Native American Elders' Reactions to Castaneda and 'don Juan'

I. Resolution of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Tradition Elders Circle
[Contributed by Linda Zoontjens]

It has been brought to the attention of the Elders and their representatives in Council that various individuals are moving about this Great Turtle Island and across the great waters to foreign soil, purporting to be spiritual leaders. They carry pipes and other objects sacred to the Red Nations, the indigenous people of the western hemisphere.

The past twenty years have seen the birth of a new growth industry in the United States. Known as "American Indian Spiritualism," this profitable enterprise apparently began with a number of literary hoaxes undertaken by non-Indians such as Carlos Casteneda, Jay Marks (aka: "Jamake Highwater", author of The Primal Mind, etc.), Lynn Andrews (Medecine Woman, Jaguar Woman, Crystal Woman, Spirit Woman, etc.). A few Indians such as Alonzo Blacksmith (aka: Chunksa Yuha, the "Indian authenticator" of Hanta Yo), "Chief Red Fox" (Memoirs of Chief Red Fox) and Hyemeyohsts Storm (Seven Arrows, etc.) also cashed in, writing bad distortions and outright lies about indigenous spirituality for consumption in the mass market. The authors grew rich peddling their trash, while real Indians starved to death, out of sight and out of mind of America.

These individuals are gathering non-Indian people as followers who believe they are receiving instructions of the original people. We the Elders and our representatives sitting in council give warning to these non-Indian followers that it is our understanding this is not a proper process and the authority to carry these sacred objects is given by the people and the purpose and procedure is specific to time and the needs of the people.

The medicine people are chosen by the medicine and long instruction and discipline is necessary before ceremonies and healing can be done. These procedures are always in the Native tongue; there are no exceptions and profit is not the motivation.

There are many Nations with many and varied procedures specifically for the welfare of their people. These processes and ceremonies are of the most Sacred Nature. Council finds the open display of these ceremonies contrary to these Sacred instructions.

Therefore, be warned that these individuals are moving about playing upon the spiritual needs and ignorance of our non-Indian brothers and sisters. The value of these instructions and ceremonies are questionable, maybe meaningless, and hurtful to the individual carrying false messages. There are questions that should be asked of these individuals:

  1. What Nation does the person represent?
  2. What is their Clan and Society?
  3. Who instructed them and where did they learn?
  4. What is their home address?

If no information is forthcoming, you may inquire at the addresses listed below, and we will try to find out about them for you.

We concern ourselves only with those people who use spiritual ceremonies with non-Indian people for profit. There are many things to be shared with the Four Colors of humanity in our common destiny as one with our Mother the Earth. It is this sharing that must be considered with great care by the Elders and the medicine people who carry the Sacred Trusts, so that no harm may come to people through ignorance and misuse of these powerful forces.  

Tom Yellowtail, Wyola, MT 59089
Larry Anderson, Navajo Nation, PO Box 342, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504
Izadore Thom, Beech Star Route, Bellingham, WA 98225
Thomas Banyacya, Hopi Independent Nation, Shungopavy Pueblo, Second Mesa via AZ 86043
Philip Deere (deceased), Muskogee (Creek) Nation
Walter Denny, Chippewa-Cree Nation, Rocky Boy Route, Box Elder, MY 59521
Austin Two Moons, Northern Cheyenne Nation, Rosebud Creek, MT
Tadadaho Haudenosaunee, Onondaga Nation via Nedrow, NY 13120
Chief Fools Crow (deceased), Lakota Nation
Frank Cardinal, Sr., Chateh, PO Box 120, Assumption, Alberta, Canada, TOMOSO
Peter O’Chiese, Entrance Terry Ranch, Entrance, Alberta

II. Vine Deloria, Jr. on 'don Juan'
From Sandy McIntosh

In trying to understand the problems that people from one culture (ours) meet with when they try to understand something fundamental in another culture (the "wisdom of the shamans of ancient Mexico"), I came upon the following by Vine Deloria, Jr. in his introduction to The Pretend Indian: Images of Native Americans in the Movies: Here he is discussing one of the strongest images whites have about Indians: the "old chief" stereotype.

