Segments in this Video

Hijacking Indigenous Culture (01:29)


We see a drum ceremony among a group of Native American youth. A woman searches the Internet for spiritual workshops that charge for participation. "First they killed our people. Then they stole our land. Now they steal our faith."

A Sweat Lodge in Denmark (03:02)

The narrator attends a "Native American" ceremony far from America. Curious about indigenous opinions about Europeans using their spiritual rituals, the narrator decides to consult a Navajo friend in New Mexico.

Navajo Perspective (01:59)

We meet Andrew Thomas, who was raised traditionally but moved to the city to "better" his life. He works as an assistant manager at the Navajo Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Fighting Two Battles (01:21)

Thomas reflects on being pulled toward tradition and toward contemporary life as a Navajo man. He shares how easily Native Americans living in urban areas lose their tribal identity and their connection to the earth.

A Quest for Knowledge (01:05)

Thomas, a Navajo man, advises the narrator to visit a professor of Native American history in Texas to educate her about a feather she was given.

Being Indigenous in White Society (01:45)

We meet Al Carroll, a professor of Native American History. He is Apache; in his tribe medicine people and singers use feathers. He shares experiencing racial discrimination growing up in San Antonio, Texas.

Educating Beyond Stereotypes (01:34)

Al Carroll addresses the outdated Hollywood image of Native Americans in buckskin and feathers. He became an academic to teach what life is like for most indigenous people today. We learn a brief history of tribal diversity.

Native Prayer and Storytelling (02:38)

We visit Enchanted Rock, Texas; a place of indigenous worship. Gayle Ross of the Cherokee Nation talks about white people's difficulty in accepting natural settings as sacred. She tells stories from her heritage to school children.

Cultural Exploitation (01:41)

Stories, language, music and dance are integral to the survival of the Native American identity. Cherokee storyteller Gayle Ross is disturbed by non-native people expropriating spiritual practices and ceremonies.

"Pay to Pray" (03:07)

As a Danish sweat lodge ceremony is set up and enactive, professor Al Carroll illustrates the ways in which non-native people misuse spiritual practices. They should not be filmed, they should not be paid for, and indigenous heritage cannot be acquired by whites.

Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation (02:22)

On recommendation from an Apache expert, the narrator travels to South Dakota to find answers about her eagle feather. Arvol Looking Horse has been fighting to protect indigenous ceremonies from outside exploitation.

Keeper of the Pipe (02:58)

Arvol Looking Horse is a modern day Native American chief. We hear from members of the Lakota Sioux Nation who respect him as a leader and spiritual authority. His tribe has fully retained all of their ceremonial practices.

Sacred Ceremonies (02:18)

Chief Looking Horse shares the importance of spiritual practices to his people. In contrast to private rituals, powwows are social events where different tribes gather to celebrate their common indigenous ground; they are open to outsiders.

Forgotten People (02:39)

We meet two Native American women living off the reservation struggling to support their children while homeless. They feel lost in mainstream society but face problems of domestic violence within their community.

Reservation Issues (03:15)

We visit a Native American community. Employment and housing are lacking; alcohol, drug use and domestic violence are rampant. People are losing their language and culture—without spiritual guidance they lose hope and self-medicate.

Losing Native American Culture (03:16)

Poverty and a lack of education among indigenous people makes it hard to find work and integrate into society. Negative stereotypes reinforce the issue. A young woman's mother was put in a boarding school to become "Americanized".

Save Bear Butte (03:32)

Several Native American tribes gather to defend sacred ground in South Dakota. A drag racing track and a biker bar disturb indigenous people from their vision quests. We meet White Buffalo Walking, a Lakota activist.

Gathering of Nations (04:31)

Lakota warrior tribes meet at Bear Butte, a sacred ground being infringed upon by non-native activities. They educate and defend their right to the land as the original inhabitants.

Negative Impacts of Indigenous Commercialization (03:24)

Chief Looking Horse laments white people exchanging money for sacred ceremonies as harmful and fraudulent. White Buffalo Walking believes the rituals should be used exclusively for and by Native Americans.

Land Theft and Cultural Genocide (01:11)

Native American professor Al Carroll sees the takeover of spiritual ceremonies by non-natives as the final step in wiping out indigenous people's identity, after their sacred ground was stolen by the government.

Tribal Income (01:35)

Some Native American reservations receive aid from the U.S. government. One in four tribes run casinos, using profits to fund health care and education—giving rise to a new set of stereotypes of Indians as greedy and materialistic.

Finding a Balance (02:22)

White Buffalo Walking talks about the challenge of living in two worlds, and the importance of keeping Native American culture alive while surviving in the modern world. He hopes future generations will return to the traditional way of life.

Returning a Sacred Object (01:18)

The narrator offers Lakota Chief Looking Horse an eagle feather she had been given. Feathers are used in all parts of his tribe's spiritual ceremonies; he appreciates the gesture.

Hope for Lakota Sovereignty (01:20)

Chief Looking Horse and White Buffalo Walking envision a future where Native Americans can live in freely on their land as they did before the white man came.

Journey's End (01:17)

The narrator reflects on her quest to return a sacred feather to the Lakota tribe. She has learned about the Native American struggle for justice and cultural preservation, as well as the hope of returning to a traditional way of life.

Credits: Spirits for Sale: The Commercialization of American Indian Rituals (00:52)

Credits: Spirits for Sale: The Commercialization of American Indian Rituals

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Spirits for Sale: The Commercialization of American Indian Rituals

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3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Western spiritualists often seek enlightenment through indigenous religions once practiced in different regions around the world. Native American rituals are especially popular, and Europeans stage ceremonies based on American Indian beliefs for which they charge admission. America’s original people are not pleased with this development, for they regard this practice as the exploitation of their heritage. They see these performances as “pay to pray” ceremonies with imposters playing the roles of American natives. Beautifully crafted and filmed, Spirits for Sale explores both sides of an unlikely dispute between native peoples and present-day interpreters of their rituals. (58 minutes)

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL50002

ISBN: 978-1-62290-822-6

Copyright date: ©2008

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“A good and heartfelt piece of work that would make an impact on students and the general public.” —Anthropology Review Database

“A very moving and interesting documentary of the commercialization and ignorance surrounding Native Americans and their culture… highly recommended.” —Educational Media Reviews Online

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.