Native American Spiritism and Rituals

At the American Indian Magnet School, a public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, magic "dreamcatchers" (to protect students from evil spirits) are displayed in many classrooms. So are mystical "spiritualized" drawings of the earth. Stones on the playground are arranged in a ring for the performance of Medicine Wheel ceremonies.

At least one student's mother was appalled at this apparent establishment of Native American spirituality at the school, along with the derogation of Western civilization and the wonders of pagan practices. She sat in on one of the classes and witnessed, among other things, a ritual drumming and dance in which students were taught that women are forbidden to make contact with the drum for fear of offending the female spirit within it. Her student guide for the day affirmed her own belief in the Ojibwe creation story she had learned at the school. And a fourth grade teacher explained that an amber crystal in the center of the dreamcatcher was a "sacred circle" with a magical spider web inside. The crystal, she said, symbolized the importance of people being aligned with the spiritual energy of the earth. This same teacher, in discussing the school, gushed, "Here you not only are involved in education, but receive a deep spiritual experience that's not available at other public schools."

It is true that this Native American school is designed to improve the "alarmingly high" dropout rate among Native American students in Minnesota. But again it is hard to imagine that if there were an alarmingly high dropout rate of black Baptists in Minnesota, a school focused around black Baptist spirituality would be approved by the school district or by the courts. This would no doubt be contested as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. But if that is how the law would be applied to Christianity, why is it not equally applied to Native American spirituality? It is cases like this that highlight how our school districts and courts speak the language of George Orwell's Animal Farm: some religions "are more equal than others."

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