Native American wannabes: Beware the Weasel Spirit

  • Illustration of wannabe Indian

    Diane Sylvain
 

I once stayed at an upscale spa that had a Native American theme. We padded around on Navajo rugs, awoke to morning drumming and disrobed in locker rooms referred to as kivas. At night, instead of finding a chocolate on my pillow, there was a woven dream catcher. This failed to soothe my Spirit Self. In fact, I fretted: Was that dream catcher made by an impoverished person on a reservation while my fat ass was at a spa?

I've always been the guilty type. This guilt is why I'm unable to retain an open mind when it comes to my town's latest craze: Native American spirituality, known widely as the Born-Again Navajo movement. (Okay, I just made that term up.)

Although Telluride, Colo., is not approaching Sedona-like sensibilities (as far as I can tell, no one has sent an energy cone up to the mother ship), former dentists here do rename themselves Moonfeather She-Wolf and Blackcloud Dancer. Peruse the local newspaper and you might find Shamanic Healers listed next to Windshield Repair Services in the classified ads. Moonlight drumming is the second-most popular activity after golf.

Amid Born-Again Navajos (most often New Jersey-born Caucasians), spirit animals, or totems, are the latest trendy pets. I thought totems were carved things sold next to the rubber tomahawks. Of course, I also thought a sweat lodge was pretty much the same thing as a Swedish sauna.

This cultural ignorance is why I have chosen the spirit name White Dork. True, I could have picked Rainbow Claw Warrior or Crying Sunshine She-Bear, but White Dork seemed somehow more fitting. Most Born-Again Navajos have spirit animals, charismatic megafauna such as wolves, bears or eagles. I think I've finally found my own spirit animal, too: The weasel. Small and beady-eyed, symbol of irritation.

Like many Americans, I found myself "questing" for life's deeper meaning, attempting to find a less patriarchal, more nature-based spirituality. This is why I recently participated in a ceremony that involved a new moon (that is, no moon), chanting, drumming, singing off-key, rattles, water bowls, feathers and several New Jersey-born women huddled around a lump of charcoal in lieu of a campfire on the deck of a condo. (Let me remind you, I have chosen the name White Dork.) While parts of this ceremony were beautiful and meditative, I felt something was missing. Namely, a Native American.

True to form, I felt guilty, too, like I'd performed a Japanese tea ceremony at a backyard barbecue or received holy communion at Wal-Mart. I felt like a White Dork who was taking the best of another culture's spirituality without earning it, looking for a New Age quick fix instead of doing the long, hard work of self-exploration. I was a hypocrite, conveniently adopting values but not living them - communing with animal spirits and buying shrink-wrapped beef.

While much of this cultural co-opting is at heart very well-meaning, Native Americans are getting weary, if not pissed off. Members of the Lakota tribe have declared war on exploiters of their ancient spirituality. Their declaration states that they have "suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian 'wannabes,' hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled 'New Age' retail stores and ... pseudo religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony 'sweatlodges' and 'vision quest' programs ..."

Born-Again Navajos - if they're devout - must take this declaration of war seriously. After all, among its soldiers are White Dork and her Spirit Weasel, pathfinder of cynicism and King of the Rodent World. Together they will rain on the parade of any Rainbow Spirit Journey - and then go take holy communion at Wal-Mart.

Lou "White Dork" Bendrick is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (www.hcn.org). She lives in Telluride, Colorado.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Lou Bendrick

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: