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Arizona Sweat Deaths

Grave of Chuck's Great, Great Grandfather that we found last week in Sisseton. He was a scout in the 1860's.

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Arizona 'Sweat lodge' Disaster

As many of you have probably read, there was an awful occurance the first week of October, 2009, at a so-called Sweat Lodge in Arizona. Two people died and many were hospitalized. The Sweat was a part of a 4 day intensive run as a motivational weekend strength building workshop. The Intensive was run by James Arthur Ray, who charges $9,596 for this 'Spiritual Warrior' event. Other workshops run by him cost around $6,000. On his website he says,
'In Spiritual Warrior, you'll build upon what you started in Practical Mysticism. You'll become privy to techniques (many kept secret for dozens of generations) that I searched out in the mountains of Peru, the jungles of the Amazon (and a few other places I don't care to recall).
Mastering these (quite esoteric) practices required me to think and act more differently than I've ever had to before. At first it was quite grueling, but the results...well...all I can say is, "Wow!"'

Those of us who are Native American or who follow the Native American 'Red Road' are aghast at this tragedy, we know that you do not mess with ceremony, and you most certainly don't charge for them in such an exorbitant way. It is no wonder that things went wrong.

I, Gloria, sent an email to Mr Ray (see below) when I heard about it, asking what training he had to run a sweat, explaining that you don't fast for 3 days previously and 8 doors are not condusive to a Native sweat. I was just amazed that 1. People would pay that amount of money to do something that is free, and 2. That people follow others into danger without thought about their safety.

Arvol Looking Horse wrote a statement that I will add here, and many others have expressed their sorrow and feelings about this happening. I will add some of those on this page as well.

This is the building, called a sweat lodge, that around 60 people went into, 16 of them were overcome and had to be rushed to hospital, 2 died.
Look at all the plastic covering it!


This is a photo of an old Crow sweat lodge, look at the difference in the size, sweats aren't supposed to be massive.
Look also at the natural hides that cover it!

This is our sweat lodge being built in September, again not a large one. We will be using canvas to cover it.


Arvol's Statement

Arvol Looking Horse

As Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, I am concerned for the 2 deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. My prayers go out for their families and loved ones for their loss.

Our ceremonies are about life and healing, from the time this ancient ceremonial rite was given to our people, never has death been a part of our inikag'a (life within) when conducted properly. Today the rite is interpreted as a sweat lodge, it is much more then that. So the term does not fit our real meaning of purification.

Inikag'a is the oldest ceremony brought to us by Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit). 19 generations ago, the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate (people), were given seven sacred rites of healing by a Spirit Woman ­ Pte San Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman). She brought these rites along with our sacred C'anupa (pipe) to our People, when our ancestors were suffering from a difficult time. It was also brought for the future to help us for much more difficult times to come. They were brought to help us stay connected to who we are as a traditional cultural People. The values of conduct are very strict in any of these ceremonies, because we work with spirit. The way the Creator, Wakan Tanka told us; that if we stay humble and sincere, we will keep that connection with the inyan oyate (the stone people), who we call the Grandfathers, to be able to heal our selves and loved ones. We have a "gift" of prayer and healing and have to stay humble with our Unc'i Maka (Grandmother Earth) and with one another. The inikag'a is used in all of the seven sacred rites to prepare and finish the ceremonies, along with the sacred eagle feather. The feather represents the sacred knowledge of our ancestors.

Our First Nations People have to earn the right to pour the mini wic¹oni (water of life) upon the inyan oyate (the stone people) in creating Inikag'a - by going on the vision quest for four years and four years Sundance. Then you are put through a ceremony to be painted - to recognize that you have now earned that right to take care of someone¹s life through purification. They should also be able to understand our sacred language, to be able to understand the messages from the Grandfathers, because they are ancient,
they are our spirit ancestors. They walk and teach the values of our culture; in being humble, wise, caring and compassionate.

What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life!

When you do ceremony - you can not have money on your mind. We deal with the pure sincere energy to create healing that comes from everyone in that circle of ceremony. The heart and mind must be connected. When you involve money, it changes the energy of healing. The person wants to get what they paid for; the Spirit Grandfathers will not be there, our way of life is now being exploited! You do more damage then good. No mention of monetary energy should exist in healing, not even with a can of love donations. When that energy exists, they will not even come. Only after the ceremony, between the person that is being healed and the Intercessor who has helped connect with the Great Spirit, the energy of money can be given out of appreciation. That exchange of energy is from the heart; it is private and does not involve the Grandfathers! Whatever gift of appreciation the person
who received the help, can now give the Intercessor what ever they feel their healing is worth.

