Archives For Pascua Yaqui Indian

Top Story: The Awl investigates allegations that millions of dollars in United States government funding to Christian NGOs, specifically Samaritan’s Purse, is being used to directly fund aggressive and shameful missions to “evangelize to and convert the trapped, weak and suffering.”

“…our research into the hush-hush tag team efforts of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Samaritan’s Purse found millions of USAID dollars going to Samaritan’s Purse aid stations in Haiti. Their mission: a coordinated effort by BGEA chaplains to evangelize to and convert the trapped, weak and suffering.”

Reporter Abe Sauer notes that Franklin Graham (president of Samaritan’s Purse), son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, is especially fixated and obsessed with eliminating Vodou in Haiti.

“…in the case of Samaritan’s Purse, whose Haiti work is being heavily funded by the taxpayer-funded USAID, it could be to “take back their country from voodoo, despair, and sin,” one of the charity’s stated goals for the “Festival of Hope.” As Graham said of Haiti in his address at the Festival, “…the biggest need is the spiritual need.” (Graham and his crew are especially obsessed with the elimination of voodoo, as it comes up again and again in Purse literature. A recent personal update on work in Haiti from Franklin Graham himself reads, “Through our partnership, the three original churches have been able to establish 28 more—including one in a village that was infamous for voodoo….”) Video of the heavily promoted fundraising event has been erased from the Samaritan’s Purse website as a result of our questions to USAID.”

They note that Samaritan’s Purse, working hand-in-hand with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), is able to benefit from government funds by skirting along on paper-thin technicalities, confirmed by USAID officials, but who seem to lack the political will to do anything about it. This is a stark confirmation of several isolated reports and allegations regarding the activity of missionaries in Haiti. It’s bad enough that some Christian groups are taking advantage of the chaos in Haiti in order to win souls, but now it seems we’re paying for it as well.

No Pagan Drivers for Lowery: Former Democratic state Representative John Lowery is being taken to court by Eugene Keeler after he was allegedly fired from Premier Well Services (owned by Lowery) for being a Pagan only hours after being hired. Keeler has the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and is being heard by a judge who’s dealt with Lowery before.

The EEOC case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, which could be interesting. When Wright ruled that a winter solstice display could be put up on the state capitol grounds — along with the traditional nativity scene — Lowery led the Arkansas Legislative Council denouncement of her decision, saying, “When this is allowed to happen in high places by people in authority societies become chaotic, economies collapse and nations are taken over by other nations.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette interviewed Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League about the case, though the article is behind a paywall if you want to read it. It should be interesting to see what happens in this case, hopefully it will be reported more widely, and more accessibly, than it has so far.

Do Religious Symbols Count Even If You’re a Racist? The Jewish Chronicle notes that a jailed racist, convicted of inciting racial hatred in the UK, had his Thor’s hammer pendant confiscated because it had “fascist meaning and neo-Nazi overtones.” After a complaint, it seems that Michael Heaton, an Odinist, had the pendant returned. The piece closes with a quote from a CST (Community Security Trust) spokesperson that seems to imply that, in their opinion, Odinism doesn’t meet the “relevant criteria” for equal treatment as a religion.

A CST spokesman said: “Norse and Odinist symbolism features extensively in Nazi and Pagan circles. Legislation on religious rights can make questions such as this a complex matter. But you might well question if this kind of symbolism should meet the relevant criteria.”

While I personally believe that Heaton is a vile, foul, sad, criminal, his odious beliefs don’t wipe away his rights under the law. To call into question whether genuine religious symbols appropriated by racists are still valid is to glide down a slippery slope that would eventually ban all religious symbols. Also, for an organization like the CST, who are watchdogs against antisemitism, to conflate Nazism and Paganism in such a casual way is troubling, to say the least.

The Boundaries of Civil Religion: Former Wild Hunt guest contributor Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, writes an essay for the USC blog The Scoop about the recent memorial for the victims of the Tucson shooting, and reactions (or non-reaction in some cases) sparked by the opening invocation of Dr. Carlos Gonzales.

