• Exploring Native American culture on Unplanned America, series 3, episode 2. (SBS)Source: SBS
In the second episode of Unplanned America series 3, our guides explored the religion of Voodoo and visited a maligned Native American community.
Jim Mitchell

28 Jan 2016 - 11:07 AM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2016 - 12:58 PM

Nick, Parv and Gonzo visit Robeson County, North Carolina and get an insight in to the pride and plight of the Lumbee Tribe. Then they head to New Orleans to debunk the myth that practitioners of voodoo are all doll-pricking Satan worshipers.

Here are 5 things we learnt about these oft-misunderstood, ancient cultures…


The Lumbee Tribe hasn’t been fully recognised by the US government

The Lumbee Tribe are a 55,000 strong Native American community still deeply effected by European colonisation with high rates of unemployment, infant mortality, disease, substance abuse and teen pregnancies.

While the tribe was partially federally recognised in 1956, full recognition would mean government compensation that could go towards dealing with these issues.


Relearning ancient Native American culture is having a positive impact

In Robeson, North Carolina, the ways of ancient Lumbee culture are being retaught as a tool to combat issues like substance abuse and restore pride in being Native American. Chris Strickland, co-organiser of a native culture class has found some young Native Americans only know the stereotyped idea of their history, the “cowboys and Indians” myth perpetuated in pop culture. In class, participants learn about the Pow Wow, traditional dancing and flute playing.


Voodoo can be used for good as well as evil

Or as Voodoo Authentica owner and voodoo practitioner Brandi C. Kelly puts it, spirit forces can be used to “give you a pat on the back or a slap on the ass.” But while harming others and getting what you want is a common use for voodoo, it’s not a practice associated with the religion which is more about focusing on the positive. The idea of evil in voodoo is sold by Hollywood to get bums on seats, according to Kelly. The two ceremonies the boys took part in emphasised the positive, even joyful, rather than anything sinister.


Voodoo dolls can be used for “spiritual acupuncture”

Far from the usual idea of voodoo dolls being used as a torture device against one’s enemies, Kelly reveals the dolls are used for therapeutic effect or “spiritual acupuncture”. For example, a heart on a doll can be pierced to heal a suffering heart, whether physically or emotionally.


You actually can be possessed - it’s called “being ridden”

But there’s no Exorcist-style spinning heads here. As the fantastically named voodoo practitioner Belfazar Ashantison explains, spirits take over the body riding it like a horse. Possession is very much akin to an out of body experience. He tells of one woman who during possession drank a gallon of gin but didn’t get drunk.

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Watch Unplanned America series 3 on Tuesdays at 9.20pm on SBS 2. And watch episodes after they air on SBS On Demand.