, abuse of access to them, and corrupt pseudo-imitation of them. I am glad that I have personal access to authentic indigenous ways as I live near and support an Indian Nation, and have a dear friend who is part of another Nation.

    I consider the indigenous ways of my ancestors to have been diluted and distorted beyond recognition. Perhaps that is why they don’t resonate with me.

    ohnwentsya, I would really like you to share your thoughts on my post http://weavergrace.com/2013/11/03/culture-freedom/ We have been discussing there some similar issues as what has been discussed here.

    Your mention of Transition Towns lights me up! I led a weekly sustainability discussion group a couple of years ago, and aimed to begin building a Transition Town here. I am stuck in the stage of finding co-leaders. The members of the discussion group were some of the most progressive people in the area, but were too discouraged to commit to such a goal. We consider moving to a Transition Town, but are quite settled where we are…for now.

    “start with the fundamental truth common to all of us-walking the good red road always involves giving to the community.” I appreciate the wisdom of your words. I am finding that the red road is leading me to give to the WordPress community. May you and I and all others continue to get better at walking the good red road.

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