Plastic shaman, or plastic medicine people, is a pejorative
colloquialism applied to individuals who are attempting to pass
themselves off as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual
leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or
cultures they claim to represent. In some cases, the "plastic
shaman" may have some genuine cultural connection, but is seen to be
exploiting that knowledge for ego, power, or money.
Plastic shamans are believed by their critics to use the mystique of
these cultural traditions, and the legitimate curiosity of sincere
seekers, for their personal gain. In some cases, exploitation of
students and traditional culture may involve the selling of fake
"traditional" spiritual ceremonies, fake artifacts, fictional accounts
in books, illegitimate tours of sacred sites, and often the chance to
buy spiritual titles. Often Native American symbols and terms are
adopted by plastic shamans, and their adherents are insufficiently
Native American religion
1 Overview 2 Terminology
2.1 Documentary film
3 See also 4 Notes 5 References 6 Further reading 7 External links
7.1 Declarations and Resolutions 7.2 Articles on Selling Native Spirituality
The term "plastic shaman" originated among Native American and First
Nations activists and is most often applied to people fraudulently
posing as Native American traditional healers. People who have
been referred to as "plastic shamans" include those believed to be
fraudulent, self-proclaimed spiritual advisors, seers, psychics,
"It is a very alarming trend. So alarming that it came to the attention of an international and intertribal group of medicine people and spiritual leaders called the Circle of Elders. They were highly concerned with these activities and during one of their gatherings addressed the issue by publishing a list of Plastic Shamans in Akwesasne Notes, along with a plea for them to stop their exploitative activities. One of the best known Plastic Shamans, Lynn Andrews, has been picketed by the Native communities in New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities.
Critics of plastic shamans believe there is legitimate danger to
seekers who place their trust in such individuals. Those who
participate in ceremonies led by the untrained may be exposing
themselves to various psychological, spiritual and even physical
risks. The methods used by a fraudulent teacher may have been invented
outright or recklessly adapted from a variety of other cultures and
taught without reference to a real tradition. In almost all "plastic
shaman" cases a fraud is employing these partial or fraudulent
"healing" or "spiritual" methods without a traditional community of
legitimate elders to provide checks and balances on their behaviour.
In the absence of the precautions such traditional communities
normally have in place in regard to sacred ceremonies, and without
traditional guidelines for ethical behavior, abuse can flourish.
People have been injured, and some have died, in fraudulent sweat
lodge ceremonies performed by non-Natives.
Among critics, this misappropriation and misrepresentation of
Indigenous intellectual property
The para-esoteric Indianess of Plastic
Defenders of the integrity of indigenous religion use the term "plastic shaman" to criticize those they believe are potentially dangerous and who may harm the reputations of the cultures and communities they claim to represent. There is evidence that, in the most extreme cases, fraudulent and sometimes criminal acts have been committed by a number of these imposters. It is also claimed by traditional peoples that in some cases these plastic shamans may be using corrupt, negative and sometimes harmful aspects of authentic practices. In many cases this has led to the actual traditional spiritual elders declaring the plastic shaman and their work to be "dark" or "evil" from the perspective of traditional standards of acceptable conduct. Plastic shamans are also believed to be dangerous because they give people false ideas about traditional spirituality and ceremonies. In some cases, the plastic shamans will require that the ceremonies are performed in the nude, and that men and women participate in the ceremony together, although such practices are an innovation and were not traditionally followed. Another innovation may include the introduction of sex magic or "tantric" elements, which may be a legitimate form of spirituality in its own right (when used in its original cultural context), but in this context it is an importation from a different tradition and is not part of authentic Native practices. The results of this appropriation of Indigenous knowledge have led some tribes, intertribal councils, and the United Nations General Assembly to issue several declarations on the subject:
4. We especially urge all our Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to take action to prevent our own people from contributing to and enabling the abuse of our sacred ceremonies and spiritual practices by outsiders; for, as we all know, there are certain ones among our own people who are prostituting our spiritual ways for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the spiritual well-being of the people as a whole. 5. We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any "white man's shaman" who rises from within our own communities to "authorize" the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians; all such "plastic medicine men" are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. - Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality
Article 11: "
Article 31 1. "
Therefore, be warned that these individuals are moving about playing upon the spiritual needs and ignorance of our non-Indian brothers and sisters. The value of these instructions and ceremonies are questionable, maybe meaningless, and hurtful to the individual carrying false messages. - Resolution of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Traditional Elders Circle
Many of those who work to expose plastic shamans believe that the
abuses perpetuated by spiritual frauds can only exist when there is
ignorance about the cultures a fraudulent practitioner claims to
represent. Activists working to uphold the rights of traditional
cultures work not only to expose the fraudulent distortion and
exploitation of Indigenous traditions and Indigenous communities, but
also to educate seekers about the differences between traditional
cultures and the often-distorted modern approaches to
One indicator of a plastic shaman might be someone who discusses
"Native American spirituality" but does not mention any specific
Native American tribe. The "
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
^ a b c Hagan, Helene E. "The Plastic Medicine People Circle."
