Webmasters note: I did not write this. In February 1995, Nora Bunce (Eastern Band Cherokee) submitted the following statement to the listserv NATCHAT.
I would like to offer my views on this issue of Native American beliefs and New Age beliefs. I am a Cherokee woman, my Mother was Nora Emory, the daughter of Sarah Willis, who's mother was a member of the Wolf clan of the Eastern Cherokee. What my grandmother taught me about the beliefs of the people are as opposite from the New age beliefs as any one can get. Because the differences between the two systems, there is no way that there can be any merging of the two without one group giving up their basic fundamental beliefs and adopting the others beliefs. I am not willing to give up what my Grandmother taught me. NO! THE NEW AGERS DO NOT DO A GOOD JOB OF REPRESENTING THE BELIEFS OF MY PEOPLE. They steal the ceremonies and parts of the beliefs that they choose without permission, without knowledge. They bastardize them and re-package them for sell to the public either for money or credibility. And I am so very sick and tired of it. What the new agers do to our beliefs is another form of genocide that my people have had to endure.
There are some very basic philosophical differences between the "New Age" belief system and the beliefs of my Grandmothers. The main one being the belief held by my Grandmothers that we have a Creator, that exists outside of ourselves. We are a small but significant part of the creation and we are accountable to Creator for how we behave toward others, Our Mother Earth and all of her children. As a young person (42) I have to give an account to my Grandmother, the people, and Creator for the way in which I treat my children. I am not my own god. New agers do not want to be held accountable to the Native community for their behavior. The meanings of our ceremonies are lost on the new agers, they can not see beyond the rituals. When the white race "killed" their creator and decided that they would teach their children that they "evolved" from something without intellect, without feeling, without meaning, it left an emptiness in the children. Today those children as adults look around for all sorts of things to fill that void.
Our ceremonies are but one thing that these people have grabbed in order to fill that emptiness. But because their basic beliefs will not allow them to be accountable to a Creator, they do not look for the meaning behind the ceremonies, and they only pick and choose portions which serves their own agendas. There is no one Indian religion, as the new agers would have you believe, our religions are community based, and the practices reflect the individual characteristics of the community and the individuals. True medicine people do not sell their knowledge for profit, it is to be shared freely with the people. As a native woman I look to my grandmothers for the wisdom I need, I do not go looking to take someone else's religion. As a native woman, I accept the pain that comes as a result of genocide and I will spend the rest of my life fighting the devastating effects of genocide on our children. New agers do not want to accept this part of what it is to be native. They do not want anything to upset their romanticized idea of what it is to be native.
Granted, not all Native Americans adhere to the teachings of our Grandfathers and Grandmothers. They have given up the old principles for those of the Europeans. I believe that this is why our people self-destruct through alcohol, suicide, drugs, and other ways. But I am grateful that we are beginning to look to these issues. Our Elders are waking up and the heart is coming back into our people. We are gaining control of our own lives again, and at the heart of this new life is Creator, our children, and our Elders.
Native people do not have the same religious freedom that White people have. New agers have the power to make themselves heard by the people of their culture. They give a wrong representation of our beliefs, they trivialize our practices destroying their power. As a teacher I see the beliefs of my people minimized and misrepresented in the classroom, and our children that are forced to attend the schools are made to feel shame for the beliefs of their grandparents and shame for who they are. The goal of the dominate culture has been and still is destruction of the native by assimilation. This policy has not changed since the beginning of the invasion, it has gone underground into the educational curriculum and legal legislation that abrogate treaty rites (the main issue of treaty rites is the natives' right to live on the land). At the heart of our survival has been our spiritual beliefs. The new agers carry out their own form of genocide against our people by stealing our spiritual beliefs, minimizing them, bastardizing them and destroying the power that is in them. These are some of my own thoughts.
Thank you for asking a native.
There are others who can speak to this issue much clearer than I, and with much more knowledge. I encourage you to seek those people out if you want a true representation of how native people view the new agers.
Creator bless you.