Fake “Powwow” At Burning Man Has Indian Country Raising It’s Eyebrows

Fake “Powwow” At Burning Man Has Indian Country Raising It’s Eyebrows

Posted By Jazmyn Espinoza-Church September 6th, 2017 Last Updated on: July 23rd, 2018

People across Indian country found themselves raising their eyebrows and scratching their heads as a viral Facebook video began making its way through pow wow circles everywhere.

Unless you live under a rock you’ve probably heard that there was a “powwow” held at the Burning Man festival hosted by none other than Standing Rock’s own attorney Chase Iron Eyes and his drum group.

In the video, Chase begins to explain his intentions with a comment that didn’t sit well with some Natives.

“We are all Indigenous, we need to transcend, and one way to do that is through the drum.”

The video later cuts to a frame showing a large group of people gathered around a drum, many taking it upon themselves to join in on banging the drum and swaying with the beat.

As a joke, a satire version of the viral video even goes as far as to remove the original (still very cringe-worthy audio) of the group signing and replace it with the audio from a fake powwow held by non-natives singing “We’re going to a powwow. Gonna’ have a good good time.”

People of the Indigenous community had a lot to say about it all. Many feeling that Chase was supporting the appropriation of our culture, which is already a huge issue.

Chase clapped back in a facebook post, debunking the myth that the satire video version was the original, and setting things straight about why he was there.

“Couple few things about Burning Man:

  1. I was not paid to go to Burning Man
  2. No one sold ceremony.
  3. I don't do drugs or alcohol.
  4. We didn't sing “going to a powwow.” That was a clever edit. Indigenous people came to share in good faith.
  5. I, along with others, went there to share the message of Water Protectors, to elevate this struggle, their current criminalization, into other platforms, and to share our truths.

Some facts and now some thoughts I hope you share with your network about my statements that “all are Indigenous.”

Everyone is Indigenous. All descend from the sacred waters, the land, the cosmos. Everyone has been subjected to the same forces of separation, abstraction, division. Spirit separated from mind, heart from intellect, being separated from relationships with food source, from relations with the waters, the star nations, from covenants with the sacred sites. All anyone has to do is go back far enough and there is a time when you were connected to the sacred.

Colonial forces asserted “dominion” over Mother Earth, over the older beings, the animals, the winged, and so forth. These forces declared themselves “superior”, instituted currency, the logic & institutions of capital, private property, the nation state, extraction. They are the purveyors of patriarchy, pop culture, of cool, of fashion, of beauty, of advertising and so forth. They are now the sources of this separation, fear, hate & division, from which we seek a liberation.

To liberate the spirit, to transcend the limits of body, language & perceived differences of race, religion is to take part in a great awakening, one which is evolving, which will compel us to civilize ourselves with divine order, to unite ourselves with the universe. Then our institutions of law, economy, energy, media, education and so for can reflect humanity's pursuit of liberation and that of Mother Earth's, more importantly because we will be morally and spiritually authorized to create that reality. We won't let vampires destroy our planet.

Cultural appropriation is wrong, yes. Original Nations have survived genocide, slavery, holocaust, and an ongoing genocide, an ongoing deliberate attempt to undermine our dignity, liberation & self determination. For foreigners to prance around in a headdress is wrong. I have lived my life confronting objectification when I first learned of it at 19 years old from the Association of American Indian Psychology. I will continue to confront it and I thank those who fight that fight. Natives confronted people at Burning Man in teachable moments.

Antonie Edwards Jr was also invited to be a part of Burning Man.  He expressed his feelings on Facebook also.


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About Jazmyn Espinoza-Church

Jazmyn Espinoza-Church is a bestselling Native American Author, advocate for Native youth, and freelance journalist. When she's not writing or mentoring she can be found in her Michigan home, hanging out with her fiance and two sons.

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[…] exploitation, misappropriation, and devaluation of indigenous culture is not a pattern unique to the 21st century. Familiar with […]

Donna Meness

How To Practice Spirituality Without Cultural Appropriation | STEP 1 | Arrete, Acknowledge, Apologise, Ally

I didn’t understand at that point what I was doing was wrong, this was the early 90s, long before Indigenous arts had been deemed ‘cool’ by the likes of Free People, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Coachella, Burning Man, and so on. Appropriation had not yet become a widespread problem.

