When first interviewed for this story, Blackfeet Tribal Chief Earl Old Person seemed doubtful the war-bonnet ceremony had even taken place.
“I haven’t heard of that,” he said.
But, by April 10, he had heard about it, and he wasn’t happy.
“They’re not given that right to transfer a war bonnet,” he said. “Those people don’t have the right to do it. You’ve got to be given authority to do it.”
A document from the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejects the notion that L. Ron Hubbard was “adopted” by the Blackfeet Nation, noting that the agency has “no record of such an action.”
Besides, there’s no such thing as a posthumous war-bonnet ceremony, he added. “The person’s got to be present,” he said.
There are only a few elders who can transfer war bonnets, Old Person said, including himself. He said he’d asked Devereaux to come talk to him about correcting the situation. Scientology and Narconon, he said, “really need to come to us. Talk to the people that have some authority.”
Outside the reservation, meanwhile, Scientology watchdogs have been blogging online about the war-bonnet exchange and wondering why it happened.
Rick Ross, founder and executive director of the Ross Institute, an educational nonprofit that studies cults, offers this explanation: “Scientology is always, by its very nature, preoccupied with the continuing edification of L. Ron Hubbard. … By raising his profile and enlarging his legacy and his image, Scientology, being inextricably linked to him, benefits.”
Steven Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta who also studies cults, believes polishing Hubbard’s image may be one aim, and winning recruits might be another. “The ideal achievement is to get a person to graduate from a Narconon program and continue with Scientology programs,” Kent says.
But Narconon chief Clark Carr disagrees entirely.
“That’s a complete opinion, and nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s not a religious program,” he says. “We’re not allowed to even disseminate Scientology as a religion, and we’re not allowed to disseminate any religion in the program.”
Then why did the war-bonnet ceremony happen at all?
John Goodwin of Galaxy Press, which publishes Hubbard’s books, says he, for one, wrote the press release about the ceremony to help promote Galaxy’s summer 2008 re-release of many of Hubbard’s Western novels, including Buckskin Brigades, a 1937 novel about the Blackfeet.
But Devereaux wants to make it clear the ceremony was not a public-relations stunt to sell more books. She says the idea to try to secure a war bonnet for Hubbard was hers alone.
“The reason I did it is because I know that L. Ron Hubbard’s tech saved my life, and I know that this man is a great leader, that he saved the lives of not only me, but many other people,” she says. “And not only that, he is Blackfeet, because he was brought in by a medicine man by the name of Old Tom.”
It might be easy to think the Blackfeet caught up in Scientology have been swayed by the glamour of Hollywood or by expert persuasion, and free books and promises. But, considering the problems on the reservation—and the fact that Ground, Running Crane and the others don’t see any other organization rushing in to help them—it’s perhaps not surprising that they would at least give the religion a try.
Running Crane, for one, says the situation is simple: She thinks Scientology theories are helpful, and she’s going to try to help people with them.
“It’s just a matter of people having the faith in the tech itself and to know that it is going to work, after they see all the concepts and precepts,” she says.
If Hubbard’s methods don’t work, she thinks the group that’s been formed will stay together and keep trying to help in other ways.
Since their last meeting, Running Crane says they’ve found a building they can use to hold meetings, teach Hubbard’s technologies, and even have a coffee shop where local teens can hang out.
“Our commitment is really strong, it’s powerful, and it’s going to stay together,” she says, “regardless.”
This story is reprinted with permission from the Missoula (Mont.) Independent.