For more than three decades, SPIRIT has been addressing issues of cultural misappropriation, especially of sacred ceremonies like the Lakota Inipi (sweat lodge).
The Center for the Support and Protection of Indian Religions and Indigenous Traditions (SPIRIT) was founded more than 30 years ago to address the issue of cultural misappropriation. In 1993 the Lakota Nation, with the support of the National Congress of American Indians, announced the “Lakota Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality.” (see sidebar)
SPIRIT played an active role in educating the public about why this “Declaration of War” was necessary, and why cultural misappropriation is particularly harmful to Indigenous peoples.
This is the final phase of genocide. First whites took the land and all that was physical. Now they're going after what is intangible.
—John Lavelle, Santee Sioux Lakota, Founder of SPIRIT, 1993
This 1993 New York Times article about SPIRIT gives a sense of the origins of the organization and of this movement.
The issue of cultural appropriation isn’t new. Over the last few decades, there have been increasingly clear statements by Indigenous peoples about this, such as the 2003 “Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies.” There is also an increasingly robust international and national legal system to give Indigenous people the ability to address this matter in a court of law, if needed. Many organizations have come to realize the harm that is done to Indigenous people when our sacred ceremonies and traditions are stolen and commercialized, and have stopped harmful misappropriation. Yet some people continue to violate the clear wishes of the Lakota Nation and Indigenous Nations in general.
The ManKind Project (MKP) has come to the attention of SPIRIT as the largest organization in the world to sell sweat lodge ceremonies, medicine pouches, and in many ways demonstrate a deep disrespect of Indigenous traditions. SPIRIT had been less active in recent years, but after reviewing what is happening with The ManKind Project, SPIRIT is moving into action, for now focusing exclusively on the egregious behavior of MKP.
The primary role of SPIRIT in this matter is to serve as a source of information about the ManKind Project’s misappropriation. SPIRIT will gather information about the ManKind Project and share it with Indigenous organizations and nations, and we trust that they will act as they see fit once they are fully aware of the situation.
SPIRIT will also provide educational materials on this matter so that members of MKP and the general public can learn more about this matter and take action.
SPIRIT will continue doing this until the ManKind Project dissolves their “Lodge Keepers Society,” halts all cultural appropriation, and engages in a public Truth and Reconciliation process with tribal leaders.
From the 1993 "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality"
... Whereas individuals and groups involved in the “New Age Movement,” in the “men’s movement,” in “neo-paganism” cults and in “shamanism” workshops all have exploited the spiritual traditions of our Lakota people by imitating our ceremonial ways and by mixing such imitation rituals with non-Indian occult practices in an offensive and harmful pseudo-religious hodge-podge.
... We hereby and henceforth declare war against all persons who persist in exploiting, abusing, and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. ...
... We urge our people to coordinate with their tribal members living in urban areas to identify instances in which our sacred traditions are being abused, and then to resist this abuse, utilizing whatever specific tactics necessary and sufficient, for example: demonstrations, boycotts, press conferences, and acts of direct intervention.
Source: The People's Paths
Verlinda Montoya, Spokesperson
Verlinda Montoya, also known by her given Indian name, Mato Tá Pejuta Wákan Nawjín, (Mato Winyan), is an elder, medicine woman and spiritual leader from the Picuris pueblo of New Mexico. Her tribe is Northern Tiwa/Hopi and she comes from a maternal blood line of Medicine People. Adopted by the Lakota-Sioux tribe, she has been facilitating Native American ceremony (Lakota and Hopi) for over 20 years, conducting traditional Lakota ceremony under the guidance of Lakota medicine people.
With a Master's Degree in Health Education and Health Service Administration, Mato Winyan founded Heart of Humanity, the first agency in Marin County, California to practice integrative medicine, and has received numerous awards for her work, serving as president for non-profit organizations and other boards, committees and diversity panels, as well as two appointed terms as Commissioner for the Marin Women's Commission for the Novato District. She has also produced and hosted 20 TV productions and served as keynote speaker for more than 40 organizations.
Members of SPIRIT
Mato Tá Pejuta Wákan Najín
Verlinda Montoya RN, MH, MHSA
Tribal Member Picuris Pueblo
Lakota Adopted EagleElk Family
Chief John Bravehawk
Sundance Chief, Elder
Wilbur Morrison Sr
Pine Ridge Reservation
Pine Ridge Reservation
Wylacki Tribe Round Valley CA
Jaime Ceferino Rosario
Dr Ellen Faryna
Adopted Pueblo Nation
Wounded Knee DeoCampo
AIM Advisor (American Indian Movement)
Me-Wuk Tribal Member
Activist for Indigenious Rights
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band
Nathen “Thunderheart” Costello
Oglala Sioux Omaha Tribal Member
Wambli Ho Waste “Jacob” Arapahoe
Traditional Singer Ceremonial Leader
Pine Ridge Reservation
Julia Jalalat LCSW
Choctaw Tribal Member
Pitt River Tribe
Northeast, Shasta County
Heather Moss, Civil Rights Attorney
Attorney, Advisor, Litigator