Donna Meness



It is in their perceived simplicity as lifeways that indigenous practises resonate (Dodson, 1994). But the interface between cultures of the West and those outside often involves a power dynamic that is not addressed in most cross cultural dialogues. The basic lesson to be learnt from this broad survey is that cross cultural interaction is not a problem in itself. It is a complex phenomenon that requires careful consideration, respect and interaction between indigenous and non-indigenous participants. It is important that exchanges are not a reflection of colonising, neo liberal projects. This paper has argued that the New Age phenomena is a response to modernity from within modernity; that its participants are able to pick and choose their engagement with a movement that has delimited borders and draws on a variety of indigenous influences. Consequently, participants expose themselves to instances of cultural appropriation and borrowing, which usually manifest as acts of purchase or romanticising the indigenous Other. In spaces where borrowing supposedly allows mostly Western, privileged, middle class participants to transcend the geo-political body, often the voices of indigenous owners are lost.
There are three responses one could have to cultural borrowing: one that represents it as cultural genocide by transforming indigenous communities, one that suggests cultural borrowing is impossible because each iteration of ritual is inherently different and one that suggests it is central to global religious and cultural evolution. All have their merits and failings, but I am inclined to align most with the last. As long as there is an understanding that it is indeed borrowing and there is adequate engagement between participants and their indigenous counterparts not only in the spiritual space, but also with wider community life, I find such cultural exchanges important for knowledge generation and exchange.

Donna Meness

Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality


Donna Meness


The New Age Movement can be seen as one response to the decline of traditional religion in the West. It conforms to the spiritual pluralism that Bryan Wilson understands as a consequence of secularization. From a New Age perspective, the world’s various spiritual traditions are now public property and no longer the private preserve of the parochial groups or religious élites that they once were. Since in this open availability process, the sacred becomes commodified, the general argument allows that it can be bought and sold and thus consumed according to basic free-market principles. The paper explores both the New Age rationale for spiritual commercialization and some of the clashes this engenders with the traditions from which it appropriates.

Donna Meness

In dozens of such meetings, in all parts of the world, when I ask about the biggest concerns that indigenous communities have in terms of threats to their sacred sites, “New Agers” are right up there at the top of the list next to mining, dams and land grabs.

Certainly this is true with the Winnemem Wintu at Mt. Shasta, where the Harmonic Convergence of 1987 opened a floodgate that continues to generate a torrent of visitors. At first it was expensive sweat lodges and vision quests with crystals left all over the mountain and in an important sacred spring. Now it’s cremation remains. Responding to this very serious concern led to a memorable scene we filmed for In the Light of Reverence up in Panther Meadows as drum-beating, crystal-packing college students ‘loved’ the place to death.

Beginning with the Harmonic Convergence, another sacred place—Chaco Canyon, home to ancient Puebloan villages and Great Kivas—has been overwhelmed with inappropriate offerings left by New Age practitioners. While filming In the Light of Reverence, we met archaeologist Wendy Bustard, the National Park Service curator at Chaco Canyon. Park Service staff have to clear away the offerings and catalog and store everything in the Chaco collection. Bustard spent a day with us, displaying an array of New Age offerings and reflecting on why they’re considered offensive by native people.

Watch the scene we weren’t able to include in the film.


Donna Meness

DK: Last year the UN adopted a Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. What was the basis for the founding of that campaign?

OL: The basis of it was the fact that at that time, we indigenous peoples didn’t seem to have a voice or human. We weren’t even called indigenous people, we were called other things like natives. In 1975, we met on Victoria Island off of B.C., and we decided at that time that we would call ourselves indigenous. We talked about aboriginal, we talked about native and we decided that when we were going to go public, we would call ourselves indigenous peoples. It became quite a problem later on internationally, let we were new to this whole idea and we were gathering to get ready to move into the international community.

After looking at the human rights declaration of the United Nations that was established in 1945 and ratified in 1948, we said well, it says there all peoples, and it wasn’t us, we couldn’t understand why and how could you exclude us?

