ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – An Alaskan indigenous group spoke out against a shamanic retreat on Friday, saying the event commercialized and exploited the spiritual healing practices of indigenous peoples.
The Juneau-based Sealaska Heritage Institute expressed its opposition to the expensive June retreat in a letter emailed Friday to the event’s sponsor, Dance of the Deer Foundation. The event – billed as Alaska 24 – is scheduled from June 22 to July 1 at an undisclosed lodge outside of Juneau.
In the short letter, the President of the Heritage Institute, Rosita Worl, describes the event as “a violation of one of the most sacred traditions of the indigenous peoples”. She asked that the foundation not come to the area considered to be the ancient homeland of a Tlingit group.
Worl said the event appears to be another form of cultural appropriation.
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“They adopt a cultural practice, a cultural knowledge. They take her away from a tribe, ”she said. “Then they turn it into a commercial enterprise to profit from it. “
The Dance of the Deer Foundation then apologized for not contacting the Alaska Native organization.
In a letter to Worl, the Soquel, Calif.-Based foundation issued a statement saying it has the deepest respect for Indigenous peoples, including the Huichol tribe to which it is closely related.
He said the founder of the foundation, Brant Secunda, completed a 12-year apprenticeship and traditional training with a revered shaman Huichol.
A shaman is considered a spiritual healer.
The foundation says the cost of its program helps support educational and cultural support initiatives and that the Huichol Tribe is aware of the costs.
“The cost of this particular program correlates with the cost of hosting such an event, which includes comfortable accommodation and gourmet meals in an area where costs are high for such amenities,” he says. “We’ve made very little profit on this program over the past few years, and some years it’s even a losing money proposition.”
The group said it returns year after year to Alaska to connect and “honor the spiritual energy of the mountains, glaciers, sea and endless wildlife.”
Peter Silberschatz of California-based Travel Works said he has been handling air travel arrangements for the group since the mid-1990s.
The foundation’s website indicates that the organization was founded in 1979 by Secunda, a “world famous shaman and healer”.
According to the website, the group’s goal is to support the Huichol Indians “in keeping their shamanic traditions alive, preserving their cultural and economic survival, and bringing the power and joy of this ancient wisdom into our modern world.” .
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