My initial thoughts were that I didn't want the drama of discussing this in public. Can't say I want it now. Though I was disgusted with what was going on, I was exhausted. I didn't want the story to be "look at the fight," so I kept the details among friends, and just focused on the principles in the public posts and mostly left the names out of it. But now it's all out in the open, so, due to requests, I'm re-posting that entry publicly. I'm reposting rather than unlocking the earlier one, as lots of people commented. We had an excellent discussion, but that discussion took place in private and I'm not going to change the security setting from what it was when people shared their thoughts and feelings.
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14 February, 2008
Due to her insistence on ripping off Lakota ceremonies, I will not be collaborating with Erynn Rowan Laurie on any sort of "Celtic" or "Gaelic" sweat tradition in the future. Actually, I have no intention of collaborating with her on anything in the future, and no longer consider her my friend or colleague; due to her repeated violations of our core principles opposing racism and cultural appropriation, I no longer consider her a Celtic Reconstructionst (CR). I have implied this earlier, but now that she's gone public with her appropriation and misrepresentation of Native American ceremonies, I'm stating it more clearly.
I regret having shared any of my personal experiences or research with her. She is now using some of my research, original ideas and experiences, without credit, including stuff I stupidly said about Inipi and Latvian sauna traditions in her presence. Though I'd like to be credited for the things I said about what is and isn't authentic, and how cultural appropriation is a form of racism (as it involves not valuing the voices of actual Indian people, specifically, authorized spiritual representatives who have declared that they don't want outsiders using their ceremonies), I don't want my name associated with the way she's ripping off and misrepresenting Lakota traditions (or Gaelic ones, for that matter, such as with the glanadh mess*). I regret having ever trusted or collaborated with her, and I apologize to the community for my past promotion of her, and for the period of time in which I was silent about this.
When she first told me of her desire to imitate Lakota Chanupa (sacred pipe) ceremonies, she told me in absolute confidence, and said it wasn't *really* an imitation of Chanupa. She said it was something she'd come up with on her own, not an imitation. She also said she planned to tell no one about it, that it was "between her and the spirits." I did not approve. As she disclosed more details to me, after I'd promised to keep her confidence, it became clear to me that she wasn't doing some unique vision-based thing; she was wanting to buy sacred pipestone on eBay, and make or borrow an imitation Chanupa. I have no reason to believe she would have come up with this fantasy if she hadn't been exposed to misrepresentations of Native American practices. I was polite, but I tried to talk her out of it. And I hoped that if I continued to tell her what traditional ceremonial people think about these sorts of misappropriations, she would realize what she was doing was wrong and stop it.
Let me state it if it's not clear: Erynn is a white woman of predominantly Polish heritage. She has no connection to Lakota culture. She has not lived in Lakota communities or territories, she has no Lakota ancestry. The only things she knows are from books written by outsiders, third-hand accounts by outsiders or, sadly, things I told her before I realized her intentions. Even if she did have any of these things, that would not give her the right to perform these ceremonies. Only the Lakota elders can give the right to perform these ceremonies, and they only give them to other Lakota.
Six months after confiding in me that she wanted to "make a pipe", she visited me here. She had something in a beaded, fringed leather bag, which she plopped down on my kitchen table. She said there was "a Chanupa" in the bag. I was stunned. I said, "What about The Declaration of War? She laughed and said, "Oh, the Sundamentalists!"
That is not a typo. My interpretation, though I was too stunned and sickened to ask her for much in the way of clarification, was that she meant "Sun" as in "Sundance" plus "fundamentalists." She as much indicated this. She laughed at her cleverness (I don't know if she coined this racist term or not). I asked her to repeat it, and she did. I am certain that's what she said. I didn't know what to do. It was like a white person using the N-word in my house, and then laughing while dancing around in blackface. She also went on a bit about how "not everyone agrees" about the Declaration and didn't seem to care about the distinction I tried to make between the racist act of finding some sole person of color to tell you your behaviour is ok, vs an authorized council of community representatives and spiritual leaders issuing a declaration on behalf of that community/Nation.
While she was here she also set up an altar with Zuni fetishes on it (though they were probably made in China), and pendulumned to make up a smoking mixture for the fake Chanupa, which she then took to the New England graveyard and smoked on the graves of her Polish ancestors. Yup, Polish Chanupa. I felt awful. I was pulled between my commitment to hospitality, how sickened I was by this behaviour from someone who still claims to be CR and who claims to be anti-racist, and the fact that I'd promised her I'd keep quiet about it. (Even though I'd promised before I knew what she was really up to, I had promised.)
