Pablo Russell

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Pablo Russell aka Shooting in the Air, born May 5, 1965[1], is a Canadian citizen living in Calgary. He is also an enrolled member of the Kainai First Nation who are part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Since several years, Russell has been touring Europe to sell seminars, workshops, as well as indigenous ceremonies.

Biographical Information

There is only little biographical information available, with varying details. Russell claims he grew up with his grandparents who allegedly "passed the traditional and secret knowledge of the tribe to him".[2] Various sites mention that he only turned to Kainai spirituality later in life, thus contradicting his claim to have grown up being taught by his grandparents. Some sites date this back to 1985 ("at the age of 20"[3]), others claim he did his first Sundance at the age of 17.[4] Russell lives in Calgary.

Russell's claim to work for the Glenbow Museum in Calgary as a consultant or as a "cultural consultant for the Native Archives Special Collection"[5] cannot be verified by information available on the internet. His name appears nowhere on the museum's website and also does not show up in the list of Blackfoot persons given credit for cooperation[6]; it may be possible that Russell overemphasises any involvement whatsoever he may have had with the Glenbow Museum. An online profile mentions the museum in the "Employment History" section, but specifies he works there as a programmer.[7] The Glenbow only keeps records of former employees for seven years, and in April 2014 were not able to trace any files kept on Russell, so any employment he may have held at the museum will have been before the year 2007.

A further claim is Russell was a "respected researcher and historian for the tribe", giving "lectures at universities, colleges, high schools and elementary schools about Native culture and spirituality".[8] A similar claim of Russell having worked as a teacher of Blackfoot language for the "Red Crow College" situated on the Kainai Reserve cannot be verified online; this claim is only published on German and Czech sites promoting Russell as a "shaman"[9] [10]; among them, however, also the Czech language section of the European site maintained for Russell.[11] It must be pointed out that the college existing on the Kainai Reserve is named "Red Crow Community College".[12]

Another website introduces Russell as an operator of three tipi camps where he is said to work therapeutically with difficult youths, youths abusing substances and with juvenile delinquents.[13] There is no further information available regarding these tipi camps, or about any qualifications on the part of Russell to work as a therapist with a juvenile or any other clientele.

Activities as a Shaman

Russell has been selling seminars and ceremonies and offered services as a "shaman" in Europe since about 1997.[14] Activities can be verified for several European countries, in particular Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, and Czech Republic. Promotional claims of Russell having done "lectures, seminars, workshops, and sweat lodges in all European countries" cannot be verified. Russell is also said to accept both male and female "Sundance students" from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, and Spain.[15]

Although Russell has been selling ceremonies for a considerable number of years meanwhile, he is no medicine person, even if he claims differently. It must therefore be doubted that he is sufficiently knowledgeable regarding the ceremonies sold. Among these are Sweat Lodges, Vision Quest, and Sundance. Russell is also training European clients to conduct Sweat Lodges; some of his students meanwhile have become sellers, too.[16]

Russell also teaches the Medicine Wheel[17], so e.g. in a seminar in Austria in 2011.[18] He is particularly active in Denmark, where in 2013 e.g. he offered various seminars in several towns, among them sweat lodge ceremonies, Medicine Wheel workshops, alleged Pipe Ceremonies, and Healing Circles.[19] As the site offers advice regarding appropriate clothing for both men and women in a sweat lodge, Russell either conducts mixed lodges or does women lodges, both not in accordance with traditions.[20] An advertisement from 2011 for a sweat lodge with Russell mentions a price of DKR 750 per person, i.e. about € 100[21] which places him among the expensive vendors.

He also organises a Sundance on Blackfoot land in Canada which is directed at a predominantly European clientele and apparently without the consent of the Blood nation.[22]

Newage Congresses and Fairs

The first incident of Russell participating in a Newage conference dates back to November 1999, claiming that also "Aboriginies [sic], pygmies [sic], Siberian shamans, Sioux, Crow, Cheyenne, and Lakota" took part in the event.[23] The organising association still exists but do not mention any such conference; they seem to organise annual Powwows.[24]