Because there wasn’t any law, you couldn’t see any rule, so we said well this is an issue and we need to go and address it, we’re going to go to Geneva. In 1971, there was a Guatemalan Indian leader and he had a vision that by the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, indigenous people would have a voice at the UN. And he began meeting with them, we met in 1972, ‘73, and ‘75, and in 1977 we went to Geneva. When we started out, we had no standing whatsoever, we presented ourselves indigenous people, we were invited by the NGO’s, non governmental organizations international and that was a momentous occasion its historic now, there were 146 delegates and each one had a story, the varieties of where we came from, North, Central, South America, the difficulties we had getting the funds to get there, we had a heck of lot of support, vital crucial support.

And when we got there, the six nations we were in these meetings all this time and just prior to spring of 1977 when plans were being made, we were going to go out to South Dakota to meet with our Lakota allies when one of our chiefs died, our titleholder. We had to turn around and go home. We were on our way, all the way to Wisconsin when we got the news that he had died. And we didn’t go back.

We were engrossed with what was going on in our country, which was a lot in 1975. Russell Means came to one of our six nation meetings in July 1977, he asked to speak. I said okay. He said if the six nation doesn’t go with this initial event, there’s no use of any of us going. So when he put it in those terms, we decided well let’s get back to business on this. We said okay we had to get a passport without where we going to get a passport now we decided or not getting get a US passport but we needed some passport so we made one we made our own passports and way issued them to the travelers, 28 of us and we said it was going to be a test to see how they would accept us, because if they were going to accept our passports, they would accept us being there.

Back in ‘75 you could do that, travel was like that. We were prepared for a fight, we thought, whoever wants to take us on, we are here. We spent four hours at the border.

And we had only one day to prepare to make our statement we came from North Central and South America never saw each other before we had to come up with our message we had to this across languages and we had to do this in one afternoon.


Donna Meness


In 2010, Adrienne K of Native Appropriations wrote that a non-Indian casually wearing an Indian headdress “furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. It also places Native people in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society. We don’t walk around in ceremonial attire everyday, but we still exist and are still Native.” She also draws attention to the deep spiritual significance of a headdress and maintains that when a non-Indian wears one “it’s just like wearing blackface.” In a post at mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com the author writes of wearing the headdress: “Unfortunately if you’re a woman, you’re thumbing your nose at our culture which explicitly disallows you to wear the headdress. … If you’re a man, it’s still not appropriate to wear one, unless you’ve actually earned it, according to your tribe (no, you cannot pretend you’ve made a new tribe, etc.)”

We won’t pretend that every single Native would agree with these statements—Indians are not a monolithic culture—but certainly many, perhaps even most, would say they dislike the headdress’s status as a gimmicky costume or hipster fashion accessory. But non-Native musicians seem particularly enamored of it.

But I consider it honoring to Native Americans!

I think that this cartoon is a proper answer, but I’ll add that having a drunken girl wearing a headdress and a bikini dancing at an outdoor concert does not honor me. I remember reading somewhere that it was also “honoring the fine craftsmanship of Native Americans”. Those costume shop chicken feather headdresses aren’t honoring Native craftsmanship. And you will be very hard pressed to find a Native artist who is closely tied to their community making headdresses for sale. See the point about their sacredness and significance.


Donna Meness


Native American vs. Indian

I want to reiterate, this discussion does not argue that Indian is better or indigenous is better, vice versa, or to invalidate being an American or not to be; it is about what we choose as well as how and why we used these names. So, here we go again, the people speak and we shall listen.

Donna Meness

Standing Rock’s own attorney Chase Iron Eyes and his drum group.

In the video, Chase begins to explain his intentions with a comment that didn’t sit well with some Natives.

“We are all Indigenous, we need to transcend, and one way to do that is through the drum.”


Describing Pan-Indian identity as a personal spiritual ethic and taking on Lakota ceremonies as the marker of a spiritual way of existence seems troublesome, however. First of all, how do such actions differ from Indian wannabes or New Agers? New Agers believe they can shop around for any variety of the world’s religious elements or belief systems. Their point of view is often described as a super marker pattern, they find whatever they want or need from the religions of the world, and craft them into a personal spiritual belief system and way of life.

I am not against individuals finding multiple paths to the sacred, many Indian nations allow such beliefs and accompanying form of ceremonial participation. The mixing of beliefs is a pattern that is less allowed. In many Indian nations, one can practice a ceremony within the context of the tradition of a specific tribal community, but one must have an invitation and must keep the integrity of the ceremony.


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