[Wildcat Online: opinions] [ad info]





Ceremonies supersede the United States Constitution

By Wileen Begay
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 12, 1999
Talk about this story

To the editor,

I am a registered member of the largest American Indian Tribe in the United States. The following is a response written from a Navajo perspective and will address the Friday editorial.

The problem with the editor's stand to praise Mehl-Madrona is to regard a healing workshop as a business. The editor also invokes constitutional rights where the issue transcends the "right" one man gives another.

Let's tackle the latter issue first. The "right" to charge for a seminar is indeed a constitutional right. The editor says for AIM to pay closer attention to "whether or not Mehl-Madrona is making a fair attempt at interpreting their culture, instead of the fact that he is charging money for it." The issue I have is the editor's statement. The supposed teachings offered through Mehl-Madrona's seminar are sacred and require a more in-depth understanding than could possibly be learned in a weekend seminar. How could it possibly be a fair interpretation of our religion? Would you attempt to explain Christianity or Catholicism in one weekend and think it would be a fair and accurate interpretation?

Next, Mehl-Madrona's choice to charge money for a seminar to teach what he knows is also his right as a businessman. My problem with this is his choice to include a ceremony (sweatlodge) in his seminar. Our ceremonies are conducted by people who have studied for decades under the tutelage of a medicine man. The fact that you have learned or studied any Native American ceremony does not automatically grant you privilege to perform the ceremony, even if you are a Native American. The underlying basis for any ceremony is that both the patient and healer have to completely believe in attaining healing results. Ceremonies are conducted for patients who are properly diagnosed to be in need of a particular ceremony. Ceremonies, including sweatlodges, are neither for sale to those who have monetary means nor for those with a curiosity for "Native American" healing. If Mehl-Madrona were a true spiritual leader, he would have understood this basic premise. Ceremony is not a business. Ceremony is a deeply religious healing process for us.

The editor states that we should praise Mehl-Madrona, among other things, for promoting learning and appreciating Native America. Who asked Mehl-Madrona? We are not asking for the rest of the world to understand and appreciate Native America. If we feel the "need" to promote learning and appreciation of Native America, we have our own division/departments/programs within our Tribal Governments to represent us (collectively) the way we see fit.

Our ceremonies have existed for thousands of years, longer than the U.S. Constitution has been in existence. Since this country is called the United States of America, the ultimate ruling will favor the U.S. Constitution by upholding individual rights but it doesn't make it morally correct to bastardize our religious beliefs through workshop/seminar "ceremonies."

The biggest problem I have with Mehl-Madrona is the fact that he turned a ceremony into a carnival sideshow for the curious. Religion and tradition are the only things we have left after centuries of oppression and near extinction. For some tribes, religion and tradition no longer exist. This is the reason we get upset when our ceremonies are used for someone's personal gain. Find another way to make a living!

Wileen Begay

Molecular and cellular biology freshman

[end content]
[ad info]