BLACK HILLS SIOUX NATION TREATY COUNCIL
Contact: Natalie Hand @ 605-867-5762
November 24, 2009
By Natalie Hand
On November 2, 2009, Floyd Hand, Jr., (Oglala Lakota Sioux) Oglala Delegate to the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, along with Ivan H. Lewis (Pima/Maricopa/Yavapai), filed a lawsuit (Case No.: CV-09-8196-PCT-FJM) in the U.S. District Court in Arizona against James Arthur Ray and the Angel Valley Retreat Center.
In the petition, Hand and Lewis assert that Ray caused the desecration of the sacred Lakota ceremony, “Inikaga,” commonly referred to as sweat lodge, by causing the deaths of three participants. The suit contends that Angel Valley Retreat Center is culpable for allowing individuals like Ray to rent their property which offers a sweat lodge for paying participants. Furthermore, Ray and Angel Valley Retreat Center committed fraud by impersonating Native Americans and must be held responsible for causing the deaths of the victims and serious injuries to the survivors.
In the immediate aftermath of the deaths, Ray fled the scene and Angel Valley Retreat Center staff dismantled the sweat lodge, thus tampering with a crime scene.
Hand contends that the “Inikaga” and other ancient Lakota rituals is a way of life, not a religion.
“Ray is a spiritual vampire who will use whatever means necessary to turn a profit. He and others like him that profit from our culture must be held accountable for their continual fraud and desecration. This ceremony comes from the Lakota. We maintain our cultural identity today and people like Ray are trying to mock it as a means to acquire material possessions. They cannot hide behind the Religious Freedom Act. This is NOT a religion," stated Hand.
The Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation is a legal binding agreement that is the “supreme law of the land."
Article 1 of the Treaty states that “… if bad men among the whites or other people subject to the authority of the United States shall commit any wrong upon the person or the property of the Indians, the United States will … proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained …”
For Ivan Lewis, this lawsuit is a long overdue. “I joined with my Lakota brothers to stop the desecration. These new-agers have been selling our native ceremonies for years here on our homeland. The non-natives are taking everything from us. Ray and the Angel Valley folks are a dime a dozen in Yavapai territory. My hope is that this lawsuit will put light on our treaties with the U.S. and will show the people of Arizona that we have sovereign rights," stated Lewis.
Importantly, Hand and Lewis want to emphasize that they are not affiliated with a group calling themselves the “Council of Indigenous Traditional Healers."
“This group claims that they will authenticate and qualify individuals, including non-Indians, to conduct our ceremonies. Our people know who is a real healer and who isn't. Yes, everyone is entitled to pray, but our ceremonies belong with us in our native tongue," noted Lewis.
To date, the plaintiffs have received notification that a judge has been assigned to the case. The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office's homicide investigation continues and hopes to submit evidence to the County Attorney's Office in December.
Alex White Plume, Lakota
"Thank you for this. The elders in a meeting at Billy Nills Hall discussed this. They said, we never say no, now they are getting out of hand with our ways. The Lakota make wopila, not to charge for personal gain. A society leader was acknowledged. This society is created to stop people from this type of outright capitalization of ceremonies. They are young, sober, and strong Lakota. We know they will defend our way. This society is sovereign, and can act any where they see our ceremonies being violated. I think the concept will grow across our country."