CNN reported on reactions throughout Indian Country to the verdict of self-help guru and author James Arthur Ray.
“He deserves to pay for the lives he took,” Valerie Taliman, a Navajo who serves as the West Coast editor for Indian Country Today Media Network, told CNN. “Our prayers go out to the families who lost their loved ones because of his greed and wrongful exploitation. He had no right to create the false illusion that he had any connection to Native ceremonies,” she said in an e-mail to CNN. “He is a worst case example of charlatans selling spiritual snake oil.”
Taliman hopes that when jurors determine Ray’s sentencing next week, they persecute him to the extent of the law. Convicted of negligent homicide on June 22, although prosecutors pursued manslaughter charges, Ray could face anywhere from probation to as long as 11.25 years in prison for the deaths of three of his followers at a sweat lodge ceremony outside Sedona, Arizona on October 8, 2009. Kirby Brown, 38; James Shore, 40; and Liz Neuman, 49, died after participating in Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” retreat, in which another 18 people were hospitalized for burns, respiratory arrest, kidney failure, loss of consciousness and dehydration.
“He took something we hold sacred and broke every rule we go by, then sold his desecrated version of our ceremonies to people that he actually profited from, then killed,” Taliman told CNN. “I hope they make an example of him and give him the maximum sentence.”
American Indians throughout the country resent that “impersonators” are appropriating and exploiting their sacred ceremonial practices, reported CNN’s Jessica Ravitz.
“It’s a fad to be Indian today,” Autumn Two Bulls, a writer and activist, told CNN earlier this year from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
“In America, you are an individual. You can be whatever you want to be. When you’re Lakota, we belong to each other,” Two Bulls told CNN. “So when you take our way of life and put a price tag on it, you’re asking for death, you’re asking for something to happen to you.”
Ray, who wrote the best-selling book Harmonic Wealth that enabled him to invest in his popular seminars and buy a multimillion dollar home in Beverly Hills, has capitalized off an Indian tradition.
“For $9,695, Ray promised that Native American wisdom, imparted by him, would make you healthy, wealthy, and wise,” wrote Steve Russell (Cherokee), a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University Bloomington, in the op-ed “Selling Magic; Delivering Death.”
According to traditional American Indian teachings, Ray’s actions will come back to bite him.
“Mr. Ray has faced the application of man made laws in respect to his charges in a court of law, but according to natural law he is still accountable to the karma he created for himself,” Alvin Manitopyes of the Plains Cree/Sautleaux First Nations told CNN after hearing of Ray’s verdict.
“According to our teachings, what he’s done to these people will come back on him over a lifetime,” Taliman told CNN. “Let’s see how spiritually grounded he is now.”