by Robert DesJarlait
(Note - This article was originally published in 1999 on my website Ojibwe-Anishinaabe Biidaajimo. It was slightly edited and revised for publication on Anishinaabe Perspectives. Although 17 years have passed since its initial publication, very little has changed regarding the appropriation of Native spirituality. The Internet continues to be a platform for Memorex shamans and the false teachings that they expound on the unwary.)
Cyberspace has become a breeding ground for the appropriation of Native American cultures and belief systems. Like faceless witchers, Memorex shamans and wannabes permeate cyberspace with an endless assault in the theft of Indian spirituality. In the quest for racial harmony, they have focused on the stereotype of the "noble red man" to give meaning to their lives. They claim to be Indian - not because they are Indian - but they are Indian by virtue of a connection to Indigenous spirit. In other words, to them being Indian is not because of a racial or cultural connection but rather a state of mind.
Memorex shake and bake shamans are largely composed of individuals who are not Native American. They are not enrolled members of any tribe. Most often, they claim either Metis or Cherokee heritage as their tribal backgrounds. The Cherokee tribe is chosen since members can claim membership via Certified Degree of Indian Blood 2 cards (CDIB) based on lineal descent. Such a card does not make one an Native; it merely indicates that a person has an Native relative far down the descent line. Some individuals claim lineage to so-called "unrecognized" Cherokee bands. Because these bands are unrecognized and band/tribal rolls are non-existent or in disarray, these bands are often prey to those who wish to claim Native descendants. On the other hand, the Metis is not a tribe in the sense that the term implies. Historically, the Metis was a Canadian ethnic community entity composed of French, Ojibwe, and Cree with individuals mixed through intermarriage.
Today, the term has been given a general application and is used by individuals who claim Native American ancestry in the United States. The best example of this is the so-called Southern Metis found in southern and eastern states. It is not unusual to find individuals who claim to be Choctaw Metis, Cherokee Metis, or Shawnee Metis. In reality, no such distinction exists since the Metis were, and are, specifically a Canadian ethnic group who continue to maintain a presence in Canada.
Shake and bake shamans profess the "right" to practice and teach Native American customs and ceremonies. To a large extent, shake and bake shamans are akin to cult leaders. They develop a superficial philosophical base of Native American knowledge - usually centered on the Medicine Wheel - and support their livelihoods and egos by writing books and by staging, for a price, ceremonies and healing rituals like the Sun Dance and the sweat lodge. Many develop programs through which disciples ascend through degrees. The more successful shake and bake shamans have retreat centers that charge extravagant sums of money to attend.
The world view of Memorex shamans often incorporates elements of mysticism, extra-terrestrials a la Von Daniken, Atlantis a la Cayce, Mayan pyramids, Hindu beliefs, Buddhism, paganism, Wiccan, and just about anything associated with esoteric belief systems.
One of the familiar features of shake and bake shaman websites is the effort to generate income through books, videos, tapes, and herbal remedies.
Brooke Medicine Eagle is one of the most well-known Memorex shamans. Medicine Eagle's website informs the viewer that she is a Native American wisdom teacher, ceremonial leader, and sacred ecologist. She not only offers books and herbs; she literally begs the reader for money. How odd since Medicine Eagle has made money for the books she has written at the expense of Native people. Yet, as she writes on her website, because of her devotion to "create a beautiful world for All Our Relations," Medicine Eagle asks for monetary donations - Contributor, $10 to $75; Supporter, $100 to $499; Sponsor, $500 to $999; Benefactor, $1000 to $9,999; and, Angel, above $10,000.
Medicine Eagle's website states: "Her beauty way awakens physical and spiritual health, offers Native American music and chants, promotes ritual honoring Earth cycles, provides women's mystery teachings, and creates a sustainable, holy path for two-legged to walk. Her dedication is to bringing forward the ancient truths concerning how to live a fully human life in harmony with All Our Relations."
Medicine Eagle is an articulate writer who justifies her appropriation of Indian traditions through words.