In October 2005, Russell participated in the so-called "World Conference of Ethno-Therapies" organised annually which apparently announced him as a medicine person and elder.[25] It has to be pointed out that Russell will not be regarded as an elder by his nation, since e.g. his age does not permit this status which also is only one of several criteria whether a person is viewed as an elder or not. He seems to have taken part again in the 2007 Conference, besides established characters in the Newage circuit like Jens Lyberth, Stanley Krippner, Wolf-Dieter Storl, and others.[26]

In October 2009, Russell took part in another Newage fair, the "Lebensfreude" [Jof of Life] in the town of Kiel where he introduced the Medicine Wheel.[27]

Russell is again being advertised as a lecturer for the 2014 "World Conference of Ethno-Therapies".[28]

European cooperation partners

Apart from the person(s) maintaining his European website in various languages, Russell is or was cooperating with several vendors of ceremony in Europe, like e.g. Joachim Irmer, Stefan Kobler, and Mike Chirobokow.

The cooperation with Mike Chirobokow was ended a few years ago by a Blackfoot person after discovering Chirobokow had embezzled donated monies meant to buy buffaloes for the Blackfoot nation. Chirobokow, a Canadian citizen living in Great Britain, was active selling sweat lodges in various European countries before this and still continues selling ceremony in the UK. He also made an appearance in a documentary on indigenous spirituality and its exploitation, "Spirits for Sale", with an improperly organised and built sweat lodge.[29]

Joachim Irmer aka Joe Irmer or Jo Irmer is a German running a seminar house in the Wendland region. He is a former blacksmith, then opened a shop selling organic food which went bankrupt, before eventually turning to selling indigenous ceremony and seminars. Irmer is a former student of Archie Fire Lame Deer; he still refers to Lame Deer as his teacher and links to the site used for promoting ceremonies etc. meanwhile done by John Fire Lame Deer Jr. However, he became persona non grata there when it became known Irmer charged participants of an event organised for the commemoration of Archie Fire Lame Deer, after which John FLD is said to have been outraged and refused further cooperation with Irmer.[30] Irmer then began cooperating with Russell and e.g. does preparational seminars and so-called fasts for participants of the annual Sundance organised by Russell in Canada.

For some time, Irmer's website sported the claims he had been made a "bishop" by the Blackfoot nation and thus was the highest-ranking representative of an indigenous nation in Europe. The claims have been taken off of his site, according to reports, after individuals from the Blackfoot nation repeatedly urged him to delete them; however, part of this still online in an article published by a German daily newspaper.[31] Irmer's claim to be an organiser of a Sundance done at the Blackfoot Reserve in Canada apparently over-emphasises his actual role. The Sundance is mainly organised by Russell and another person going by the name of Casey Eaglespeaker, while Irmer's job seems to be more accurately characterised as shanghaiing European participants.[32] According to reports available online, Irmer also seems to be quite business-minded in generating income from preparing those participants.[33] [34]

Stefan Kobler is a Swiss citizen selling sweat lodges in various European countries which are e.g. advertised on the website maintained for Russell.[35] Some of the sweat lodges run by Kobler take place in Denmark.[36] He also participates in the Sundance organised in Canada and sells preparational fasts for participants at Irmer's Wendland premises.[37] Kobler is characterised as of inappropriate and rude behaviour, though, e.g. yelling at participating dancers.[38]

Behavioural Issues

Although people on the Kainai Reserve do not seem to have left room for doubt regarding their disagreement with a Sundance for Europeans run there, Russell continued to organise these events. The disagreement apparently already caused the event having been closed down just before the start so that Russell had to find new premises.[39] Both Russell - who lives off the Reserve - and Irmer are said to show up just for the dance in posh RVs and only stay for the duration of the event.[40]

Further criticism is raised regarding the use of monies taken in. Apparently Russell asks for donations which he claims to pass on to "his people", but the monies are said to remain within his family.[41] Other reports indicate that even when asking for earmarked donations, this money will not always be put to the use it was raised for.[42]

More fierce criticism is being raised regarding Russell's treatment of his young female students. Apparently he habitually seeks to establish sexual relationships to a fair number of these women whom he is said not only to exploit sexually, but to treat badly in general. As is reported, he fathered several children from students but continues to describe himself as a single person.[43] Further reports state that Russell's line of argumentation used on women he fancies was: "This is the only opportunity you will ever have to sleep with a real Medicine Man."[44]


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