In our Prophesy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, she told us that she would return and stand upon the earth when we are having a hard time. In 1994 this began to happen with the birth of the white buffalo, not only their nation, but many animal nations began to show their sacred color, which is white. She predicted that at this time there would be many changes upon Grandmother Earth. There would be things that we never experienced or heard of before; climate changes, earth changes, diseases, disrespect for life and one another would be shocking and there would be also many false prophets!

My Grandmother that passed the bundle to me said I would be the last Keeper if the Oyate (people) do not straighten up. The assaults upon Grandmother Earth are horrendous, the assaults toward one another was not in our culture, the assaults against our People (Oyate) have been termed as genocide, and now we are experiencing spiritual genocide!

Because of the problems that began to arise with our rebirth of being able to do our ceremonies in the open since the Freedom of Religion Act of 1978, our Elders began talking to me about the abuses they seen in our ceremonial way of life, which was once very strict. After many years of witnessing their warnings, we held a meeting to address this very issue of lack of protocol in our ceremonies. After reaching an agreement of addressing the misconduct of our ceremonies and reminding of the proper protocols, a statement was made in March 2003. Every effort was made to insure our way of life of who we are as traditional cultural People was made, because these ways are for our future and all life upon the Grandmother Earth (Mitakuye Oyasin ­ All my relations), so that they may have good health. Because these atrocities are being mocked and practiced all over the world, there was even a film we made called "Spirits for Sale".

The non-native people have a right to seek help from our "First Nation Intercessors" for good health and well-being, it is up to that Intercessor. That is a privilege for all People that we gift for being able to have good health and understand that their protocol is to have respect and appreciate what we have to share. The First Nations Intercessor has to earn that right to our ceremonial way of life in the ways I have explained.

At this time, I would like to ask all Nations upon Grandmother Earth to please respect our sacred ceremonial way of life and stop the exploitation of our Tunka Oyate (Spiritual Grandfathers).

In a Sacred Hoop of Life, where there is no ending and no beginning!

Namah'u yo (hear my words),
Chief Arvol Looking Horse,
19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle.


James Arthur Ray's Response

Self-help expert and author Mr Ray spoke out for the first time about the tragedy during a seminar he held at a hotel in Marina del Rey, near Los Angeles.
Mr Ray broke down in tears as he addressed the deaths. "This is the most difficult time I've ever faced," he told the crowd of about 200. "I don't know how to deal with it really."
An audience member asked Mr Ray to describe what happened at the retreat, but he declined, saying only that he has hired his own investigative team and is cooperating with authorities.
"We're looking for answers," he said. "I'm as frustrated and confused as other people are."
Mr Ray added that he wrestled with whether to go through with Tuesday's seminar, which he said was scheduled weeks before the sweat lodge deaths.
"My advisers told me, 'Don't do that. You don't know who'll show up. They're going to eat you alive,"' he told the audience.
But he said it was important for him to keep his commitments.
"I'm grieving right now," said Mr Ray, who received a standing ovation at the end of the seminar. "I'm grieving for the families."
Mr Ray led a group of more than 50 people last week through a five-day programme at a resort near Sedona, Arizona, intended to push people beyond their limits.
The course included a sweat lodge ceremony, which ended in the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York, and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee. (Added by Gloria - Another lady died a few days later)
Nineteen other people were hurt, and one remains in critical condition.
Fire department reports released on Tuesday show the incident wasn't the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort, the Angel Valley Retreat Center.
Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said his department responded to an emergency call in October 2005 about a person who was unconscious after being in a sweat lodge.
Angel Valley resort owner Amayra Hamilton confirmed that Mr Ray was leading the sweat ceremony during the 2005 event.
Mr Ray's spokesman declined to comment.
Police continue to investigate the latest incident and no charges have been filed

Copyright: Daily Telegraph UK



UPDATE 28th October 2009

The Associated Press | Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 10:40 pm |

PHOENIX - The release of two books by author and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray has been postponed in the wake of three deaths that occurred after a sweat lodge ceremony he led this month in northern Arizona. Hyperion Books publicity director Marie Coolman said Tuesday that the December release of a paperback version of Ray's best-selling book "Harmonic Wealth" and a new hardcover title, "The Seven Laws of True Wealth," will be delayed until late winter.

She had no comment on what led to the decision. The delay comes as authorities continue a criminal investigation into the Oct. 8 sweat lodge ceremony at a high-priced retreat outside Sedona, Ariz., that left three dead and nearly 20 others hospitalized. Lawyers for several of the victims have said they plan to pursue lawsuits, although none have been filed.