The media response–or rather the general lack thereof–was telling. Those motivated to comment publicly on the blessing were mainly conservatives troubled by its implications. For example, Brit Hume of Fox News was baffled, saying, “By the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I’m sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, it was most peculiar.”  TheWashington Examiner went much further and called it a “a stark statement of  pantheistic paganism” and “a blatant violation of church and state.”

Glossing over the apparent hypocrisy–the biblical references in Obama’s eulogy did not seem to touch off a similar nerve–perhaps Gonzales’ invocation can be read as a vague nod to a loose, politically correct “spirituality” appealing to the so-called “liberal elite.” Yet the left wing of the blogosphere also had little to say about Gonzales’ invocation. (There was some insightful discussion from this vantage point taking place on a popular and intelligent Pagan blog called the Wildhunt.)

Gilmore notes that many American aren’t used to being taken outside “a generic and lightweight form of ceremonial deism,” as was done by Gonzales’ Native blessing. A transgression that may have sparked the absurd over-reaction is some quarters. She also touches on the “othering” of religious minorities in the United States, such as was done in this case, and that mainstream journalism has done a poor job in enlightening the public to their worldviews. The whole essay is worth a read, and you should check it out.

Seeing the Future in Russia: The AFP reports on the popularity of doing fortune telling in Russia between Christmas and Epiphany, and why that tradition endures to this day.

Psychologist Svetlana Fyodorova puts the faith in fortune-telling down to Russians’ close links to their pagan past. ”Russians love fortune-telling because it frees their subconscious,” she told AFP. ”As compared to Europe, in Russia Christianity is young and the traces of a pagan traditions can still be felt here,” she said.

Something that no doubt worries the Russian Orthodox Church, who are increasingly testing the waters of social control now that they are ascendant once more. With signs of a crack-down against religious minorities intensifying, those who look for signs in the wax, or throw shoes out the window, should be careful.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

A few quick news notes and updates for you on this Tuesday.

Doctor Gonzales Speaks Regarding Native Blessing: Following the wave of criticism from conservative pundits regarding a traditional Native blessing given at a memorial service for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona last week, Dr. Carlos Gonzales, the Pascua Yaqui Indian who gave the blessing, talks to CNS News to give some context.

“I was asked by the university to give a traditional Native American blessing,” Gonzales told CNSNews.com late Thursday. “This is the type of blessing that we give at memorial services to open up a ceremony. A medicine man will do a variation of it to open up a pow-wow. It’s basically a recognition of the powers of the seven directions and how they influence human beings–and how each direction has a certain characteristic; that when you pray to that direction, you ask for the inspiration that comes from that direction.”

Gonzales noted that the blessing should not be confused with religion, that is was “more of a way of appreciating spirituality,” and the Pascua Yaqui Indians have been predominately Catholic for generations now.

“I’m Yaqui and Yaquis have been Roman Catholics since 1650. We were one of the first tribes in Mexico to actually peacefully absorb Catholicism; however we have always practiced Catholicism in our own unique manner, incorporating traditional beliefs, and so I grew up as a Roman Catholic with a Yaqui variation. In reality, I’m Catholic, but the spirituality I’ve come across with traditional healers is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen, and it’s a way of approaching people and it’s an additional way of healing that has actually helped me to be a better family doc.”

Sadly, even with this disclaimer firmly in place, many in the comments of the article expressed distaste for the Yaqui’s syncretism, with some calling the blessing “demonic.” Proving that any dialog and understanding between Western Christian and indigenous forms of religious expression has a long way to go. As for the wave of criticism towards Gonzales from various pundits, only one has recanted and apologized.  Perhaps satirist John Stewart, as always, has the final word on all this.

The Savage Fury of Savage: While some were paying close attention to the recent memorial service, others are still trying to pin Tuscon assassin Jared Lee Loughner into an easy-to-understand political left-right narrative. Conservatives and Tea Party groups have been arguing that they were incorrectly blamed by the Left for inspiring Loughner’s violence, but right-wing pundits have their own narratives of blame out in full force. This isn’t anything new in our world of divisive partisan politics, but I mention it now because one popular conservative talk-radio host, Michael Savage, who boasts an audience of 8 to 10 million listeners, making it the 3rd most listened to radio talk show in the country, has seemingly bought into the “occult” angle first brought up by the NY Daily News.

