Disney Makes False Claims About Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation, Appropriates Indigenous Culture for ‘Native’ Inspiration at Tenaya Stone Spa in Disneyland Resort

When Disneyland Resort opened the new Tenaya Stone Spa at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort last year, there was a lot of hullabaloo about how the company was working with and honoring local Indigenous people. Now, evidence and testimony have arisen to question these claims.

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A report from Fodor’s reveals that officials from the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation, whom Disney claims they contacted and worked with in developing the Tenaya Stone Spa, were never contacted during development, along with the Indigenous People of the Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite National Park. Disney reportedly worked with one member of the tribe and did not verify their stories with the actual Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation before opening the spa.

The 6,000 sq. ft spa opened at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort last September. Its design was advertised as having “a deep appreciation and respect for the indigenous cultures of the region” on the Disney Parks Blog. The company made a point to headline the work of Dawn Jackson, a Native American cultural advisor at Disney and Imagineer on Tenaya Stone Spa’s story development team. Jackson is a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, and described the spa as being inspired by “Native thinking” in a promotional video, and art director Katrina Mosher said the spa aimed to “honor nature like Native Americans”, which Fodors notes is an incorrect homogenization of all Native American cultures, which vary widely by region and individual tribe or nation.

When guests enter the spa, they are presented with a bowl of four types of stone and instructed to “choose the stone which speaks to them”, per a media preview description. Once you choose a rock, guests are to “set an intention and give your rock that energy.” By placing their rock on or around the namesake Tenaya Stone, they can receive energy and healing from the stone.

Although Disney claims they worked with the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation and other Native American peoples of northern California in designing the spa, Elders of the Nation claim they were not contacted, and first heard about it from a USA Today reporter asking for comment a day before the spa’s open, according to Fodors.

Sandra Chapman, Chairperson of the American Indian Council of Mariposa Country and the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation, and direct descendant of Chief Tenaya, says they have never heard of any stone connected to her ancestor, nor do “blessing stones” play any part in their culture.

The stone’s origin goes back to the Parker family, who claim to also be descendants of Chief Tenaya. A Disney official confirmed this to Fodors, saying, “Our team visited the [Parker] family in their ancestral homelands in the Yosemite Valley and from the family, the stone was chosen, blessed and gifted to us.”

Mosher said in the same Disney Parks Blog post that the stone comes from Lake Tenaya, which Disney did not confirm to Fodors.

Additionally, there’s a significant possibility that a felony could be on the line here if the namesake Tenaya Stone, located at the center of the spa, is truly from Lake Tenaya in Yosemite National Park. Taking any property off a National Park is a federal crime. Nobody has come forth as of yet to confirm to the tribe, to Disney, or to Fodors whether the stone was truly taken from the lake or not.

Also noted was the fact that Disney at worst is in possession of stolen federal property, and at best simply did minimal and low-quality research on the indigenous peoples of northern California to create the spa, while trying to capture “a catch-all Native thinking”.

This potential bombshell comes as Disney is under fire for their lackluster inclusion initiatives, from last month’s controversy over LGBTQ+ legislation in Florida to an incident at Walt Disney World where cheerleaders chanted “scalp ’em, Indians” on Main Street, U.S.A.

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