Lakota Indian who billed himself as a spiritual leader has been found guilty in Larimer County of raping a Boulder woman who helped him perform Native American ceremonies for a largely white clientele.
The Colorado case comes at a time when Lakota tribal elders are expressing increased concern about the exploitation of Native American ceremonies by medicine men, both real and phony.
A jury decided late last year that Oscar Brave Eagle, a Lakota "pipe-carrier," used physical violence to sexually assault Kayla Moonwatcher ("Bad Medicine," July 27, 1994). He was to be sentenced two weeks ago, but sentencing has been delayed until March while he argues for a new trial.
Brave Eagle contends that he was improperly represented by his lawyer and deserves a new trial, according to a spokeswoman at the Larimer County district attorney's office. A Larimer County judge will rule on the motion for a new trial on March 22; if the motion is denied, Brave Eagle will be sentenced.
His former attorney, David Mahoney of Lakewood, says he can't comment on Brave Eagle's assertions. "I'm not privileged to that information," he says. Brave Eagle's new lawyer, Joseph Gavaldon of the Colorado Public Defender's Office in Fort Collins, says, "He did not get a fair trial. I cannot elaborate on all the issues, but ineffective representation by counsel is one of them."
Brave Eagle is the president of White Mountain Eagle Inc., a Colorado nonprofit organization that sponsors yearly Native American sun dances near Morrison. Soon after moving to Denver from the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota nearly three years ago, he and Moonwatcher teamed up to run sweat lodges, perform house blessings and pipe ceremonies and offer spiritual guidance--mostly for whites.
Moonwatcher says she and Brave Eagle did not charge for the ceremonies, but they did accept "gifts" of money or more traditional items such as food, tobacco and blankets.
Moonwatcher claims to be of Lakota/ Cherokee descent, although she cannot substantiate her lineage. Raised in a small northern California town, she adopted the name Moonwatcher, which she says was given to her in a dream. Members of White Mountain Eagle Inc. insist Moonwatcher is actually a white "Indian wannabe" who has no right performing ceremonies and who seduced Brave Eagle to bolster her claims of an Indian heritage.
In February 1992, Moonwatcher claims, she was preparing for a ceremony in which her spirit name, Whirling Rainbow Woman, would be blessed by Denver medicine man David Swallow. Swallow also was going to perform a ceremony in which Brave Eagle would adopt Moonwatcher as his spiritual granddaughter.
Moonwatcher told police she went with Brave Eagle to a field near Lyons to set up a sweat lodge for the event and because he wanted to teach her sacred songs. Instead, she says, he tried to get intimate with her, they struggled and she blacked out. She testified at trial that when she came to, Brave Eagle was raping her. Brave Eagle contended at trial that Moonwatcher had dressed provocatively and had initiated the sex.
Moonwatcher waited nearly two years to bring the criminal charges. She said she hoped to "shame" Brave Eagle into apologizing for what had occurred. It was only after he refused to apologize, she said, that she reluctantly resorted to what she called the "white man's legal system."
The possible abuse of Native American ceremonies by white and Indian "medicine men" is being studied by spiritual leaders and elders on Lakota reservations, according to Philip Under Baggage, a councilmember for the Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge. A major concern, he says, is medicine men--authentic and otherwise--who use their positions to sexually assault women who trust them.
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Under Baggage says one possible remedy would be for respected medicine men and tribal elders to issue an edict against men and women participating in some ceremonies together, particularly those involving sweat lodges, where most complaints are generated.
Such coed activities aren't traditional and are practiced mostly by new-agers and urban medicine men who co-opt Native American ceremonies.
Moonwatcher was unhappy with her portrayal in Westword, which she said at the time made her appear as a "loony new-ager." She declines to comment about Brave Eagle's conviction, other than to say she is writing her own story, "which several newspapers have agreed to publish."
Moonwatcher continues to perform ritual Indian ceremonies. Her telephone answering machine offers appointments for classes and apprenticeships.