By David Friedland
The Federal prison system allows Native American Indian prisoners to conduct appropriate religious ceremonies. I joined their “movement” and was inducted as a member of their 12 man tribe at a institution in Florida.
We were allowed to build 3 tepees — each for 4 Indians-on the side of the athletic field. Our 12 man tribe also built a sweat lodge, and fires to purify our spirits. Three of our members were Hells Angels-two Jews-two Black Panthers-the rest unknown.
Each Tepee was permitted one turtle shell, one tom tom, red and white grease face and body paint, assorted feathers (from chickens) some ribbons, sage to burn, a peace pipe and corn cobs. Our request for bows and arrows, Spears, and Magic Mushrooms (Peyote), as well as a field trip to our sovereign /homelands- were all denied or never answered. One of our tribe was given an incident report when a guard thought we were smoking marijuana instead of sage in our peace pipe.
Our ceremonies started on Saturday and concluded at 4pm on Sunday. So except for “the daily count” when we had to report to our cells-we were free to dance around in our war paint in front of our guards, whooping, purifying our spirits, helping the Sun rise and set, thumping our tom toms, and in general looking ridiculous. None of us were Native American Indians.
I was the tribe Shaman -witch doctor-in charge of the turtle shell and other powerful totems and potions-responsible for returning these to the prison chaplain who had to file a form accounting for each turtle shell, feather etc.
That all changed in 1987 when the Courts upheld restrictions on Indians -although they did not affect Jews-Christians-who continued to get wine for sacraments. I should add that I also registered as a member of the Jewish community-my Navajo name =Diyan Dawood.