Protest prompts cancellation of sacred ceremony
A UA student and other American Indian Movement members from Phoenix and Flagstaff protested a former UA professor's workshop Saturday, prompting him to cancel a spiritual ceremony.
The protesters opposed Lewis Mehl-Madrona leading a spiritual sweat lodge ceremony, saying he was unqualified and upset he charged money.
"We won a small battle, a very small battle - because this goes on across the country," said Randy Huffman, one of the Saturday protesters.
Mehl-Madrona, a former University of Arizona research assistant medical professor, said yesterday he canceled the purification ceremony because of threats of violence.
Mehl-Madrona said he received anonymous death threats through e-mails and didn't want protesters to dismantle the sweat lodge.
Instead of leading the sweat lodge ceremony, he and other participants attended a Protestant church service after his $250 workshop about Native American healing techniques.
"I think, perhaps, the best thing happened," Mehl-Madrona said.
He helped those interested in attending a sweat lodge contact local ceremony leaders.
Mehl-Madrona said he didn't "begrudge" the AIM supporters' protest.
"I understand their point of view - I think they were wrong," he said. "We weren't trying to charge for ceremony."
Alice Huffman, a UA American Indian literature graduate student, said she and other AIM supporters are opposed to Mehl-Madrona holding future sweat lodge ceremonies.
"We want to make sure not only can he not hold a sweat and charge money in Tucson, he can't do it anywhere," she said.
But Mehl-Madrona said he will continue to lead sweat lodges and that he has two ceremonies for ill patients planned later this month in Vermont.
"I have lots of sick patients who want to do them (sweat lodges), Native American and otherwise," said Mehl-Madrona, who received his doctoral degree in medicine from Stanford University.
But he said he probably won't hold another in Tucson because those interested in Saturday's sweat have now been put in contact with other leaders.
Protesters said they held signs Saturday reading "Ceremonies are not for sale" and "Don't pay to pray" on the sidewalk near Northwest Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave., where the workshop was being held.
"Most of the Indian community in the entire country is dead set against this," Randy Huffman said.
Mehl-Madrona said he was disappointed that AIM supporters didn't speak to him earlier - before the protest.
"I don't think they followed our culture and how we behave," he said.
But Randy Huffman supplied the Arizona Daily Wildcat with a copy of two e-mails describing his concern sent to Mehl-Madrona before the protest, as well as Mehl-Madrona's response.
The Huffmans said 11 protesters attended. But one of Mehl-Madrona's hosts said only six protesters showed up.