Workshop teaches how to be safe when looking for spiritual healing


On December 4, the Division of Indian Work (DIW) offered a Spiritual Abuse training lead by husband and wife team Skip (Fond du Lac) and Babette Sandman (White Earth).  Skip is a traditional healer who has been helping Native people for over 10 years.  

The training brought Native people together to talk about spiritual abuse that is happening in the Native community. The spiritual abuse being referred to is not the same kind of spiritual abuse that happened in Arizona (non-Natives leading Native based ceremonies and charging money).

The kind of spiritual abuse that the Sandmans are referring to is that of Native healers abusing Native people.  The abuse ranges from financial exploitation, sexual abuse, rape, mind games, and physical harm.

Traditionally, “healers are meant to provide the people with guidance, mentoring, healing, and support,” says Skip Sandman. It is within the attempt to find the Creator and spirituality that Native people become vulnerable to those that abuse their spirituality. 

According to the workshop, Native people who are seeking spiritual growth, should be aware of two types of perpetrators: the unauthentic and the authentic. The unauthentic is the imposter. He will show up in your neighborhood and offer spiritual assistance.  He or she will use a blending of various ceremonies and a monetary price for services. 

“They will say you ‘need gifts this high,'” explains Skip Sandman as he holds his hand out to indicate how tall a stack of gifts need to be. “Unlike western medicine, traditional medicine is individual,” says Sandman, indicating that you can’t necessarily use the same blends of medicines to heal everyone.  

The second type of perpetrator is the kind that’s “hard to talk about” says Babette Sandman. This type is the authentic medicine man. They are truly gifted. “This is where the spooky stuff comes in,” says Sandman. This person truly has the gift to heal people, has the knowledge and chooses to abuse the people using the gift.”

When community member Colin Wesaw asked, “Can we get a list of these peoples?” he was told to ask around the community.  “A lot of people in this room know,” responded Babette Sandman.

So how do Native peoples just beginning their spiritual journey know how to protect themselves from the abusers?  Sandman says it’s each person’s responsibility to ask any spiritual adviser some basic questions, including:

  • Where are you from
  • Who taught you this
  • Who spoke for you to start these things
  • Why are you in this community and not your own (if they come from outside the community)

Skips says you should get clear anwers, and to be wary of vague answers.

Babette says, “Women, use your intuition. If you get a bad feeling or strange feeling about this, trust in it.”

Next Skip described the healing steps that generally take place:

  • Take a family member with you
  • Offer tobacoo
  • You and your family will sit with the healer and talk about your ailments
  • You may be requested to come back on a different day for your healing
  • At the healing, you are more than welcome to bring your family members with you again
  • Offer tobacco. The healer will smoke the tobacco and will tell you what will happen during the ceremony.

Skip says that at no time should a person be asked to take their clothes off, or to enter the ceremony alone. He urges people to take family members with them to healing ceremonies. And there should never be requests for payment.

“You should never have to pay money,” says Babette. “You can give a gift if you want to, it is fine.”

Skip says the ceremonies should be open to relatives and friends of the person seeking healing.

“There is nothing secret about it. It wasn’t a hidden ceremony way back then, so why should it be now,”  said Skip.

Other safety precautions include asking people you trust, and speak up if you feel uncomfortable. And ask around in the community to see who is trustworthy.