The man was an occultist, of course that didn’t make it into your local paper. Your going to start talking about banning handguns why not just ban the occult in America? Why don’t we get congressmen talking about banning Wicca in the Army? Banning the occult in America. I mean, did you see what came out today about the shooter? I’m sure you haven’t because your friends at CNN, NBC, and Fox News haven’t shown it to you. The man was a stone-hearted devil worshipper. Take a look at the thing [Gives web site information.] look at the altar in the shooter’s backyard [...] he’s not a troubled young man, he’s a devil-worshipping left-wing pot-head.”

You can listen to the whole excerpt if you want, but lower the volume, and be prepared for a weird pot-Hashshashin-assassin narrative, and the usual “Obama is a Marxist” stuff. I usually ignore talk radio, but when someone with an 8-10 million person strong megaphone starts talking about banning Wicca or the occult in the United States, even rhetorically, it can have a dramatic effect on the lives of modern Pagans. Because, and Savage may not know this, but people really did try to ban Wiccans from the Army. It isn’t mere inflated rhetoric, this stuff really happened to us. The players, largely unrepentant. Savage, of course, is free to fling his various conspiracy theories and partisan bromides wherever he pleases, but dragging Wicca and “the occult” into the narrative to shove Loughner into a “left” narrative is playing with fire.

The Troubling Persistence of “Occult Crime” Experts: As if on cue, what with terms like “occult” and “New Age” being thrown around in the Tuscon shooting case, our old friend, “international expert on occult crime” Dom Rimer rises to the surface once more.

More than 100 people — mostly police officers from across Hampton Roads and central Virginia — turned out for Rimer’s seminar Saturday about how occults can impact teenagers. The presentation, sponsored by the Newport News Police Department, also helped educate officers about the influences that satanic, gothic, and vampire groups can have on teens. “Occult crime happens all over the world and it’s growing,” said Rimer.”

So you have a presentation sponsored by a local police department, filled with police officers, listening to drivel like “in the world of gaming, there is evil,” or decapitated animals are telltale evidence of people who practice a faith known as Santeria,” or “teenagers who like techno-rock music may sometimes be confused with teens fully into the “goth” look and music.” Seriously.  It would all be hilarious if people very much like Rimer weren’t directly responsible for fueling moral panics that got innocent people thrown in jail, and got several more, to this day, harassed by law enforcement and government officials. Indeed, Rimer has no shame in the possible harm his profession may be doing. He sees himself as a man on a mission.

“I teach parents the warning signs. If that is fear, yes I teach fear … I teach law enforcement about the rituals. If that is fear, yes I teach fear … I will continue to teach, consult, and investigate Ritual Crime as long as those crimes are committed. I provide that service to local, state, and federal agencies across the United States and Canada.”

Oh, and if you think Rimer, or someone very much like him, would never get consulted in Arizona, think again.

“Near Tucson, Arizon, a young man who has embraced the worship of Satan, commits a grave robbery. Conducts a ritual with the stolen skull. Then enlists the aid of his teenage followers. they place the skull at the local high school as a threat against the School Resource Officer. I will testify in that case. I have taught at a state law enforcement conference for Arizona. If that is fear, yes I teach fear. I will continue to teach, consult, and investigate Ritual Crime as long as those crimes are committed.”

Self-proclaimed “experts” in “occult crime” are dangerous. They peddle fear and misinformation. They inflate problems, and classify things in manners that support their view of the world. That they continue to have influence over local police forces is troubling, to say the least.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Yesterday, a memorial service was held in Tucson, Arizona for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting this past Saturday. While President Obama’s speech was almost universally praised for its heartfelt honoring of those involved, and “elevating the political debate,” other aspects of the evening were not received as warmly. Most notably, there’s been a wave of criticism regarding the opening invocation by Dr. Carlos Gonzales, a Pascua Yaqui Indian and associate professor at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine.

Some critiques of Gonzales’ traditional blessing were mostly puzzled and relatively mild, like Fox News anchor Brit Hume, who described the invocation as “peculiar,” and setting a strange tone for the rest of the memorial.

