A Modest Proposal on Hippie Sweat Lodges

Gyasi Ross

(The following is a satire inspired by Jonathan Swift, with apologies to April.)

Scorching hot hippies. Patchouli oil steaming from the bodies.

It seems that lots of Indians are very upset about James Arthur Ray and the actions that led to the manslaughter charges against him. They don’t like his “Spiritual Warrior” training and think that it’s offensive (and presumably dangerous too).

Lot of talk about “cultural appropriation” and whatnot. Heavy stuff. Especially when the appropriation led to the death of three people; those deaths were mainly due to James Arthur Ray having really no clue how to perform a sweat lodge in an appropriate manner. After all, cultural appropriation is a big deal to Native people. I mean, if we do not have our spiritual ceremonies and cultural practices, what do we have?

Still, there’s another contingent of Indian people who say, “You know what? Dang, I wish more crazy western people would host these lethal sweat lodges. On second thought, is it possible that we went about things the wrong way when we found these hairy, pale people? Maybe when they got off those big boats, and we realized that they weren’t quite as goofy and harmless as we originally thought, maybe we shouldn’t have shot arrows and counted coup. Perhaps we should have considered just partially teaching them some of our religious ceremonies and let them knock themselves off. Maybe we shoulda taught them the wrong way to do our ceremonies, like James Arthur Ray did!”

It was effective for him, no?

Those folks might say, “I mean, three fewer western folks hippie-dancing at pow-wows? Hell, that doesn’t sound like much. Three million fewer western folks? NOW we’re cooking with fire! We might get someplace now.”

Those same people, if they were inclined to think capitalistically as well as militarily, could conclude that, “Well perhaps we should think about producing lots of sweat lodges for the purpose of, um, giving westerners the spiritual enlightenment they crave so much. And…if it so happens that sweat lodges take some wayward pilgrims to see their God sooner rather than later…well, sometimes that’s the cost of spiritual fulfillment.”

It’s a novel business idea. For several reasons, observe:

Reason #1: There’s a certain sub-culture of people who like to act like Indians. I’m sure that there are many reasons for this. Personally, if I were a white person, I’d stay as far away from people of color as I could! But I digress.

Still, there are probably many reasons why some of them like to hang out with Native people; call it white guilt, or a need to get scholarships for college, or an excuse for living in a trailer, or a chance to explain away a lack of professional success despite 500 years of western hegemony. No matter the logic, however, this business idea—mass-produced faulty sweat lodges—would scratch that new-agey itch.

Reason #2—In recent years, assisted suicides have become a hot topic in the United States. Evidently, there are a bunch of folks whose kids don’t really wanna take care of them as they get older (I love you mom!!), so the parents figure “What’s the point?” Follow me here: Ignorant people stupidly doing sweats with no knowledge of how, can help take care of those suicidal folks. A lot of people—whether it’s because they have some serious, painful and chronic illness or because they’re simply old and really aren’t having sex the same way that they used to (and that must really suck)—think that their particular state should allow them to off themselves. Here’s a compromise, wink wink: “State, you don’t have to let us ‘kill’ ourselves. Just let us make our own sweat lodges, complete with plastic tarp over the top. In exchange, you won’t have to provide so much medical care for my liver spots.” Deal? Deal.

Reason #3—The whole United States is in a recession and, well dangit, Skins are just broke these days!!! We need jobs. Consider this proposition the “Indian Stimulus Bill”—creating jobs in Indian Country! We’ll get a bunch of Indians like me—lazy Indians who don’t really know a whole bunch about traditional things—to build the sweat lodges pretty badly. We could be picked up for day labor from the local Town Pump, our own little Native version of “Home Depot” for Mexicans, where we go out to make $20 a day. (Of course we wouldn’t want to hire any real traditional folks because, well remember, the object is to have these things go terribly awry.)

Anyway, I’m not saying that westerners stealing our ceremonies isn’t a bad thing. Obviously it is a horrible, disrespectful and frankly stupid thing—clearly dangerous for the folks that do it. What I am saying, however, is that every white cloud has a brown lining and maybe we can ascertain something positive out of it! I think that this modest proposal might help achieve a few goals at once: eliminate a few hippie dancers from your local pow-wow, possibly make a few folks happy as they go to see their Creator and maybe put a few dollars in the hands of some hard-working Skins.