Archived 2013-03-05 at the Wayback Machine. Sonoma Free County Press.
Accessed 31 Jan 2013.
^ Sheets, Brian, "Papers or Plastic: The Difficulty in Protecting
Native Spiritual Identity", Lewis & Clark Law Review, 17:2, p.596.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k G. Hobson, "The Rise of the White
Hobson, Gary. "The Rise of the White
Berkhofer, Robert F. "The White Man's Indian: Images of the American
Indian from Columbus to the Present"
Bordewich, Fergus M. Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing
Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century.
Deloria, Philip J., Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press,
1998. ISBN 978-0-300-08067-4.
Deloria Jr., Vine, "The Pretend Indian: Images of Native Americans in
Fikes, Jay Courtney. Carlos Castaneda: Academic Opportunism and the
Psychedelic Sixties. Millenia Press, Canada, 1993
Harvey, Graham, ed. Shamanism: A Reader. New York and London:
Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-25330-6.
Green, Rayna D. "The Tribe Called Wannabee." Folklore. 1988; 99(1):
Jenkins, Philip. Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered
Native Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press; 2004.
Kehoe, Alice B. "Primal Gaia: Primitivists and Plastic Medicine Men."
in: Clifton, J., ed. The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and
Government Policies. New Brunswick: Transaction; 1990: 193-209.
Kehoe, Alice B. Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration
in Critical Thinking. 2000. London: Waveland Press.
de Mille, Richard, The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda
Controversies. 1980, Santa Barbara, CA: Ross Erikson Publishers.
Narby, Jeremy and Francis Huxley, eds. Shamans Through Time: 500 Years
on the Path to Knowledge. 2001; reprint, New York: Tarcher, 2004.
Noel, Daniel C. Soul Of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal
Realities, Continuum International Publishing Group.
Rollins, Peter C. Hollywood's Indian : the portrayal of the
Native American in film. Univ Pr of Kentucky, 1998.
Pinchbeck, Daniel. Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into
the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. New York: Broadway Books, 2002.
Rose, Wendy, "The Great Pretenders: Further Reflections on White
Shamanism." in: Jaimes, M. A., ed. The State of Native America:
Genocide, Colonisation and Resistance. Boston: South End; 1992:
Smith, Andrea. "For All Those Who Were Indian in a Former life." in:
Adams, C., ed. Ecofeminism and the Sacred. New York: Continuum; 1994:
Wallis, Robert J., Shamans/neo-Shamans: Ecstasy, Alternative
Archaeologies and Contemporary Pagans. London: Routledge, 2003.
Wernitznig, Dagmar, Going Native or Going Naive? White
Declarations and Resolutions
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality Resolution of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Traditional Elders Circle
Articles on Selling Native Spirituality
Dead Indians: Too Heavy to Lift
Exposing The Fake Medicine Men and Women
Native Religions and "Plastic Medicine Men"
Ownership of Indigenous Cultures
Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances:
v t e
Indigenous and minority rights
Ancestral domain Free, prior and informed consent Intellectual property Land rights Language Self-determination
in Australia in Canada in the United States
Traditional knowledge Treaty rights
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights Arctic Council Bureau of Indian Affairs Council of Indigenous Peoples(Taiwan) Fundação Nacional do Índio Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (Philippines) United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Non-governmental and political organizations
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