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Publication:    Lakota Country Times
Edition:          October 13, 2010
Section:          Voices



I am grateful you pick up on what has been going on in many places, both on and off reservations, for a long time. Many readers will remember the incident in Sedona, AZ that caught the attention of the nation when participants in a pay-for-use sweat lodge died, or developed serious health problems.

Casinos and sweat lodges are hardly parts of the same lifestyle and yet we find both in close geographic proximity – and not just at Turning Stone. Turning Stone offers services to a growing non-Native customer base. The juxtaposition of hair salon, casino and sweat lodge tells a lot.

I imagine a cartoon showing a receptionist asking a customer, “Madam, would you like to squeeze a visit to our sweat lodge in between your hair appointment and a night of gambling at the casino?”

They take business serious and discovered a business opportunity in the inipi ceremony. Their paying customers may never realize that there is much more to an inipi than going in, sweating while listening and praying, and coming out again. That whole idea is as laughable as the disrespect for the true inipi is upsetting – but the idea appears to be profitable.

Curiosity can be a strong motivator. Many non-Natives are looking for alternative lifestyles, and many wonder if the old rituals and ceremonies still have their rightful place in today’s world, and so they want to become familiar with them. I understand and I can appreciate that. I am grateful that people I met on my travels at gatherings, powwows, and in ceremony have been gracious and helped me to better understand their traditions. Even though I don’t necessarily follow those ways, understanding them has enriched my life.

The problem as I see it is not that people who follow a different lifestyle want to experience the inipi, but that the demand for that experience is greater than the number of opportunities to have that experience. Consequently, individuals who are misinformed, misguided, or worse, don’t care for anything but their personal profit, turn ceremonies into business commodities that lose their sacredness and power and do more damage than good.

The lack of public knowledge and experience enables individuals who aim to enrich themselves to exploit the innocence and curiosity of others. When an Indian ceremony is offered by an Indian nation, it sounds legit, and few non-Indians know enough to question why an Eastern Woodlands nation offers a Plain’s tribal ceremony.

People who grow up knowing that they can buy a pill at a drugstore that can make them feel better regardless of whether or not they understand which ingredients were used to make that pill, have difficulty understanding why we can enjoy the benefits of that pill without knowing what we are eating but we cannot fully benefit from an inipi without understanding it and preparing for it in the right way.

Sharing more of the culture disables those who want to change ceremonies to make them more “marketable and not educating the public enables them to continue. Public interest may drop drastically when people start to realize that inipi is not an instant remedy for everyone but requires individual preparation and education to be complete. The mainstream society prefers to pop a pill over working towards wicozani.