Rowen Cooke 37, Melbourne Australiadied in a sweat lodge November 4, 2004
Kylie Watts, 30 Byron Bay in New South Walesdied in a sweat lodge in 2003
Kirsten"Kris" Babcock 34 Redding, California died in a sweat lodge on June 21, 2002
David Thomas Hawker, 36, of Union City, California died in a sweat lodge on June 21, 2002
Gordon Reynolds, 43 of Twickenham, West London died in a sweat lodge on November 21, 1996
Kelly Rice, 35 of Austin, Texas, housekeeper and masseuse, died of accidental heatstroke inside a sweat lodge in June 1993
Ronald Delgado of Santa Barbara California was killed in Archie Fire Lame Deer's 'Vision Quest' on July 12, 1980
Please remember these victims in your prayers and don't let these deaths be forgotten. They were all human beings and none of them deserved to die like this.
I think that their deaths should be seen as a warning. For thousands and thousands of years, no one died in a sweat lodge. When people decided to sell them, seven people, that we know of, died on 28 years. The act of subjecting spirituality to Capitalism is what makes them poisonous to the spirit. This is what happens when indigenous people lose sovereignty over our own spiritual practices. This is inevitably what happens when one engages in the absurd act of subjecting spirituality to free market forces. Because in Capitalism, the customer is always right. To make the maximum profit, service must be adapted to the greatest number of customers – the lowest common denominators.
The lesson that the frauds refuse to learn is protocol. The counterculture shuns rationality, accountability, sacrifice, discipline and protocol and embraces narcissism and self indulgence. These were never indigenous values. When people reject our protocol out of ignorance and arrogance and try to take the empty form of our spiritual practices, they will harm themselves. They will remain empty. They will lose their integrity, they will lose their money and some of them will lose their lives. The frauds will always try to trick their targets into believing they are following protocol. And most people are too lazy and ignorant to know who to check out their claims.
Many of these people died in sweats held on very hot days around the summer solstice. With the popularity of the twinkie sweat lodge ever increasing there’s an increased probability that someone will die this weekend. Some New Age businesses think it’s enough to force participants to sign waivers. This only protects the business and does not hold the New Age Capitalist accountable for any acts of negligent homicide. To this date, none of the frauds running these deadly sweats have been prosecuted for their crimes. Spirit of the Earth Medicine Society is still running sweats in Australia. When you think about it, it really reveals the true character of people perpetuating this fraud when you see that their primary response to this horrible event was to protect themselves legally in the event of future deaths. This refusal to be held accountable for one’s actions is definitely NOT indigenous.
Don’t Pay to Pray has been keeping statistics on the number and cost of non-NDN sweat lodges since 2001. We found that the average cost of sweats reported to us from people across the United States and Canada has increased from $46.67 in 2001 to $95.00 in 2007 and it skyrocketed to $965.26 in 2008. The number reported to us has risen nearly 900%. It appears that the sweat-lodge cottage industry is not a mainstream high-end service. The popularity of the inauthentic sweat only increases the probability that someone will die this weekend.
The frauds who conduct these sweats are getting bolder in creating specious rhetoric to finagle payment for their services. Unfortunately, a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth in the sustainable community and more and more people are simply taking the frauds at their word. Most are claiming that payment is merely an “exchange of energy” and that it is no longer appropriate just to give the twinkie shame-man blankets, food or gas etc. We’re hearing over and over again that it’s appropriate to give large sums of “energy” (meaning money). As activists, we can’t let our voices be drowned out by those who would commercialize our spirituality.
What does it mean for the future of indigenous spiritual practices when more non-NDN people have participated in sweat lodges than have NDN people?
It was recently pointed out to me that it’s probably now true that more non-NDN people have participated in sweat lodges than have NDN people. Through their numbers and their resources, non NDNs have barged into our communities and have nearly supplanted us from our own cultures. This weekend millions of people all over the world will attend twisted versions of sweat lodge ceremonies believing they are doing something good that is sanctioned by indigenous spiritual leaders. They simply are not.
While the price of the average twinkie sweat lodge is rapidly growing beyond the means of the poorest people, these businesses have priced out everybody but the richest, whitest people from the trendiest sweats. A New Age sweat lodge is now one of the whitest events one can attend. I don’t really think this was completely unintentional. Whether they intend it or not, those who claim to respect our religion are supplanting authentic native people from our own religious practices.
I think that what is necessary to stop this perversion of indigenous spiritual practices is for all the well meaning non-NDNS to start educating themselves and to start looking at themselves in a brutally honest fashion. Indigenous people have no real power to fight the superior resources of those who profit from the exploitation of native spiritual practices, so I think what we need to do is to culture jam -- that is to de-cool the sweat lodge as a countercultural practice. When people who truly support indigenous people start confronting those who brag about attending a sweat lodge and let them know that this contributes to the destruction of native spiritualities and is definitely NOT COOL, then indigenous people will start to reclaim control over OUR birthright. If the well-meaning sustainable/green community can understand why it is essential to simply leave some environments alone, then they can certainly understand why it is essential that they leave our spiritual environment alone. If they truly respect for our spirituality it and wish it to continue, they’ll leave it to us. Native people, not New Age Capitalists, must have full sovereignty over OUR spiritual practices.
The simple truth is this: subjecting Sweat lodges to the Capitalist marketplace is NOT a SUSTAINABLE practice. The counterculture is at a crossroads. Will they choose to leave our spirituality alone so that it can be preserved or will they say and do nothing while it is exploited to extinction? Can the left take an honest look at themselves and make the necessary changes? Or will their hypocrisy continue?