Calls to Ray's spokesman, Howard Bragman, were not returned Tuesday. Also Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Ray's Spiritual Warrior program. One of the victims was from Minnesota. "People came from all parts of the country to attend an event which they believed would enhance their lives," Klobuchar said in a statement. "Instead, three people died, 18 were hospitalized and dozens more were traumatized. Mr. Ray neither enhanced their lives nor protected their safety."

Klobuchar asked the FTC to review Ray's marketing and advertising practices and also asked Attorney General Eric Holder to determine if any federal laws were violated. Between 55 and 65 people took part in the sweat lodge ceremony that was the highlight of the five-day program at a private retreat near Sedona.

Interviews with participants and law enforcement officials paint a picture of a two-hour period ceremony that degenerated into chaos as people became sick but were encouraged by Ray to remain inside for the entire time. An emergency call reported two people without a pulse and not breathing. Kirby Brown, 38, of West town, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died at a hospital the night of the ceremony. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., died more than a week later at a Flagstaff hospital. The lawyer for Neuman's family, Louis Diesel of Flagstaff, said he is preparing a lawsuit naming Ray. Ted Schmidt, the attorney for a southern Arizona woman who was badly injured, said he expects to file a suit as early as next week. Schmidt and Diesel both discounted an extensive liability waiver the participants were asked to sign before the retreat began. "The law hates those agreements and almost always find them not to be enforceable," Schmidt said. "Especially when you're trying to release somebody from your negligence. "His client, Sidney Spencer, was hospitalized for days with kidney and liver failure and respiratory arrest, Schmidt said. She was unconscious for more than an hour after being pulled from the sweat lodge and spat up blood when she regained consciousness. A law firm in New York, Stone and Magnanini, is representing the family of Kirby Brown and is in discussions with several others involved in the incident, partner David Stone said. The firm is evaluating the legal issues and investigating the case.

Sheriff's investigators in Arizona's Yavapai County are treating the deaths as homicides but have yet to determine the cause. Ray has hired his own investigative team to try to determine what went wrong and vowed to continue holding seminars despite criticism. "I have taken heat for that decision, but if I choose to lock myself in my home, I am sure I would be criticized for hiding and not practicing what I preach," he wrote on his blog last week. Ray has become a self-help superstar by packaging his charismatic personality and selling wealth. He uses free seminars to recruit people to expensive seminars like the Sedona retreat that led to the sweat lodge tragedy. He also markets his own line of self-help books, often pushing them to participants at his events. Beverley Bunn, a 43-year-old Texas resident who participated in the sweatlodge ceremony, said Ray touted his new book at his retreat and asked everyone to buy multiple copies for family and friends so he could make the New York Times' best-seller list.

Posted in Mn, Wi on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 10:40 pm

Email sent to James Arthur Ray by Gloria on October 12, 2009

After reading about the deaths in your sweat lodge over the weekend, I was wondering who taught you to run a lodge. Back in 1980, Frank Fools Crow the most respected Lakota Medicine Man and a number of other Native men put out a statement regarding those who run native ceremonies for profit. You can read the full statement at this URL http://littlefeathercenter.50megs.com/foolscrow.html

I read that the people who participated in the sweat fasted for 3 days. Unless you are a sundancer, who fast for 4 days, being watched over by those who know, you never do a sweat under those circumstances. Sundancers train for a year to do a fast, they don't just do it and then go into a ceremony, because that is what a sweat lodge is it is an Inipi, one of the 7 sacred rites of the Lakota. There are only 4 rounds, I read that you did 8. 4 is the sacred number to Native people not 3 not 8.

I am non-native married to a Dakota man, I have worked hard for 30+ years to gain the respect and acceptance of Native people. I know of a number of other non-natives who have done the same thing, all of us RESPECT the Native ways and would never do anything to put them into disrespect. Now you have drawn the peoples gaze towards you and your making money sweats, and it makes all of us who have worked so hard for many years to be tarred with the same brush as you. It is not acceptable.

What training did you have to run these sweats? Did you have a fully trained Native American running it? You know money isn't everything, integrity is worth more than money. I can imagine that you will have many emails calls and letters like this one from both non-native and native people. I can also see the laws changing so that only Native people can run sweats, and only those who are trained from a young age will be recognised as a water pourer. That will really be wrong, a ceremony that has been done for hundreds of years on the Upper Plains will then be under state or Federal laws.

Again the Native people have been abused and their ceremonies ridiculed this time by you and your followers, and all in the name of money and power! How awful.

I hope you will never meddle in the ways of another culture again. The Creator spoke loudly to you this week, I hope you heard the words and learned the lesson.

Gloria Hazell-Derby


Article by Jim Tree

What went wrong in the Sedona sweat “dome.”?

