training and teachings, is the use of ceremonial pipes, smudging, the use
of Indian names, the making of Indian paraphernalia such as "prayer
arrows," tobacco ties, the use of feathers, the use of cornmeal and
tobacco in offerings, the use of braided sweetgrass for blessings, the
making of "medicine bundles", eagle feathers, the ceremonial use
of medicine wheels with the four directions, Indian chanting to drums, the
practice of purification in seatlodges and the vision quest. All these
practices are the public outward aspects of North American Indian
religions, and are well known to be so.
There is, however, a vast difference between the manipulation of objects, or the imitation of rituals on instructions gathered from readings and public knowledge, and the profound wisdom of spiritual practices of Native American people, still in the keeping of true medicine people who are unknown to the general non-Indian population of this network. People who are truly knowledgeable are the traditional elders of Indian nations, practitioners of various medicines, and a few anthropologists, writers, artists and people who have been invited to share in real ceremonies and do not write about, sell or divulge their experience.
The most common features of all these individuals Indians call "plastic medicine people" is the marketing of their limited knowledge, the offering of paying workshops, and the business aspect of their spirituality. All peddle the scant information they have gathered from a few discredited figures or textbooks which have a poor reputation both in Indian country and among anthropologists. This is evident in the reading list in the Deer Tribe Apprentice Manual and the Sedonia
reading list for vision quests. The most common cliches all these people
adopt are several statements: they have access to real Native American
traditions; Indians do not have a monopoly on these traditions; they have
been properly trained by qualified Indian Medicine people; and what they
are doing has validity, meaning and cannot be contested.
They even trivialize the concerns of Native American
elders, which they lately seem to reduce to such issues as "ownership
of spirit," or "jealousy." Such trivialization and such
ditortion of the real central issues are not to be taken lightly. They
hide cultural projections and indefensible acts of desecration.
The Ceremonial Pipe
Though Native Americans of this continent used several forms of personal, social and ceremonial pipes, the teachings of the Sacred Pipe through The Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Lakota people alone (Circa 900 A.D.). This is a real event and not a myth, for it occurred in historical time, as a supernatural event recorded in Lakota sacred texts. It is indeed far more recent than the times of Jesus and the writing of the New Testament, or than the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed.
The Lakota are The Keepers of The Sacred Pipe, as the Cheyenne are The Keepers of The Sacred Arrows. No group has the right to usurp such functions, or to imitate specific ceremonies in any form or fashion without showing deep ignorance, blasphemy, or just looking very silly. In Indian tradition, those who imitate others are without true understanding of what they are doing. They
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