She writes: "There a whole category of things that many people label as 'Indian,' that are simply the ways of the land, the truth of how the earth works. They may have been originally practiced by native peoples, but there can be no patent on those ways, because if we are going to have a world that is workable for human beings, and sustainable systems, we all need to learn and practice those Earth ways...I believe that the truly profound teachings of humanity go beyond race and any specific spiritual practice or philosophy."
"I have a Celtic ancestry, too, and I know that the Irish and Scots were the 'Indians' of Europe...a shamanic practice can begin to emerge through this communication, no matter who you are, because when you start to drop back into your ancestors, as soon as you go beyond the human, you're immediately regressed into the mammalian, into coyote, bear, wolf, buffalo, and you're experiencing those energies that are now identified so strongly in people's minds as 'Indian.'"
Robert Ghost Wolf (Robert Andrew Franzone - AKA Robert Wolfe, Bobby Wolfe, Robert Parry) has become a legend in his own mind. He picks up where Sun Bear left off and has taken shake and bake shamanism to its extremes. He claims to be of mixed heritage; Metis in his own words. Ghost Wolf is very articulate. Listen to his words: "If there is a definition for 'Indian,' it has to do with realizing self and owning our inter-relationship with the living world around us. It has to do with realizing your relationship to Great Spirit, and Mother Earth, and all the life forms that are part of her dreams. It has to do with being one with self, with accepting one's self, with empowering one's self...perhaps that is what we mean when we try to apply the term Indian to perception."
This is what Ghost Wolf writes concerning the justifying of using and practicing Indian traditions and ceremonies: "We could never be Indian like the old ones we hear talked about in the legends. Not even many real Indians can do that. What we consider the old days are a time that is no longer on this plane. It is past; it is behind us...it is not a path of power to walk through this life with our heads turned backwards; we only trip over what is in front of us. We will never get where we are going. At best, we'll stay safe, stuck in the rut of going nowhere, accomplishing nothing, just going round and round on the merry-go-round...people insist on returning to a way of life that leads them from one dead end to another...most people prefer their addiction to ignorance...how many 'Indians' have I met who do not know the spiritual ways of their own people?...I have seen whole tribes that have lost the way, even their language."
"Let us create a new terminology for the sake of identity - Neo-Indigenous People, a new and different form of indigenous people, those who are of the Earth, the Earth Keepers. No one people or race has the exclusive territorial rights over Sacred."
Ghost Wolf's website offers memberships that allow members access to private areas on the site. Membership include Feather membership, limited one year membership, $100; Wing membership, full three year membership, $250; and, Eagle membership, lifetime membership, $500.
Robert Ghost Wolf and Brooke Medicine Eagle epitomize the greed and egotism of New Age shamanism. They profess to possess Indian wisdom, yet, only for a price, will they dispense with their so-called wisdom. They have appropriated Indian traditions and ceremonies because "no one people or race has exclusive..rights" or "the teachings...go beyond race." They are the decadence that permeates cyberspace, and the real world, with a twisted brand of racism; a racism that denies Indian people today their rightful place with their own ceremonies and traditions. Ghost Wolf and Medicine Eagle have taken the genocide much further; they have sought to steal the heart and soul of Indian cultures.
Cyberspace provides an opportunity for Memorex shaman and wannabes alike. One does not have to show a tribal ID or CDIB card. One can become something they are not because they cannot be seen. In cyberspace, it is easy to sit behind a computer, obtain a website, and offer knowledge and/or herbs for healing. And almost every single one of these sites will have posted somewhere the phrase of the wannabe - Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations). The sites will have impressive Native graphics. There will be a philosophical saying to greet the visitor. And if the visitor scrolls down, he/she will find that the real motivation of the website is appropriated wisdom in the shape of books, tapes and/or herbs that promise to heal the inner soul. Want to learn how to smudge? You can find it on the Internet. Need the sage to smudge with? You can buy it on the Internet. Got cancer? Then perhaps you need to smudge yourself with sage grown on Mt. Shasta. Buy a Taos drum and a Memorex shaman will sell you CDs so you can chant with the heavenly spirits. Need a spirit animal helper? Got just the tape for you for only $39.95. Want a ceremonial? No problem; only $300 for a sweat or a Ghost Dance and $500 for a Sun Dance - Visa and MasterCard accepted.
