The New Age Take on Native Spirituality New Age culture’s obsession with indigenous spiritualty has contributed to the dominative forces that western colonizers have placed on Native peoples since their settlement in North America. Google defines the New Age as “a broad movement characterized by alternative approaches to traditional Western culture, with an interest in spirituality, mysticism, holism, and environmentalism.” New Ager’s involvement in Native spiritual practice can be problematic, oppressive and appropriative due to their lack of understanding on both the realities of Native people today and the relevance such Native spiritual practices hold. On Indian Country Today’s website, Native American Robert Chanate tells a story of his uncomfortable experience when attending a sweat lodge ceremony without knowing that non-native people were going to be participating. Chanate describes their appropriative and offensive manner of dress which consisted of “pathetic pelts, dream catchers and dyed feathers one sees hanging in the Native American section of truck stops,” enforcing and perpetuating his weariness towards the white people and their interests in participation. Chantate claimed that traditional ways would avoid involving whites in the sacred indigenous ceremony, which ironically had been used in the past to purify Natives harms which white society had imposed on them. Chanate’s story helps to illustrate the complex challenges Natives face when individuals from colonizing populations wish to partake in Native ritual. Matters get even more complex when select Native individuals feel comfortable in exposing white people to sacred practices without considering how doing so may make the religious practices less sacred, meaningful, and cleansing to other Natives. Pemina Yellowbird and Kathryn Milun identify parallels between the New Ager’s self-justified use of native spirituality and the imperialistic relationships between white settlers and indigenous communities, coining the term “imperialist nostalgia” defined as “a romanticization that assumes a pose of innocent yearning thus concealing its complicity with often brutal domination” (Aldred 334). An example of this domination is made particularly explicit as white entrepreneurs profit from marketing native spiritual teachings to the New Age population despite the disapproval expressed by many Natives. These entrepreneurs commoditize various aspects or teachings of indigenous spiritualism through workshops, seminars, books, kits, mockeries of sacred ceremonies and other products all promising spiritual growth or transformation. When criticized for marketing a religion that is not theirs, the common New Age defense argues that the first Amendment protects their freedom of speech and religion and that that “spirituality and truth cannot be owned” (Aldred 336). Both defenses are utterly ironic. First, Native peoples have been denied the right to practice their religions for the majority of our nation’s history. Second, non-natives have in a sense claimed ownership to Native spiritual teachings by copyrighting and profiting from them, despite the native tradition that holds that sacred teachings are passed down orally through authorized persons. The New Age’s claim to Native spirituality mirrors the relationship between the US government and Native peoples throughout history, and still today.
Native individuals have endured many years of violence and other forms of abuse from white America. This abuse is still taking place through countless broken treaties and an overall lack of concern for Native realities. Such ill treatment has had deep psychological effects on their self-esteem, which is reflected in some statistics revealing extreme disproportions in Native obesity rates, substance abuse cases, people living under the poverty level, and educational accomplishments in comparison to US citizens.