The following editorial appeared in The Native Sun News, August 19, 2009.
The Hopi Tribe, an extremely traditional Native Nation, has decided not to allow non-Indians into one of their sacred ceremonies because non-Indians, in the past few years, have been guilty of taking illegal photographs, recording the ceremony on cell phone cameras, and showing a decided lack of respect for the traditions and ceremonial practices of the Tribe.
The ceremony, known as the Snake Dance, is held annually at the alternate Hopi villages of Mishongnovi and Shungopavi. The Hopi participants include prayers for rain in the ceremony.
Mishongnovi village administrator, Robert Mahkewa Jr., said the ceremony will be closed to non-Indians this year because of the lack of respect for the ceremonies have grown worse over the years.
It has long been a custom of most of the tribes of the Pueblo Nations to exclude non-Indians from their ceremonies. Several years ago when a plane carrying a news photographer from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper flew over a sacred ceremony taking place on one of the Pueblo’s and took photos the Tribe sued the paper and won.
Over the years the many of the Sacred Ceremonies of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people have been invaded by non-Indians and pretenders who learned just enough to be dangerous. Some of these individuals took what little they learned, returned to their homelands, and began to hold ceremonies. They almost always took the name of the wicasa wakan who conducted the ceremony they attended and pointed to them as their teacher/mentors and used their names to charge money for the phony ceremonies they conducted.
The Sun Dance, one of the most sacred ceremonies of the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, is too often attended by non-Indians. When did this start to happen? The settlers took almost everything from the Indian people and now they also want to take their ceremonies? Is it only the elders who recall that the spiritual practices of their ancestors were condemned by the United States government at the behest of the Christian church leaders? Many tribes had to take their traditional spirituality underground in order to preserve it. That is one of the reason many of the Pueblo Nations still keep their religious ceremonies secret and why no non-Indians are allowed. They practiced their spiritual ceremonies in secret for a good reason: they needed to keep it secret in order for it to survive. And they became so good at concealing the ceremonies from the prying eyes of those who had condemned it that even after the Freedom of Religion Act was passed by Congress; they decided to still keep their ceremonies to themselves.
Therefore it is strange that the spiritual practices of the people of the Great Sioux Nation are put on display in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, California and even in New York State. There are inipi, yuwipi, Sun Dance, and hanblecheya ceremonies held all over the United States conducted by shaman with no knowledge of the language or of the deep meaning of the ceremonies. They have turned the sacred ceremonies of the Sioux people into sideshows for the viewing and enjoyment of anyone willing to pay for them.
At one time an affiliation of Holy Men was started to stop the theft of the ceremonies and to protect it from those who would use them in a false way to make money. We haven’t heard of this association for awhile and if they are still in existence, they need to step forward and continue the job they started because things grow worse with each passing year.
We often hear people bragging about just having gone to a Sun Dance. In the old days people didn’t talk about such things. Anyone bragging about getting pierced at a Sun Dance did not deserve the honor. And just as bad, different Christian religious groups are trying to incorporate the spiritual practices of the Sioux people (and of other tribes) into their own Christian beliefs. The very Churches that tried to destroy the Indian religious practices are now stealing them from the oyate. They seem to think that if they work a few of the Indian spiritual beliefs into their Christian routines it will attract more Indian converts. And, believe it or not, it seems to be working.
The true spiritual practices of the Indian people are not for non-Indians and they are not for sale. It is high time that tribal governments and spiritual leaders spoke out about this bizarre circumstance that causes non-Indians to think they can usurp and own the religious ceremonies of the Indian people. This goes double for the Christian ministers who feel they can weave without penalty, the spiritual practices and beliefs of the Indian people into their own Bible thumping beliefs. They are messing with things over which they do not have a clue and it will come back to bite them.
We have seen photos taken at the Sun Dance and photos taken of the Hopi Snake Dance, a practice that is in direct violation of all the beliefs of the Sioux and the Hopi. This illegal practice must come to an end or it will be the destruction of these religious beliefs.
The Hopi and the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest have the right idea. Indian spirituality is for Indians only. We had these beliefs and ceremonies long before the white settlers brought their Bible across the ocean and they withstood all of the assaults by the Church to destroy them. It is high time the Indian people took them back and closed their ceremonies to outsiders.
Hopi Tribe closes ceremony to non-Indians