Friday, November 06, 2009

Kathleen: About that sweat lodge...

This is not a Native American sweat lodge. How can you tell? It's covered with plastic.

This is definitely not a Native American sweat lodge. It's not a even a Native American style sweat lodge. This is the structure used recently in Arizona during a "spiritual warrior" event that resulted in 3 deaths. I heard and read the "Native American" reference over and over again in the news reports. Call it New Age (whatever that means) or motivational magic or self discovery, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that what you see here bears little resemblance to Native American tradition and that reporters and self-help gurus alike should refrain from adding insult to injury by drawing any kind of comparison between American Indian ceremonies and the kind of activity that went on at the Sedona retreat.

I've written about Lakota ceremonies in many of my novels. I'm not Lakota, and I've never participated in inipi--the sweat lodge ceremony--but my husband and my sons have. I've been present. I've heard the songs and the prayers, but always from the outside. (Heck, I've been known to faint in a steamy bathroom.) I've been to Sun Dance, which is truly a moving experience.

This is a Native American sweat lodge. Yes, it's a little old, but it's authentic. They're still made this way. It's a willow frame covered with tanned hides or canvas. Maybe some blankets, but they tend to drip. No plastic. Plastic doesn't breathe. Notice the size. Clyde says he's never been in a sweat lodge with more than 10 participants, and usually not that many. Not just anybody can run a sweat in Indian Country, and no one pays to attend. People contribute food, and they might bring a gift of tobacco, sage or sweetgrass. Holy Men (aka, medicine men) do not charge fees. Ever. Traditional Lakota ceremonies like inipi and hanbleceya (the vision quest, to which guru James Arthur Ray has also tried to lay claim) are not part of a for-profit enterprise. Lakota spirituality is not for sale. If you're paying $10,000 for your "spiritual warrior" experience, it has nothing to do with Native American tradition. I'm not saying you won't get anything out of it, but buyer beware. And seller, be honest. And reporter, for heaven's sake, tell it like it is.

Why do I broach this subject here in the convertible? I spoke of Snopes a few days ago--a fact-checking site that helps us separate fact from fiction. I've blogged about stereotypes in the past. We're readers and writers here. Of all the cultures that are part of our American "melting pot," native cultures seem to be the most fictionalized.

I love fiction. Love it. Read it all the time. I can find more truth in 200 pages of good fiction than a week's worth of cable news. And I'm a news junkie. How about you? What kind of truth do you find in fiction? What kind of truth does a writer try to bring to her fiction, and how does she achieve that? And what about facts? Are they getting lost in this Age of Information?

I've got another autographed copy of IN CARE OF SAM BEAUDRY for one of our commenting passengers today. (Sam's brother, Zach, is coming to a store near you December 1 in ONE COWBOY, ONE CHRISTMAS.)


PJ said...

You've hit on one of my pet peeves, Kathleen. I used to feel pretty confident that the news I received via television was accurate, or at least close to accurate. Nowadays, with all the cable channels thrown into the mix, it seems to be about the race to broadcast instead of getting it right. I can just picture a news editor saying, "Who cares if it's right. We can always fix it later. Let's just be first to get it on the air!"

The reverse is true in most of the fiction I read. Authors go to great lengths to research facts and present accurate information. I can't begin to tell you how much fascinating, factual history I've learned from reading romance fiction! Sure, there's some inaccurate info out there in some books but the vast majority "get it right" the first time...and I, as a reader, appreciate that!

Minna said...

Oh dear. That sort of reminded me of the saunas they advertice as Finnish Saunas in some parts of the world which are definitely not Finnish and even the "sauna" part is debatable.

I don't know about cable, but around here channels that can be seen everywhere in Finland at least try to get things right.

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks, Kathy. The news about those Arizona deaths bothered me, too. I was glad to see a local news story that debunked the national info by showing the outside of a real Native American sweat lodge.

What bothers me is that they seem to be going for sensationalism as opposed to reality. In everything, even with the weather for heaven's sake!

Maureen said...

I try to limit the amount of news I watch because their information is definitely not always accurate. The truth I usually find in fiction is in people's actions and reactions to the people and events in their lives.

LSUReader said...

Interesting post. It restates some of my own feelings. I hardly ever watch TV news anymore, due to the often questionable view of facts presented.

lois greiman said...

Very timely, I mean, the media couldn't even figure out if the military gunman was alive or dead a few days ago. That's not really subjective. Does he have a pulse or does he not??

KylieBrant said...

I wrote one book about a Navajo Tribal policeman and hyperventilated at the thought of making a mistake. I always make sure and line up experts and did with that book too but was so scared that I would present something incorrectly that I didn't write a sequel, even when readers and the editor asked for one.

It's not the same as messing up a fact about a forensics procedure. A mistake made about a culture or society reflects on the people and perpetuates stereotypes or misinformation that can be damaging.

I see our news organizations becoming more and more like England's 'yellow journalism'. Sensationalism wins out over facts. Where are the Edward Murrows and Walter Cronkites of this generation?

Lady_Graeye said...

I saw that on the news. When does the media get anything right?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Absolutely, Kylie, where are the Murrows and Cronkites? They probably can't get a job. I saw a documentary about Cronkite with interviews done late in his life in which he lamented the state of journalism and TV news in particular. Without an informed public, we're in serious trouble on so many fronts.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

My niece's husband is a Native American, they go in sweat lodges often, (even his 10 yr old son), it's a shame the media can't get this report right. Sweat lodges have been in use for a very long time and it's a shame that one bad incident is tainting and ancient practice that appears to be safe and closely monitored. I know for a fact, they don't let anyone with heart of significant health problems into the sweat lodge.