Certainly the mood in that auditorium suggested that the sense of mournfulness that you might have expected and sobriety you might have expected was not to be found tonight. And of course, I think, the whole thing is attributable in part to the remarkable opening blessing that was delivered by, what was his name, Carlos Gonzales, who by the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I’m sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, with it was most peculiar.

However, pundits like Michelle Malkin and Power Line’s Paul Meringoff were far more harsh. Using adjectives like “babbles,” “rambling,” and “ugly.”

Native American gives rambling speech while holding a feather. His remarks are frequently interrupted by whoops and cheers. He gives a shout-out to his son serving in Afghanistan. Brags about his ethnic Mexican background. Babbles about two-legged and four-legged creatures and the feminine energy that comes from Mother Earth. Mercy.”Michelle Malkin

As for the “ugly,” I’m afraid I must cite the opening “prayer” by Native American Carlos Gonzales. It was apparently was some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to “the creator” but no mention of God. [...] In any event, the invocation could have used more God, less Mexico, and less Carlos Gonzales.”Paul Meringoff

Mark Tapscott at the Washtington Examiner went even further than Malkin and Meringoff, calling the invocation a “stark statement of pantheistic paganism,” that was “a blatant violation of separation of church and state” that sent “a message of exclusion to the many.” Sadly, this mean-spirited and ignorant commentary didn’t stop with a few big names.

“In fact, a whole weird vibe was set at the very beginning of the memorial with pseudo-Native American medicine man Carlos Gonzales. He began the off kilter scene with his pseudo-blessing of rocks and trees, northern doors, and — well, whatever he was blessing, anyway. His self-referential promotion was also quite off-putting.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today wonders if you were “annoyed” or in “agreement” with the blessing given by Gonzales, while pointing out the rationale for his inclusion in the program.

“Gonzales was a fitting choice for several reasons, says Patty Talahongva, who is Hopi and past president of the Native American Journalists Association. The tribal reservation is in the district of gravely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. And he’s a symbol of Arizona’s diversity — part of the university president Robert Shelton’s ongoing campaign to bring all streams of thought, culture and tradition into the campuses. (Hence the title “Together we thrive” on the funeral programs).”

Talahongva expands on this in an essay for Youth Radio.

“So tonight it comes down to words from an aboriginal man, from a race of people who have consistently helped this nation in times of strife. Arizona is home to the Navajo and Hopi Code Talkers who are credited with creating codes in their traditional languages which were never broken by the enemy during World War II. They helped save countless American lives. Quite often the words and voice of the American Indian/Alaska Native is lost in America, their indigenous homeland, but tonight the country will hear from a man who clearly represents America and her rich diversity… Words matter. Words can sometimes save lives. And when words are spoken in prayer, in a positive way, they can surely do more good than harm.”

What’s troubling about this wave of criticism towards Dr. Carlos Gonzales is that it shows how little tolerance there is in some corners for any expression of religion that isn’t Christian or some flavor of ceremonial deism. Even during a memorial that many felt was uniting and uplifting, the wave of scare quotes, snide remarks, and insults against indigenous religions couldn’t be held back. This is the same impulse that led to the disruption of Rajan Zed’s Senante invocation, the ignorance and arrogance that only comes from almost total religious and cultural power and privilege. These hectoring voices darkly reinforce the attitudes that continually place Arizona’s recreation over the sacred land of its indigenous peoples. They are a sour note in what was, on the whole, a moment where our country, in all its diversity, came together.

ADDENDUM: Power Line’s Paul Meringoff has issued an apology:

“In a post last night, I criticized the use of a Yaqui prayer as the invocation to the memorial service in Tucson. In doing so, I failed to give the prayer the respect it deserves. Although I did not intend this as a slight to the religion or to the Yaqui tribe, it can clearly be interpreted as one. For this, I sincerely apologize to my readers, to the Yaqui tribe, to all tribal leaders and Indian people, and, specifically, to Carlos Gonzales who delivered the prayer. I regret my poor choice of words, and I have removed the post.”

It seems that being disrespectful can be bad for business.