ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An Alaska Native group spoke out Friday against a shamanism retreat, saying the event commercializes and exploits the spiritual healing practices of indigenous people.
The Juneau-based Sealaska Heritage Institute voiced its opposition to the pricey June retreat in a letter emailed Friday to the event sponsor, Dance of the Deer Foundation. The event — billed as the 24th in Alaska — is scheduled for June 22 to July 1 at an undisclosed lodge outside Juneau.
In the short letter, Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl calls the event "a violation of a most sacred tradition of Native peoples." She asked that the foundation not come to the area that's considered the ancient homeland of a Tlingit group.
Worl said the event appears to be another form of cultural appropriation.
"They are taking a cultural practice, cultural knowledge. They're taking it away from a tribe," she said. "Then they are transforming it into a commercial enterprise to benefit themselves."
The Dance of the Deer Foundation later apologized for not reaching out to the Alaska Native organization.
In a letter addressed to Worl, the Soquel, California-based foundation released a statement saying it holds the deepest respect for Native people, including the Huichol tribe that it is closely connected to.
It said foundation founder, Brant Secunda, went through a 12-year apprenticeship and traditional training with a revered Huichol shaman.
A shaman is considered a spiritual healer.
The foundation says the cost of its program helps sustain educational and cultural support initiatives and that the Huichol tribe is aware of the costs.
"The cost of this particular program correlates to the cost of putting on such an event, which includes comfortable accommodations and gourmet meals in an area where costs are high for such amenities," it states. "We have made very little profit on this program over the last number of years, and some years it is even a money-losing proposition."
The group said it returns year after year to Alaska to connect with and "honor the spiritual energy of the mountains, glaciers, sea, and boundless wildlife."
Peter Silberschatz of California-based Travel Works, said he has handled air travel arrangements for the group since the mid-1990s.
The foundation's website says the organization was founded in 1979 by Secunda, a "world renowned shaman and healer."
According to the website, the group's goal is to support the Huichol Indians "in keeping their shamanic traditions alive, to preserve their cultural and economic survival, and to bring the power and joy of this ancient wisdom into our modern world."
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