I've been following this tragedy on the news, and the more I hear the more outraged I am with this non-Indian dude that thought he had any business performing a sacred ceremony. As most of you probably know by now, an additional person died, bringing the count to 3 dead because James Ray did not know what he was doing. I received one response from a close friend in our NA community that she received from another friend. I'm going to copy and paste it here because I think this gentleman did a good job of nailing down most the outrage and grief that the Indian community at large is feeling because of this man. I don't personally know Jim Tree, or the two other incidents he's talking about where he claims the ceremonies were abused and bad things happened as a result. I do know that our ceremonies are protected by the Spirits and when they are abused things can happen though because I've seen this myself.
Anyway, here is what Jim Tree had to say regarding this tragedy. I would also like to point out that Kirby's family, the first woman who died was on Larry King last night and they are completely disgusted with James Ray for not talking to the authorities. He did call her mother, but according to her he took no real responsibility for her daughter's death. He also had the audacity to send her a $5000 check, which wasn't even half of what she paid to go to the retreat she died at.
"What went wrong in the Sedona sweat “dome.”?
By Jim Tree
Please note: The information presented here is based on first hand accounts that have not been verified by the authorities. The opinions expressed are my own based on this information and not considered fact by any law enforcement body, yet.
The recent tragedy in Sedona, in my opinion, was totally preventable and may end up being deemed prosecutable. Unfortunately the reporters in main stream media do not know what questions to ask to find out what really happened. It is not their fault; they just are not educated in the native mind/culture. I have spent the last few days asking questions of someone who was there and found to my disbelief the circumstances that lead up to the tragedy.
I have been attending sweat lodges regularly for over 20 years and have had the responsibility to run lodges for about half of those years. I was given this responsibility by Elders who made sure I learned all that was needed to run a safe and successful ceremony.
By successful I do not mean how many stones were used, how hot it was or if the songs were all done properly, but rather did the helping spirits show up and bring assistance to those attending. The old adage “you know the tree by its fruit” applies here. The fruit of a well run lodge is peace, rebirth, answers to prayer, healing, and restoration. In all my experience I have never felt sick or vomited as so many of the participants of this disastrous imitation of a sweat did.
There are many simple, plain and practical things to know about running a lodge, hundreds of small details that have become tradition through the refinement of time tested experience. Things like not how much water to give to the Grandfather rocks. How to adjust the temperature inside the lodge to be of maximum benefit to those attending, how long to heat the rocks, what kind of stones they should be, what is the cover of the lodge made of. (If you look at some of the photos in the news you will see plastic tarps were used, this should never be done.) So many little things that if deviated from can affect the outcome of the ceremony, sometimes drastically.
These things, not to mention the spiritual aspect of the training, can take years to learn.
In the traditional way one learned these things because from birth they were a part of your daily life and you helped with the work of preparing and conducting ceremony. It often takes a lifetime to come to the place on so many levels where the Elders will release you to walk in that kind of medicine, also known as service. Running a sweat is not a title or office, it is a responsibility.
So, here is what led to these horrible deaths. Yes, I said horrible because those who endured the fiasco that has been mislabeled a sweat lodge went through days of tortured humiliating (my view of their experience) before the final “ceremony” they called a lodge.
It appears to me that the leader of this retreat had no real training in these ceremonies at all. He violated some of the most basic, fundamental rules of safety concerning running this type of ceremony. First, anyone who is pregnant, has high blood pressure or a heart condition should never attend a lodge. This is just plain common sense. When the paramedics arrived on the seen they tried to find files or records about the participants of the retreat, only to discover that not even the most basic background information concerning health and other important conditions had been gathered by the owners of the resort or the man who ran the event. It seems that all he had requested was their name, address and birth date. (Plus payment of up to $9,000.00 a head (X 64 = $576,000.00)
Now comes the really sad part. This man used techniques that are considered common among those recruiting members into a cult. Sleep deprivation, brainwashing, personal humiliation and demands for a show of commitment beyond what would be reasonable for this type of experience.
The attendees were told that if they wanted to show there commitment they had to “Play full on”, they were told shave their heads. Most of the 64 men and women did just that. (Note: the leader did not shave his head; it is still unclear if he went without food and water as well) He then put them on a two day fast from food and water on a “group” vision quest in the desert. This was followed by a small breakfast and a couple of hours to “hydrate” before entering the sweat “dome”.
