Native American Spirituality: Its Appropriation and Incorporation Amongst Native and non-Native Peoples
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
This thesis focuses primarily on Lakota concerns about the appropriation of their spirituality. The religious authority of the Lakota has been recognised by Native Americans and non- Natives alike through the books of Nicholas Black Elk, who witnessed the establishment of reservations in the Plains, the aftermath of the Wounded Knee massacre and the conversion of his people to Christianity, and through the teachings of his nephew Frank Fools Crow who kept the prohibited Lakota Sun Dance alive and other ceremonial practices until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) was passed by Congress in 1978. Not long after, elders from Lakota and other Plains Indian Nations became increasingly concerned about what they perceived to be the misuse of their ceremonies. In 1993, five hundred representatives of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota peoples endorsed the ‘Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality’, which primarily attacks the commodification of Lakota ceremonies by ‘pseudo-Indian charlatans’ and ‘new age wannabes’. Ten years later, a group of Lakota and neighbouring Plains Indian spiritual leaders supported the ‘Arvol Looking Horse Proclamation’ prohibiting all non-Native participation in Plains Indian ceremonies. Meanwhile, in academic institutions, several Native American scholars accused their non-Native colleagues of exploiting Native American communities, raising methodological questions connected to insider/outsider debates and research ethics in the study of Native American religious traditions. The thesis first examines the historical roots of the religious ‘war’ between Native Americans and non-Natives and analyses how the expropriation of Lakota ceremonies across tribal boundaries became the basis of a pan-Indian religion. By bringing together diverse indigenous peoples of North America as the ‘colonised’ against non-Native appropriators perceived as the ‘colonisers’, a tension developed between racial interpretations of ‘Native American’ based on blood quantum methods, established by the federal governments, and ‘traditional’ definitions where attitude and behaviour determines membership of the group. The main body of the thesis explores this tension in a variety of contexts: among the Lakota themselves, non-Native Americans accused of appropriating Lakota ceremonies, contemporary Mi’kmaq in eastern Canada who have employed Lakota and other Plains Indian ceremonial practices, and in the academy where ethnicity and ethics in the study of Native American religions are currently debated. The matter is further complicated by evidence illustrating that the Lakota have no centralised authority where traditional religious matters are concerned; however, Native Americans consistently refer to ‘protocols’ that define the way ceremonies are performed and the rules of participation, largely based on the Lakota model again, in particular where pan-Indian religion is present, such as at Mi’kmaq powwows, and in ceremonies where the pipe is smoked, such as the sweat lodge ceremony and vision quest, which have been appropriated extensively, often without the protocols, by non-Native Americans, including practitioners in Britain where some have altered the ceremonies to create a reconstituted British indigenous tradition. The attempt to restrict participation in Native American ceremonies according to ethnicity has not only created conflict between Native and non-Native peoples, but within Native communities as well. Nevertheless, the call for exclusivity has come after previous warnings about the misuse of ceremonies had been ignored. Therefore, the thesis examines Native American discourses about the breaking of ‘protocols’ as being at the heart of objections to the appropriation of Native American spirituality.