"Carlos Castaneda parlayed the old man image into a series of best sellers that have much more relationship with an LSD travel tour than with Indians. Whatever Don Juan is, he is far from a recognizable Indian except to confused and psychically injured whites who have a need to project their spiritual energies onto an old Indian for resolution? The whites are sincere but they are only sincere about what they are interested in, not about Indians about whom they know very little. They get exceedingly angry if you try to tell them the truth and will only reject you and keep searching until they find the Indian of their fantasies? The obvious solution to the whole thing would be for the whites to achieve some kind of psychological and/or religious maturity. But the whole psychological posture of American society is toward perpetual youth. Everyone believes that he or she must be eternally young. No one wants to believe that he or she is getting or will ever get old. Somehow only Indians get old because the coffee table books are filled with pictures of old Indians but hardly a book exists that has pictures of old whites."

III. Excerpts from Spiritual Hucksters: The Rise of the Plastic Medicine Men, by Ward Churchill
[Contributed by Linda Zoontjens]

Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux - Author/Professor)

"White people in this country are so alienated from their own lives and so hungry for some sort of real life that they’ll grasp at any straw to save themselves. But high tech society has given them a taste for the "quick fix". They want their spirituality prepackaged in such a way as to provide instant insight, the more sensational and preposterous the better. They’ll pay big bucks to anybody dishonest enough to offer them spiritual salvation after reading the right book or sitting still for the right fifteen minute session. And, of course, this opens them up to every kind of mercenary hustler imaginable. It’s all very pathetic, really."

Oren Lyons (traditional Chief of the Onondaga Nation)

"Non-Indians have become so used to all this hype on the part of impostors and liars that when a real Indian spiritual leader tries to offer them useful advice, he is rejected. He isn’t "Indian" enough for all these non-Indian experts on Indian religion. Now, this is not only degrading to Indian people, it’s downright delusional behavior on the part of the instant experts who think they’ve got all the answers before they even hear the questions?The bottom line here is that we have more need for intercultural respect today than at any other time in human history. And nothing blocks respect and communication faster and more effectively than delusions by one party about another. We’ve got real problems today, tremendous problems, problems which threaten the survival of the planet. Indians and non-Indians must confront these problems together, and this means we must have honest dialogue, but this dialogue is impossible so long as non-Indians remain deluded about things as basic as Indian spirituality."

Janet McCloud (longtime fishing rights activist and elder of Nisqually Nation):

"First they came to take our land and water, then our fish and game. Then they want our religions as well. All of a sudden, we have a lot of unscrupulous idiots running around saying they’re medicine people. And they’ll sell you a sweat lodge ceremony for fifty bucks. It’s not only wrong, it’s obscene. Indians don’t sell their spirituality to anybody, for any price. This is just another in a very long series of thefts from Indian people and, in some ways, this is the worst one yet?These people run off to reservations acting all lost and hopeless, really pathetic. So, some elder is nice enough, considerate enough to be kind to them, and how do these people repay this generosity? After fifteen minutes with a spiritual leader, they consider themselves, "certified" medicine people, and they run amok, "spreading the word" - for a fee.

Some of them even proclaim themselves to be "official spiritual representatives" of various Indian peoples. I’m talking about people like Dyhani Ywahoo and Lynn Andrews. It’s absolutely disgusting?We’ve also got Indians who are doing these things. We’ve got our Sun Bears and our Wallace Black Elks and others who’d sell their own mother if they thought it would turn a quick buck. What they’re selling isn’t theirs to sell, and they know it. They’re thieves and sell-outs, and they know that too. That’s why you never see them around Indian people anymore. When we have our traditional meetings and gatherings, you never see the Sun Bears and those sorts showing up."

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

The late Matthew King (Oglala spiritual elder):

"Each part of our religion has its power and its purpose. Each people has their own ways. You cannot mix these ways, because each people’s ways are balanced. Destroying balance is a disrespect and very dangerous. This is why it’s forbidden?Many things are forbidden in our religion. The forbidden things are acts of disrespect, things must be learned, and the learning is very difficult. This is why there are very few real "medicinemen" among us; only a few are chosen. For someone who has not learned how our balance is maintained--to pretend to be a medicine man is very, very dangerous. It’s a big disrespect to the powers and can cause great harm to whoever is doing it, to those he claims to be teaching, to nature, to everything. It is very bad."

IV. Reactions to Florinda Donner
[From Linda Zoontjens]

Florinda Donner has been singled out for opprobrium. In the July13, 1996, issue of The Deseret News (Salt Lake City), an article noted that Native Americans resent thievery of native traditions by the likes of people like Florinda Donner, Lynn Andrews, etc. Donner was also mentioned in Psychology Today as one of the people Native Americans don't like because they are tired of being ripped off by "white shamans and plastic medicine men."