Most anyone knows it takes many hours for the human body to actually hydrate after water has been consumed, and then the amount is slowly built back up. There was a nurse hired by him to be on staff, why didn’t she speak up? They should have been re-hydrating the day before the supposed sweat. Instead in between 54 to 64 people went into the lodge totally dehydrated and during the first round, of which there were 6 rounds, some began to throw up.
It was reported that later some began to pass out. It seems that the dome was about 30 ft in diameter and the door was very small, letting in very little air when opened in between rounds. The ones in the back were the hardest hit by this lack of oxygen. Headaches and dizziness, vomiting, kidney failure, burns, respiratory arrest, and passing out was their unfortunate experience.
The man running the ceremony did not pour water from a dipper as is customary onto the stones, instead he poured buckets of water, and this causes uncontrollable steam and heat. Think of the closing round of a Lakota sweat where just the rest of the water in the bucket is poured onto the grandfathers. If you have experienced this you will understand why it is at the end of the lodge and the door is opened right away.
It has been reported that during the 5th round people outside the “dome” heard cries for help and pleas to be let out from inside. When the man leading the ceremony was asked to let them come out he replied “No, let them stay.”
One man left after the 5th round and felt he had failed because he did not “Play full on”. It was pointed out to him that thank God, by taking care of himself he was able to help tear the back wall off of the dome and rescue those suffering inside.
While professional rescuers and volunteers worked in the mud and sand trying to resuscitate the first woman who had died, others from inside the lodge did all they could to help their stricken comrades.
While all this was happening the owner of the resort and the leader of the retreat just stood by watching, not even offering to help anyone. One woman lay on the ground having seizures, foaming at the mouth and speaking gibberish while they looked on. Maybe that was a bit too messy for them to get involved in.
I wonder if the leader of this disaster will be required to use some of the $576,000.00 he collected from the participants, all for the privilege of being humiliated, abused and even led to their death by him, to make some kind of restitution to his victims.
I am sure more information will be forthcoming, but the real tragedy is that this man has been doing this for the last 7 years. The fruit of his “ceremonies” are people being physically trashed for days after the “sweat” ceremony, vomiting and passing out during them and when Tribal Elders came to him and asked him to stop holding them, he refused. He just ignored their requests and went on with his renegade ego trip of destruction. The result was that 18 people had to be medically helped during one of the next of these “ceremonies.”
Here is a quote for his twitter posting about what happened: “"My deep heartfelt condolences to family and friends of those who lost their lives, I am spending the weekend in prayer and meditation for all involved in this difficult time; and I ask you to join me in doing the same."
Now with all that said, I should mention a whole different aspect of what happened. We understand that the ones we refer to as the Thunder beings defend the abuse of all things sacred. Things like the Sacred Pipe, the ceremonies such as the Sweat lodge and the sacred dances, etc. I could write about the wild events at the “Rose” Sundance in Idaho or the one held against the Elders wishes near Yankton a few years ago. How the winds smashed the camp flat on tree day or so many other warnings to not abuse the ceremonies. One thing I know from experience, the Thunders give many warnings before bringing such harsh a discipline. This man must have refused to listen to their voice over those years as he did those of the Elders who came to him. So his resistance and pride led to this tragedy on an even deeper level then just the physical.
One word used for a person who runs ceremony in Annishanobie is “Oshkoshbaywiss” translated “Servant” or better, “Slave.” (A servant would have rushed to assist those he led into suffering, don’t you think?)
What message am I getting from this disaster personally? This all happened because people were duped into thinking they were taking part in a real sacred ceremony that would bring blessings into their life. They believed a lie, so the liar is first to blame, but what about the rest of us? Not blame, but what could we have done to prevent this. I feel people need to be informed about what is a true ceremony, from those who know. That means me and you. If you have attended a good sweat, or if you have sweat for many years, talk about it during the next few weeks. This subject will be prominent for a while, let’s take the opportunity to speak with those who would normally not even think about these things. Let’s use this opportunity to explain what the traditions are, what the purpose of these ceremonies are, what are the outcome of a true ceremony is.
We have before us a way to bring something positive out of this tragedy, to help prevent further abuses of people and the ceremonies themselves.
PS. I just found out this guy has three more of these events booked and paid for, without sweat thankfully, with seemingly no plan to cancel them. I hope he finds himself in jail before he can harm anyone else."