In the Seven Fires Prophecies of my people, the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe, it is said that there will appear amongst us many false prophets. The false messages of these prophets will cause disruption and confusion. These false prophets will lead many astray. But, it is said, a time will come when people will turn to the elders, the old people, and they will ask in a respectful manner and they will learn. The elders, the old people, are there waiting and they want to teach.
However, not all teachings are attainable to all people. Those who are Ojibwe-Anishinaabe can fully learn those ways. By knowing their clans, they can enter the Midewiwin Lodge and assume their rightful role in the Lodge. Those who of the Light-Skinned Race can only partially learn some of our ways. They can gain some knowledge and some wisdom. But the Lodge is closed and will always be closed to them. Because they do not know their clans. One can read books about clans; one can chant, in a fevered mind, a clan animal into existence. One can go to Ghost Wolf, Medicine Eagle or any one of the many false prophets and, for a price, attain a clan animal. But it is only a false clan animal. A false clan animal will not get you into the Lodge.
What does it mean to be Native? You will never know. All the books, all the tapes, all the false prophets and Memorex shamans will never make you a Native. Being Native is not a state of mind. Being Native is the sum total existence of a race of people who have been here on Turtle Island for 40,000 years or more. It is like the old people say - we have always been here. Being Native is a collective tribal consciousness shared and passed on through the eons of time. Being Native is to know the genocide that has been, and continues to be, committed against us. We are the sons and daughters of our brothers and sisters who were murdered at Sand Creek, Washita River, Wounded Knee. The Trail of Tears is a trail that we, the people of Turtle Island, have all walked. We share these things in commonality because of the theft of our lands, because of forced assimilation, because of the racism and prejudice that was, and continues to be, directed against us. We are not "noble" nor "savage" - we are merely survivors. Being Native is much more than integrating Native belief systems into one's non-Native life. All the books, all the tapes, all the false prophets and Memorex shamans will never make you a Native. You can never know.
In 1980, 5th Annual Meeting of the Tradition Elders Circle passed a resolution. In part, the resolution reads:
“It has been brought to the attention of the Elders and their representatives in Council that various individuals are moving about this Great Turtle Island and across the great waters to foreign soil, purporting to be spiritual leaders. They carry pipes and other objects sacred to the Red Nations, the indigenous people of the western hemisphere.
“These individuals are gathering non-Indian people as followers who believe they are receiving instructions of the original people. We, the Elders and our representatives sitting in Council, give warning to these non-Indian followers that it is our understanding this is not a proper process, that the authority to carry these sacred objects is given by the people, and the purpose and procedure is specific to time and the needs of the people.”
In 1993, the Lakota Summit V, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations unanimously passed a Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality. The first point of the seven point resolution states:
“1. We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing, and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.”
Both of these resolutions were passed before the proliferation of online Memorex shaman sites. In 1980, the Internet didn’t exist. The 1980 Elders Circle resolution doesn’t specifically mention New Age shamanism, but obviously the appropriation of ceremonies by non-Natives and unqualified Native practitioners was such a great concern at that time that the Elders Circle issued their resolution. The Internet was publically launched in 1991 but didn’t become generally available until 1993 when the first browsers were introduced. Thus, the Lakota Summit resolution, passed in 1993, wasn’t a response to online appropriation, although the resolution specifically mentions the “New Age Movement.” Indeed, both resolutions foreshadow the proliferation of online Memorex shaman sites that began in the mid-1990s and were rampant by 1999.
The exploitation of our ceremonies and spiritual life continues unabated in cyberspace. It is to these ends that Indigenous people must remain vigilant and expose the frauds wherever they are found.
© 1999, Robert DesJarlait