By Jim Tree

Please note: The information presented here is based on first hand accounts that have not been verified by the authorities. The opinions expressed are my own based on this information and not considered fact by any law enforcement body, yet.

The recent tragedy in Sedona, in my opinion, was totally preventable and may end up being deemed prosecutable. Unfortunately the reporters in main stream media do not know what questions to ask to find out what really happened. It is not their fault; they just are not educated in the native mind/culture. I have spent the last few days asking questions of someone who was there and found to my disbelief the circumstances that lead up to the tragedy.

I have been attending sweat lodges regularly for over 20 years and have had the responsibility to run lodges for about half of those years. I was given this responsibility by Elders who made sure I learned all that was needed to run a safe and successful ceremony.
By successful I do not mean how many stones were used, how hot it was or if the songs were all done properly, but rather did the helping spirits show up and bring assistance to those attending. The old adage “you know the tree by its fruit” applies here. The fruit of a well run lodge is peace, rebirth, answers to prayer, healing, and restoration. In all my experience I have never felt sick or vomited as so many of the participants of this disastrous imitation of a sweat did.

There are many simple, plain and practical things to know about running a lodge, hundreds of small details that have become tradition through the refinement of time tested experience. Things like not how much water to give to the Grandfather rocks. How to adjust the temperature inside the lodge to be of maximum benefit to those attending, how long to heat the rocks, what kind of stones they should be, what is the cover of the lodge made of. (If you look at some of the photos in the news you will see plastic tarps were used, this should never be done.) So many little things that if deviated from can affect the outcome of the ceremony, sometimes drastically.
These things, not to mention the spiritual aspect of the training, can take years to learn.
In the traditional way one learned these things because from birth they were a part of your daily life and you helped with the work of preparing and conducting ceremony. It often takes a lifetime to come to the place on so many levels where the Elders will release you to walk in that kind of medicine, also known as service. Running a sweat is not a title or office, it is a responsibility.

So, here is what led to these horrible deaths. Yes, I said horrible because those who endured the fiasco that has been mislabeled a sweat lodge went through days of tortured humiliating (my view of their experience) before the final “ceremony” they called a lodge.
It appears to me that the leader of this retreat had no real training in these ceremonies at all. He violated some of the most basic, fundamental rules of safety concerning running this type of ceremony. First, anyone who is pregnant, has high blood pressure or a heart condition should never attend a lodge. This is just plain common sense. When the paramedics arrived on the seen they tried to find files or records about the participants of the retreat, only to discover that not even the most basic background information concerning health and other important conditions had been gathered by the owners of the resort or the man who ran the event. It seems that all he had requested was their name, address and birth date. (Plus payment of up to $9,000.00 a head (X 64 = $576,000.00)

Now comes the really sad part. This man used techniques that are considered common among those recruiting members into a cult. Sleep deprivation, brainwashing, personal humiliation and demands for a show of commitment beyond what would be reasonable for this type of experience.
The attendees were told that if they wanted to show there commitment they had to “Play full on”, they were told shave their heads. Most of the 64 men and women did just that. (Note: the leader did not shave his head; it is still unclear if he went without food and water as well) He then put them on a two day fast from food and water on a “group” vision quest in the desert. This was followed by a small breakfast and a couple of hours to “hydrate” before entering the sweat “dome”.
Most anyone knows it takes many hours for the human body to actually hydrate after water has been consumed, and then the amount is slowly built back up. There was a nurse hired by him to be on staff, why didn’t she speak up? They should have been re-hydrating the day before the supposed sweat.
Instead in between 54 to 64 people went into the lodge totally dehydrated and during the first round, of which there were 6 rounds, some began to throw up.

It was reported that later some began to pass out. It seems that the dome was about 30 ft in diameter and the door was very small, letting in very little air when opened in between rounds. The ones in the back were the hardest hit by this lack of oxygen. Headaches and dizziness, vomiting, kidney failure, burns, respiratory arrest, and passing out was their unfortunate experience.

The man running the ceremony did not pour water from a dipper as is customary onto the stones, instead he poured buckets of water, and this causes uncontrollable steam and heat.
Think of the closing round of a Lakota sweat where just the rest of the water in the bucket is poured onto the grandfathers. If you have experienced this you will understand why it is at the end of the lodge and the door is opened right away.
It has been reported that during the 5th round people outside the “dome” heard cries for help and pleas to be let out from inside. When the man leading the ceremony was asked to let them come out he replied “No, let them stay.”