I'm really glad you wrote about this.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oh, my. What's going on right now underscores how important it is for people to inform themselves. Stereotypes promote misunderstanding and beget prejudice.

Maureen, you put your finger on the key to good fiction. It holds a mirror up to nature. Human nature. That's where the truth lies.

Like Kylie, I'm constantly aware of my presumptuousness when I portray characters from a culture or a tradition that is different from my own heritage, such as it is. But American society is diverse, and good fiction reflects that reality. We can build bridges, not only by writing well-researched fiction but by reading, reading, reading. And opening our eyes and ears, asking questions, listening, and reading some more.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Elizabeth, there was so much wrong with the way the event in Sedona was facilitated--too many people crowded into an air deficient space, people discouraged from leaving if they needed to, told to ignore physical warning signs. That's not what inipi is about. It's a purification ceremony. There's a door for each direction, and each direction is significant in the ceremony. Four doors. In and out. Participants are supposed to leave when they need to, and they aren't taunted into pushing beyond their physical limitations.

The travesty in all this is that somebody who's out to make a bunch of money would claim that he was using Indian tradition, and that people would buy into it at least partly on that basis. It's so....disrespectful.

MarthaE said...

Hi Kathleen - this is a really good post. It is important to be accurate about authentic "rituals". Shame on the press for not distinguishing a fabrication from a true sweat lodge. It is terrible about the deaths but people should set up safeguards for that sort of thing!
This is an important part of Native American hisory and I am glad that you have the experience and research to present the real thing! Thank you.

catslady said...

About two years ago my youngest daughter (22) and her boyfried got involved in a sweat lodge group. Definitely free and only the donations you mentioned. The person in charge is of Indian heritage. They came to our area because supposedly a sacred white buffalo of virgin birth was born here. They usually meet once a month during a full moon. In all it's been a wonderful experience for them. Unfortunately the land is being sold and the new group that bought the buffalo was to have a sweat lodge but because of this incident they are not going to have sweat lodges but just an indian cultural center.

Debra Dixon said...

Right freakin' on, Kathy!

I had this exact discussion with my husband when the news hit.

One news program did bring on a Native American and give them opportunity to lay waste to all the claims that this in anyway approximates or duplicates the Native American tradition.

I wish I could remember which program. But I was so pleased to see that *someone* had bothered to do more than report from the guy's press releases. It was CNN but I don't know who had the guest on.

Minna said...

When I was in the States few years ago and wanted to know what's going on I checked out the news from the Finnish webpages and it wasn't just because I wanted find out what was going on at home. Around here they still seem to take an effort when it comes to checking things out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up on Zach's story, Kathleen. I went to Amazon and to your website, and neither really said what the series will be called. Or will there be just 2stories, in which case maybe we should catalog it in the library as "Sequel to ..." and "Followed by ..." and leave it at that?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Minna, your insight is so interesting. You said you've been amused by claims to "Finnish" saunas that had nothing to do with anything Finnish. Whatever sells, I guess. Pretty sure that's the case with Mr. Ray and his "spiritual warrior" deal. Those people in Arizona paid a steep price.

My father's father came here from Sweden. I don't know what saunas are like there, but it wouldn't matter. I'd pass out. I need air. I keep a window open at least a bit at night year round. Yep,even here in Minnesnowta.

I never knew what it meant when my grandmother (parents from Germany and England) would say "That's the Swede in you." Stubborn? Stoic? By all accounts (he died when I was 6) Granddaddy was quite the proper gentleman.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Anon, thanks for asking. I'm working on the 4th connected story, and so far there's been no suggestion of applying a series designation other than Special Edition. Third is COOL HAND HANK (Feb) and the working title for the 4th is THE MAN WHO LOVED WILD HORSES.

Pamela Keener said...

I love when a writer thoroughly researches the info in their novels. It becomes an enjoyable learning experience reading well reasearched reads. I also love when an author accepts their mistakes up front by not blaming experts for misinformation. It is a win win situation in my book.
Love & Hugs,

Anonymous said...

Well, heck, my comment didn't appear. If it shows up twice, I'll hide under a rock. :)

Great post, Kathleen! Glad you posted the pic of the Native sweat lodge.

The truth I find in the type of fiction I read is hope. Unquenchable hope. Might be buried in a character or a situation, but it's only a darkened ember and will begin to glow with the slightest wisp of air. I finish the story with my own hope renewed and affirmed.

I believe an author should check important facts, although I'm aware readers vary on what's "important." (g)

Some situations, though, can depend upon the author's experiences and pov of life. When I read stories with foster or adoption situations, sometimes I have to shrug and figure they experienced a different reality than we did.

The media responds to what garners attention. From tabloids to bombastic commentators, it's sales and ratings. So I think the audience is as much a partner in this as "the media." We need to send emails or make calls, praise what deserves praise, express displeasure with what offends.

Thanks for the book drawing, but I have a copy so you can leave my name out of the hat. (or bowl (g)) pam baker

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hey, Pam! Thanks so much for contributing. I'm with you on truth in character. It's all about character, emotion, discovery, shedding a little light on the human experience. And Romance reminds us that life really is worth the trip, doesn't it? People are mostly good at heart, no matter where they come from. You can tell by the care and respect they give each other. Greed an intolerance are the downside. Got to triumph over our baser instincts. Fiction can reflect that, and if we can't find some truth in that., then what's the point?

So good to have you on board!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oh, and Pam...I'm smiling over the fact that you already have the book.