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What good are the ceremonies if they cannot save a people?

What good are the ceremonies if they cannot save a people?
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By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2009 Native Sun News

October 19, 2009

The outrage about the sweat lodge deaths reverberates around the country as everyone seeks an answer to questions they don't even know how to pose.

Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle said, "I am concerned for the two deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others are not our ceremonial way of life because of the way they are being conducted."

I am not going to dance around the consequences of Arthur Ray's stupidity because he was blatantly using a religious ceremony of the Native Americans to enrich himself and what is worse, he didn't know any of the sacred rites that accompany the inipi nor did he know the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota language, an intricate part of the ceremony.

According to the recognized and respected wicasa wakan (holy men) of the Sioux Nation, the Tunka Oyate (Spiritual Grandfathers) know and understand the Native tongues of the Sioux people and any inipi ceremony without this ingredient is no ceremony at all. That should have been the first clue to the new agers attempting to usurp the rituals of the Sioux, rituals that are much older than the Holy Bible.

Many Lakota are concerned about the deaths attributable to a botched sweat lodge ceremony. They have a lot more than this to worry about.

I look around Indian Country and I see the devastation and degradation, the hopelessness, the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the lack of respect for the elders, the many suicides among the young, the criminal acts of the gangs that now roam our reservations bringing death and severe moral damage to entire communities, the domestic violence, the abuse of children and spouses, and the total renunciation of any spirituality, and I am deeply concerned. I see the epidemics of diabetes, heart disease and cancer among the Lakota and I am very concerned.

I see tribal members attending sweats and Sun Dances and then heading to the nearest bar or smoking a joint and I wonder how they can be such hypocrites. And then they sit around and brag about the sacrifice they believe they just made.

Arvol, why are the sacred rites you represent not being used to bring our own people back from the brink? Why aren't they being used to bring back the good health our people once enjoyed? Why is there an unemployment rate of 80 percent on the lands you call home? Why is there such a high rate of STD's and teen pregnancies in Lakota country? What good does it do to speak out and criticize an event that happened in Sedona, Arizona when it had no lasting impact upon the Sioux people? Aren't there terrible things happening in our own homelands, right under our noses, to worry about and try to change?
The criminal reports of rape, drug convictions, sexual child abuse, spousal abuse and even murders committed by enrolled members are mounting, and I wonder how any of these terrible things can be stopped and even reversed. I see these things and I am ashamed for us. I don't give a damn if we are called Indians, Natives, Native Americans or whatever because that is not where the problems lie. I just do not want the Indian people to be called lost alcoholics, abandoned, hopeless, worthless and doomed.

If there is the power in the Sacred Pipe Bundle of the Lakota, bring it out and use it before there is no longer a Lakota alive. There is a story I heard about a religious organization in New England that spent several years writing a Holy Bible in the language of a local tribe. When the Bible was completed there were no more Indians of that tribe left alive to read it.

It is good there is a Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle and a 19th Keeper to bring it out and pray with it, but if this power cannot be used to save a people, that can make every Lakota/Dakota/Nakota pour that beer down the drain or dump that whiskey or wine on the ground or to burn those drugs, what good is it?

Arvol, what is the ultimate goal of the Pipe you hold? Where is the cleansing and healing power of inikaga (sweat lodge) if it is not to be used now to save our own people?

I ask these questions with respect because I fear for the future of the Sioux Nation and like many other concerned Lakota; I pray there is a way to save it.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at

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