One man left after the 5th round and felt he had failed because he did not “Play full on”. It was pointed out to him that thank God, by taking care of himself he was able to help tear the back wall off of the dome and rescue those suffering inside.
While professional rescuers and volunteers worked in the mud and sand trying to resuscitate the first woman who had died, others from inside the lodge did all they could to help their stricken comrades.
While all this was happening the owner of the resort and the leader of the retreat just stood by watching, not even offering to help anyone. One woman lay on the ground having seizures, foaming at the mouth and speaking gibberish while they looked on. Maybe that was a bit to messy for them to get involved in.

I wonder if the leader of this disaster will be required to use some of the $576,000.00 he collected from the participants, all for the privilege of being humiliated, abused and even led to their death by him, to make some kind of restitution to his victims.

I am sure more information will be forthcoming, but the real tragedy is that this man has been doing this for the last 7 years. The fruit of his “ceremonies” are people being physically trashed for days after the “sweat” ceremony, vomiting and passing out during them and when Tribal Elders came to him and asked him to stop holding them, he refused. He just ignored their requests and went on with his renegade ego trip of destruction. The result was that 18 people had to be medically helped during one of the next of these “ceremonies.”

Here is a quote for his twitter posting about what happened: “"My deep heartfelt condolences to family and friends of those who lost their lives, I am spending the weekend in prayer and meditation for all involved in this difficult time; and I ask you to join me in doing the same."

Now with all that said, I should mention a whole different aspect of what happened. We understand that the ones we refer to as the Thunder beings defend the abuse all things sacred. Things like the Sacred Pipe, the ceremonies such as the Sweat lodge and the sacred dances, etc. I could write about the wild events at the “Rose” Sundance in Idaho or the one held against the Elders wishes near Yankton a few years ago. How the winds smashed the camp flat on tree day or so many other warnings to not abuse the ceremonies. One thing I know from experience, the Thunders give many warnings before bringing such harsh a discipline. This man must have refused to listen to their voice over those years as he did those of the Elders who came to him. So his resistance and pride led to this tragedy on an even deeper level then just the physical.

One word used for a person who runs ceremony in Annishanobie is “Oshkoshbaywiss” translated “Servant” or better, “Slave.” (A servant would have rushed to assist those he led into suffering, don’t you think?)

What message am I getting from this disaster personally? This all happened because people were duped into thinking they were taking part in a real sacred ceremony that would bring blessings into their life. They believed a lie, so the liar is first to blame, but what about the rest of us? Not blame, but what could we have done to prevent this. I feel people need to be informed about what is a true ceremony, from those who know. That means me and you. If you have attended a good sweat, or if you have sweat for many years, talk about it during the next few weeks. This subject will be prominent for a while, let’s take the opportunity to speak with those who would normally not even think about these things. Let’s use this opportunity to explain what the traditions are, what the purpose of these ceremonies are, what are the outcome of a true ceremony is.

We have before us a way to bring something positive out of this tragedy, to help prevent further abuses of people and the ceremonies themselves.
Blue sky,
Jim Tree

PS. I just found out this guy has three more of these events booked and paid for, without sweat thankfully, with seemingly no plan to cancel them. I hope he finds himself in jail before he can harm anyone else.


We at the Center have received emails and questions about this tragedy. However all we can say is we don't know what happened there, all we know is what we have read in the police reports and newspapers. We are delighted that Arvol Looking Horse put out a statement so quickly responding to it. As a repercussion of the above incident, last weekend, there was a meeting of elders at Eagle Butte, SD where some wanted to close whites out of ceremony altogether. Spiritual Leader and Head Man, David Swallow, from Pine Ridge Reservation, went to speak on behalf of those who are non-native, but follow the ways. So far we have had no reports about what happened.

Due to the meeting Gloria and Chuck spoke together and Gloria suggested that non-natives police other non-natives when it came to incidents such as this one. She sent out an email to a number of people suggesting this. She said 'if we don't speak up against the people who are doing these things, who are of course a minority, we will all suffer the same repercussions. We will keep you informed on latest happenings and news on this tragedy.

The latest news is that a third person died after the sweat she had been hospitalized and died a few days later. She was from Minnesota her name was Liz Neuman and she had done many other courses with James Ray. Also the police are now treating this as a homicide but so far have not arrested anyone. It will be interesting to see who they arrest, as we have heard various reports about things happening there, one was that someone (?) sprinkled a toxic substance over the stones. How true that is we don't know but it would make sense why these people all passed out.

Follow Up Links

KPHO News - Couple speak out about previous experience with Ray

Associated Press - First Sweat Lodge survivor speaks out

AZ Family - Sweat Lodge participants say leader urged them to stay inside.
There are other links on this page including video clips.

The three victims of the sweat lodge. Kirby Briwn, Liz Neuman and James Shore.