Gyasi Ross (Gyasi.ross@gmail.com)

Gyasi Ross comes from the Blackfeet Nation and his family also comes from the Suquamish Nation. His Blackfoot name is “Oonikoomsika.” He is a proud father, a lawyer and a writer; he is the author of the series “The Thing About Skins” in the former Indian Country Today. He is also co-owner of Red Vinyl Records working with inspiring Native talent, and his book, “Don’t Know Much About Indians (But I Wrote a Book About Us Anyway)” will be out in August. Go to DKMAI.com to preorder.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




jeffreyv's picture
Ordinarily I take great pleasure in reading your blog, but today I am afraid I cannot say the same. Regardless if it was right or wrong for this man to create a sweat lodge, conduct a ceremony, people died. What is even more sad is that the people who died were searching for something that was missing from their lives. Answers to the questions that haunt us all. That is a tragedy is a cloud that has no kind of lining and rains tears of the friends and loved ones who miss them. You are a great writer, I love what you usually write, but I see no good in making light of other people's pain. Ours or theirs.
jeffreyv's picture
sorry should have proofed my comment before what I meant was:"That tragedy is a cloud that has no kind of lining and rains tears of the friends and loved ones who miss them."
crazyh's picture
Why Native Americans are so fired up because white people died trying to emulate them is beyond me. They would be fools to hold sweat lodges without having people sign liability waivers...which should legally protect them! JAMES ARTHUR RAY WAS NOT A SWEAT LODGE BUILDING EXPERT IN ANY SENSE! ANGEL VALLEY OWNER MR HAMILTON SHOULD HAVE HAD A SWEAT LODGE EXPERT AND EMERGENCY PERSONNEL ON HAND THAT DAY. HE KNEW THERE WERE PROBLEMS WITH PRIOR JRI SWEAT LODGES AND HE DID (((NOTHING))) SPECIAL TO PROTECT THOSE PEOPLE! IT WAS (((HIS))) SWEAT LODGE BUILT ON (((HIS))) PROPERTY THUS IT WAS (((HIS))) RESPONSIBILITY TO HAVE EMERGENCY PERSONNEL ON HAND FOR THOSE TWO-HOURS (((HIS))) SWEAT LODGE WAS BEING USED. I can’t make it any clearer than that Logical & reasonable Now, if it was James Arthur Ray's sweat lodge built on HIS property that would be entirely different. The problem with this case is that is how most seem to see the matter.
thechief's picture
I think we have already done a form of this. They are called smokeshops. Although frybread is not a traditional food, the last time I was at a carnival about a dozen vendors were selling fry bread. Once mainstream America tastes frybread we can eliminate a few more million western folks.
softbreeze's picture
I don't think any harm or offense was intended in this piece. It was labeled as a satire. If you look at it simply from the point of view that Europeans have treated Natives pretty horribly for the most part over the last 2-3 hundred years, it's understandable for these kinds of things to come from people. People need to express what they are feeling and experiencing. I personally thought it was pretty funny, and that's coming from someone who is 3/4 white, AND joke handicapped. I like your sense of humor ;)
thechief's picture
lemme reverse things to see if its offensive...these pesky native americans have been copying our superior anglo ways for centuries. first they took our religion, our technology, our hairstyles,and now our religious ceremonies aka wine. Luckily alcohol seems to be like cryptonite to these people so lets put a liquor store in their communities to see how many we can get rid of. They obviously have no defense for its buzz. Hopefully this will end these so called indians copying our superior anglo ways..(this is satire so don't get all wound up.) I bet if this were written on a right wing blog this would be forwarded all over the country and tribal leaders would ask the author for an apology. Jesse Jackson would probably even intervene.
rubenken's picture
Hippies? Wow, that's a little out of date. These were upper middle class New Agers in search of The Secret to prosperity. The hippies were a whole different thing. Aside from that I enjoyed the gallows humor and certainly can't refute the logic or sentiments. And don't forget, a number of Indians made good money selling books and trinkets to white people at New Age conferences. I know, I still have my rabbit fur dream catcher and antler tomahawk (good to have handy in case of intruders).
slywlf's picture
ROFL ;-) Well done satire - thanks - I needed the chuckle! Now if I can find a way to put similar notions into action here... way too many goofy tourons!
beaver's picture
We need to dig up our culture and learn more of our culture and traditional practices. Now is the task to document what our Elders know, preserve this knowledge and pass it down our generations. Our knowledge of ancient practices needs to be both WIDE and DEEP. Then it won't affect us when others steal a bit of our culture. The East Indians don't complain when a White man teaches yoga and I don't see the Chinese complaining when a White academy awards black belts in kung fu. Because their cultures are so wide and deep that it would be impossible for an outsider to steal them all. I wish we were the same way and we would have been that way if we still had knowledge/practices that were both wide and deep. The fact that "cultural appropriation" affects us so much indicates to me that we have lost almost everything and are desperately hanging on to the little that remains. But we can still overcome this. We can consciously learn more of our culture and traditional practices. Attendance at language programs barely hovers over 4 to 6 individuals in a tribe of thousands. Let's all learn our language. Let's document everything our Elders know and preserve this knowledge so we can pass it down our generations. Let's stop acting American, living American, being American. Let's learn all we can about plants and animals. Let's stop with the sole-focus on the generic powwows because it's eating into our other practices. Tribal benefits should be made contingent on learning our culture and language. Our knowledge of ancient practices needs to be both WIDE and DEEP. Then it won't affect us when others steal a bit of our culture.
titloup's picture
Thanks, it's always good to start my day with a laugh!