The Problem with MKP
MKP is engaged in severe cultural misappropriation and has made millions of dollars selling Native American traditions in direct violation of Indigenous rights.
The ManKind Project (MKP) is an organization dedicated to helping men become better men, and in many ways MKP has been a positive force in the world. Yet at the same time, MKP is also engaged in severe cultural misappropriation of Native American traditions, which is the focus of this summary.
The ManKind Project is the largest organization in the world that is commercializing a sweat lodge ceremony, which they include as a key part of their primary workshop. To date, nearly 80,000 people have attended MKP’s workshop, for which the current price tag is around $725. None of the profits from this have been shared with Indigenous nations. The sweat lodge offered by MKP is derived from the Lakota Inipi tradition, but is generally led by white men who have very limited background in Indigenous traditions.
In the 1980s, the early versions of the ManKind project’s signature training included an imitation sweatlodge in a plastic hut. By the early 1990s, MKP decided to seek out a more traditional sweatlodge experience to include in their workshop. Curtis Mitchell, a white man who had been studying Lakota traditions for many years, connected the ManKind Project with an Oglala Lakota elder named Mel Lonehill. Lonehill worked with MKP to create a slightly modified sweat lodge ceremony that would fit within MKP’s workshop. The agreement between Lonehill and MKP was kept strictly secret from most members of the Lakota Nation, because they were aware that it would be highly controversial. Lonehill passed away in 2018.
The sweat lodge that MKP sells consists of the traditional four rounds, with drumming and traditional vocable songs, and some Lakota language. It is held within a lodge that is a close replica of a traditional Inipi lodge. The mound at the entrance sometimes has a buffalo skull and other ceremonial items. Tobacco, sage, cedar and sweetgrass are used in and around the lodge.
In addition to the sweatlodge ceremony itself, the ManKind Project has appropriated a wide range of other Indigenous practices.
Participants are told to refer to themselves with an “Animal or Spirit Name” For example, one of the founders of MKP calls himself “Crazy Horse” and many members call themselves “Black Elk” or “Sitting Bull,” among many other famous names. Tens of thousands of men call themselves names that include “Bear” “Wolf” “Eagle” or “Horse” along with some descriptor, such as “Roaring Grizzly” or “Big Balls Bear.”
Participants are given a medicine pouch (a red leather bag containing tobacco, sage, cedar, sweetgrass, stones, and sometimes feathers or other traditional medicines), but are told that it is a symbol of their balls and scrotum. Ceremonial ashes are worn as face paint, and men are encouraged to dance around a fire, naked except for their new medicine pouch, to the music of drums and rattles.
History of Protests
Despite decades of protest by many Indigenous people, the ManKind Project continues to insist that they have the right to do this.
In 1993, the “Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality” called out MKP, saying “Individuals and groups involved in the ‘men’s movement’ 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.”
In 2003, the Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies made it clear that sacred ceremonies should only be led by Native American people who have completed the traditional training, and that “there should be no price tag allowed to participate in any of our Sacred Ceremonies.”
For decades, various Indigenous people who have attended MKP events have protested in a variety of ways, but almost nothing has changed.
Since 2019, there has been a concerted effort by many members of MKP to address the issue of cultural appropriation.
In 2021 there was a presentation to many leaders of MKP on the topic, but the presentation was immediately censored by MKPs Board of Directors to prevent anyone from seeing it.
In 2021 an internal committee was formed to consider the matter, but even after thousands of volunteer hours and many presentations, the organization refused to engage with any Indigenous leaders from outside of the organization.
In March 2022, the committee was dissolved, having settled on virtually no substantive changes.
In April 2022, after a break due to COVID, MKP resumed their workshops fundamentally unchanged. The organization is now conducting workshops all over the world, involving thousands of paying customers.
A branch of the organization that calls itself the “Lodge Keepers Society” whose members serve as water-pourers within the lodge, continues to insist that they have the right to do this because of statements made by Fools Crow over 70 years ago.
In many events associated with MKP, members of the “Lodge Keepers Society” offer additional sweatlodge ceremonies to the public for their own personal profit and social status. Some call themselves Shamans or Medicine Men, refer to themselves by the pseudo-Indian “Animal Name” they got from MKP, and promote their ceremonies widely within MKP and to the public. The founder and de facto leader of the Lodge Keepers Society, Curtis Mitchell, is widely reported to lead Inipi ceremonies while drunk, and there are many reports of other men from MKP leading ceremonies while drunk or high on a number of different substances.
Despite many years of protests, there is no indication that MKP will be transparent about its practices, nor will it seek dialogue with any Indigenous leaders who might disagree with their position.
Request for Support from Indian Country and Allies
Since the ManKind Project has refused to be transparent and seek guidance from the Lakota Nation and other tribes, several of the people involved in this matter brought it to the attention of traditional ceremonial leaders. After a few months of discussion, an Inipi ceremony was held to seek spiritual guidance. After the ceremony, the decision was made to provide all Indigenous leaders and the general public with information about the ManKind Project’s commercialization of Indigenous traditions.
The Center for SPIRIT encourages all Indigenous nations and organizations to look into what the ManKind Project is doing, and respond to the situation in whatever way they deem appropriate.
This slide is one example of MKP making money by using Native American imagery and traditions: