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When Annika got a sacred eagle feather from a Native American visiting Sweden she realized that it was a very sacred object which should probably not be in her  hands. What was she supposed to do with it? Should she return it and if so, to whom?

Her quest to find the right owner took her deep into Indian communities, where she learned about the anger and sadness of traditional Natives.

”First they killed our people. Then they took our land. Now they steal our faith.”

But the indians are fighting back. This time the fight is not mainly about protecting life and land.
Instead they´re fighting to protect their culture.

But would the feather find an owner?

Spirits For Sale
by Annika Banfield

During many years, I ran a foundation in Sweden to raise money for Native American children, many of them suffering from solvent abuse, domestic abuse and – in some cases – sleeping in the streets.

While raising money by writing books, having lectures and selling Native American craft,  I was growing increasingly disturbed about the way  so called “NA spirituality” was misused and disrespected. I had had the honour of spending a lot of time with my Dinéh friends in AZ and NM. My visits to the Plains Indians, like the Siksika in Canada and the Lakotas in SD, had made me aware of the misinformation being spread in Europe, mainly by non-Natives.

I felt that my books and lectures were not enough to inform people. I wanted to do something more. When I got an email contact with Lakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse, who has fought against the cultural exploitation of his people his whole life, the idea of making a film grew stronger.

I knew nothing about the film industry. But a very strange “coincidence” led to a meeting with a Swedish documentary filmmaker of good repute – Folke Johansson. In the summer of 2005, we decided to make an attempt. Strengthened by the promise from Chief Looking Horse to support us, we set out to find sponsors. It proved to be close to impossible.

The exploitation of NA ceremonies and “spiritual workshops” in Europe generates an enormous turnover, quite often with untaxed money. People in high positions in society participate in “Indian ceremonies”, other successful business people train to become an  “Indian shaman”.  A film giving Native Americans a chance to speak up against this exploitation was in no way desirable.

Folke and I produced the film ourselves.  During five weeks in South Dakota in 2006 we interviewed Elders, medicine people, AIM-members, traditionalists and other reservation residents.  We learned about the struggle to protect sacred places and ceremonies. And we felt the pain among the elders, seeing how their spirituality was used as merchandise – mocked and disrespected.

It was a great honour for us to be able to work closely with traditional people who normally would not speak out in front of a camera. Our deepest gratitude goes to Chief Looking Horse together with his spouse Paula Horne, who travelled with us and introduced us – and gave us the priceless gift of trusting us in the making of this documentary.

In February 2007 we returned to the US, this time to Texas to meet Apache-and Cherokee friends and then on to New Mexico to speak with the Dinéh. To help the viewers to understand the interest in false ceremonies like sweat lodges, we also got the opportunity to film a Danish version of a sweat.

“Spirits for sale” opened up in South Dakota in September 2007 and immediately got awarded as “Best International film” at SD Film Festival. The Swedish premiere – November 2007 – was attended by Arvol Looking Horse and Paula Horne and attracted hundreds of people from all over Scandinavia. Since then the film has been screened world-wide and has also won an award
at the New York Independent Film festival. The award was presented to me in Hollywood in the summer 2009.

To give Native Americans a voice without any kind of censoring or “scriptwriting” was essential for Folke and me. To let them share their feelings about the destruction and disrespect of sacred ceremonies and sites, without any non-Natives speaking on their behalf, was our goal from the beginning. Many wrong doings by non-Natives occur because people are misinformed. And this film would be a way to educate people not only in Europe but all over the world.

It was also important that representatives from the cultures we filmed could have their say before we released the film. Since most of the film was recorded on Lakota reservations – mainly because the Plains Indians´ traditions are the ones that are exploited most  – Arvol Looking Horse gathered some Elders, watched the film and then gave us his approval.

Since most of the exploitation of Native cultures are being done by non-Natives in Europe, I think it´s time that each of us non-Natives finding this wrong and disrespectful put our foot down and join Native friends in this struggle.  Since the film was made together with a book I wrote about the production of the film, the exploitation in Sweden has definitely decreased.  Most people I´ve met do not mean to be disrespectful to Natives, but have been taken in by exploiters´ lies and fantasies.

We sincerely hope that the film can be used as a tool to inform about traditional Natives´ plea to let the sacredness of their beautiful ceremonies be left to the people who are the rightful caretakers.

Editors Note:  At time of publication we were unable to get permission to reprint this review.   Please check it out on IMDb:

Spirits For Sale

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