AP Photo/Jack Kurtz, Pool
James Arthur Ray at his bond hearing in Camp Verde, Arizona on February 23, 2010.

Native History: A Non-Traditional Sweat Leads to Three Deaths


This Date in Native History: The often misguided and misrepresented spiritual representation of traditional Native practices broke into mainstream media on October 8, 2009 when James Arthur Ray, a 53-year-old “self-help guru,” saw tragedy strike his latest retreat.

Ray, a controversial spiritual leader, offered sweats in a sweat lodge to those willing to shell out almost $10,000 for a week in Sedona, Arizona. Tragedy struck when three of the participants died, two in the lodge and one in a nearby hospital following a week in a coma.

Ray drew the ire of Indian country from the start as the ceremony he was selling bore little if any resemblance to an actual sweat lodge ceremony.

Indian Country Today Media Network West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman wrote an award-winning opinion piece where she stated, “It was a bastardized version of a sacred ceremony sold by a multimillionaire who charged people $9,695 a pop for his ‘Spiritual Warrior’ retreat in Sedona, Arizona.”

RELATED: Selling the Sacred

In June of 2011 Ray was found guilty of negligent homicide in the three deaths. The victims participated in the “Spiritual Warrior” retreat, where 18 people were hospitalized for burns, respiratory arrest, kidney failure, loss of consciousness and dehydration.

RELATED: James Arthur Ray Found Guilty of Negligent Homicide

Taliman was quoted by CNN following the tragedy as saying, “What right does Ray have to mimic, mangle, and manipulate Native ceremonies that have been carefully handed down among indigenous cultures over millennia? Ray does not own any rights to Native spirituality, because they are owned collectively by Indigenous Peoples and cannot be sold.”

Ray however is one of many who Taliman also referred to as a “huckster posing as the real thing” and was only found guilty of a crime when the loss of life occurred.

Following the guilty charge Ray was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $57,000 in restitution to the families of the victims—he was released from prison on parole on July 12 of this year.

RELATED: Self-Help Shamster Behind Sweat-Lodge Homicides Released From Prison

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Wade Weeks's picture
Wade Weeks
Submitted by Wade Weeks on
Just 2 years for 3 people killed by negligent homicide? People get longer sentences for holding up a 7-11 where no one dies! Another example of being able to buy your way out of trouble. And only $57K apiece? What a turd.

Helene E. Hagan
Helene E. Hagan
Submitted by Helene E. Hagan on
I wrote an article for "Democrat Press" back in 1993 on "Plastic Medicine People" which remains fresh and relevant today. It has recently been published in a new book, released in July 2013, "Fifty years in America, A Book of Essays" available on amazon.com . I wrote that article after several years of working behind the scene with Avis Little Eagle for her outstanding series on Plastic Medicine people of the Lakota newspaper founded by Tim Giago, sending her as much material as possible on a number of such people in California and elsewhere. That was the time of Lynn Andrews, Harley Swift Deer, etc...

Harley Kills Enemy's picture
Harley Kills Enemy
Submitted by Harley Kills Enemy on
Yes, "collectively owned, and not for sale". Eighteen people hospitalized, three people dead, he gets a two year sentence only paid 57 thousand to three families. That's an awfully low price for a human being.

Penny Truex's picture
Penny Truex
Submitted by Penny Truex on
People are ignorant of the fact one should have certain training,and have fasted and done vision quest for a lodge. There are most likely also Native American people who have given the sweat lodge ceremonies who are not qualified to do so. I am very sad about this loss of life due to greed and disrespect and ignorance, and that it still goes on

Sam. George's picture
Sam. George
Submitted by Sam. George on
What else is new. Have seen the desecretion going on for years. Still here in canda there are lots calling themselves shamen and selling all their learned teachings for exorbant sums of money. My grandmother always said,"Want the white man to do something, offer him a dollar" Sadly so true.