A few months later, she started making hints online about "the pipe" and "the Chanupa". I was stunned and wasn't sure what was the most ethical course to take. On the one hand, she had asked me to keep quiet about what she was doing. And, all misguided loyalty, I had kept quiet, even though I felt she was horribly wrong.** On the other hand, she was now starting to admit it in public. I was torn between my principles and a promise I'd made to someone I had considered my friend - she had gotten me to promise silence, while she was starting to leak the bits she wanted to share, but only those bits. What I realize now is that she didn't really want my input and feedback, she wanted unconditional support for whatever she chose to do - even if I considered it offensive - along with the power to completely control whether and how that information was disclosed. This has now continued with her banning me from her journal while she still uses some of my work - without my permission, and against my wishes - and keeps me from being able to even comment on it.
When she first mentioned the fake Chanupa in an LJ post, I asked her not to, and after a bizarre argument, she deleted that sentence from the post. In that moment, I was scared of how that sort of abuse of ceremonies would reflect on CR. And I was still hoping I could get her to value the rights of the Lakota and stop what she was doing. I should have just let go and watched her admit it then, and let the chips fall as they may. As they are now.
In the thread linked above, she accuses me of being the only reason she kept quiet about it. But she was the one who asked me to promise to keep it quiet. I didn't want her to lie; I wanted her to stop.
As for protecting the reputation of CR, well, I don't consider Erynn CR anymore. I think I only did years ago because I hadn't met her in person until after we'd been online "friends" and colleagues for twelve years. For all I know she was always eclectic, and always a culture vulture. While she has contributed significantly to the CR community in the past, I am horrified that some may think her current behaviour is representative of CR. I wish I had never called her CR; I wish she had never picked up the term from me. When I met her online in '93 or '94, she was calling herself a NeoCelt. I wish she'd go back to that, or, more accurately, admit publicly what she really is: an Eclectic NeoPagan, who dabbles in many cultures. She admitted as much to me when she was here in person, and it's obvious from reading her LJ these days.
Since we haven't been speaking to each other for over a year now, I had no idea if she had stopped doing fake versions of Lakota ceremonies. Now, I know she hasn't. It's heartbreaking. Kym and I started this tradition to avoid exactly the sort of appropriation and misrepresentation Erynn is now engaging in. And for a while, I really thought highly of Erynn and, for a while, we were good friends. I've needed to sit with this for a while before posting about it. While I have gotten over my personal feelings of loss, betrayal and disappointment, I am concerned that, because she has been prominent in CR, people will think that her abuses are acceptable in CR. I'm glad that at least we got this bit down in the FAQ:
"CR as a whole is committed to respecting the cultures of First Nations peoples, as well as respecting the desires of the traditional peoples of those communities to set their own definitions, boundaries and standards. Many of us actively support the Lakota Declaration of War, as well as doing what we can to help out First Nations groups who work to expose “Plastic Shamans” and other frauds and exploiters of Native American spirituality. We also work in our own communities to educate people about issues of cultural sovereignty, and cultural integrity vs cultural theft." http://paganachd.com/faq/misconceptions.html#firstnations
Hopefully, that will mean more to people than one person contradicting it, no matter how visible she's been.
*She has implied that "glanadh" is Irish for "spiritual cleansing ritual", when it just means "cleaning" or "clearance" and, among Irish-speakers, is used for everything from cutting down a forest, to brushing one's teeth, to deleting articles on Gaeilge Wikipedia. She stole most of her "three cauldrons" material (like the idea they are located in three areas of the body) from tantric meditations available online and in books.
**I didn't even tell paul_hamish, though he saw the "Chanupa" bag when Erynn visited, and overheard her stunningly racist comments about the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho elders and community leaders who issued the statements about the Protection of Ceremonies. But once she started discussing it publicly, I made the choice to discuss this with Native friends and relatives, a number of whom were present at the protection meetings linked to above. Erynn may or may not be pleased to know that her name, behaviour, this post, and her appalling comments are now known to some of the community leaders and ceremonial people who participated in the meetings, and who have issued statements about plastic shamans. The relating of Erynn's "sundamentalists" slur, in particular, was met with gasps and expressions of sadness. Those who grew up with and maintain the ceremonies Erynn seeks to mimic have now marked her as an exploiter.
See also: Turning Point : Third Point : Gateway - Thoughts on the history of Celtic Reconstructionism and Gaelic Polytheism, 1985 - 2008, for additional context.