Sedona Tragedy: One Small Native Voice


First I would like to offer my heart-felt prayers and condolences to all of those involved at the sweat lodge tragedy in Sedona, AZ. It was an unexpected and unfortunate incident that affected not only those at the gathering, but all of us involved in spiritual work, from all nations.

I am a White Mountain Apache from Fort Apache Indian Reservation in North East Central Arizona. I am a member of the Eagle Clan, descendent of Nana, a great and powerful Apache medicine man. I am also part Zuni-Hopi Pueblo. My Zuni clan is of the Badger and Fire and of the winter people. My Hopi side is of the Antelope clan, from the village of Hote Villa at the Second Mesa Hopi Indian Reservation in North Central Arizona. I am also a member of the Two Spirit Society.

Coming from this Native American perspective, I was initially perplexed and admittedly angry when I heard about the people who lost their lives at the sweat lodge gathering. I am an old traditionalist, but I do try to keep an open mind when it comes to people embracing our Native American ways of life, considering that native, indigenous people have lost so much as it is, not only here in the Americas, but in many parts of the world.

I do not speak for all my native brothers and sisters, for I am but one small voice in the native community. When people use indigenous spiritual practices for financial gain, with little experience, and improper ceremonial procedures, people can be put in harm’s way.

We in the “spiritual / new age” community know that there exist so-called spiritualists, healers, shamans and Native American wannabes who misuse the true Native American spiritual ways and teachings to make money. There are spiritual predators willing and able to prey on us as we walk the Red Road on the path to enlightenment. We must take care and remember those who lost their lives in search for the great Creator and enlightenment in the careless hands of Jim Jones, David Koresh and Heaven’s Gate. These were false prophets who were glad to take people’s money and souls.

For the Apache people, there are great spiritual powers in and all around Sedona. There are earthly powers and vortexes that serve as windows to other worlds. We, as Apache people, have always known about these holy places. For hundreds of years we have buried our medicine men and holy elders in these sacred places. The land is blessed with sacred shrines that are not to be taken lightly. People unfamiliar with the history and sanctity of these spaces treat them with disrespect, so it is no wonder that the spirits are angry. The spirits have reached their limit.

Sadly Sedona, among many other beautiful areas that are sacred to Native Americans, have become just another playground for the rich and powerful people. No thought is given to that fact that Native American people fought for and gave their lives willingly to try to protect these beautiful and sacred sites.

The people who lost their lives in the sweat lodge incident were trying to connect with the spirits. I want to be in understanding, because we are all trying to find alternative ways to the creator. What they were searching for was not in vain. But what is in vain is the exploitation of other peoples’ quest for enlightenment. There are different paths to enlightenment, all ending in that one concept, of the creator and great life giver.

Native Americans are not the only ones who have used sweat lodges as a form of healing and cleansing of the spirit, so we are not able to claim credit or exclusivity to the concept of the sweat lodges, so I encourage all Native People to be educated about all forms of sacred practices in order to gain a greater understanding of all cultures.

We must be vigilant in our quest for truth, light and holy wisdoms of this small, but great and beautiful planet. It is a great gift. Whether we are Red, White, Black or Yellow, we must not forget the many teachings of our ancestors and holy beings. There are many do’s and don’ts, malevolent and benevolent spirits to be acknowledged.

My fellow native brothers, sisters, and I, all who have a profound respect for these sacred teachings, were not surprised that this incident occurred. It was just a matter of time for a tragic wake-up call to remind us of the great forces that surround us. In these tragic times, we must all try to walk in beauty and in balance with Mother Earth and all her great wonders.

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Rodney Banashley
Rodney Banashley, now living in Minneapolis, graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. He excels in Kachina doll carving, beadwork, silver and gold jewelry, sculpting, painting and weaving. He considers himself a traditional artist who follows the old ways of his Native people. His family calls him, "Little Eagle Boy who cries." As a little boy, he would cry over Golden Eagle that people kept captive for their plumage and their use for sacred ceremonies and rituals. Feeling sorry for the captive birds, Rodney would sneak out at night and try to release them back into the wild so they could fly free. When he was caught trying to free the birds, he was scolded and whipped by the elders, considering this to be a great ceremonial transgression.


  1. I was wondering how to contact Mr. Banashley about his kachina doll work–I have one of his dolls and would like to buy more or have some commissioned (especially ones of Zuni kachinas). Thank you!


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