Zak Bagans is the host and lead investigator for the reality TV series on The Travel Channel, “Ghost Adventures.” Its season premiere episode, which aired Saturday night June 17th, 2017, and featured the Navajo Nation’s Ojo Amarillo Canyon, also known as Skinwalker Canyon, stirred up anger in the Native community, even though Zak Bagans told ICMN he was greeted warmly by hundreds of Navajo people when he was there for the shooting of the episode.
Though Bagans says he had support, a tremendous outcry on social media from many in Native communities, particularly the Navajo people, seem to disagree.
Bagans said to ICMN that though he was challenged for being on the Navajo Nation, he was invited and had permission and a permit to be there.
See our previous article: Ghost Adventures Host Zak Bagans on Latest Navajo 'Skinwalker Canyon' Episode
The Travel Channel told ICMN, “We can confirm: The producers of “Ghost Adventures” received permission from the Navajo Nation Film Office’s Office of Broadcast Services to shoot in Ojo Amarillo and Upper Fruitland, New Mexico.” The Navajo Nation office confirmed the statement.
The office of the Navajo Nation did not wish to comment on the episode. However Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye issued this statement:
The Navajo Nation has always had stories about the skinwalker. Stories about supernatural existences are common throughout many tribes across North America. Stories are told about what a skinwalker is perceived to do and their characteristics. From generation to generation, these stories are common and they are still told today. The stories are a part of who we are and our culture. Every culture has similar stories, we are no different.
After last week’s skinwalker episode aired, comments began to pour into ICMN via email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
One Navajo citizen who honors traditional teachings, and declined to be named, said in an email that it was shameful that the Navajo Nation permitted "such a misinformed, exploitive depiction of Dine' culture without providing some cultural guidance. Who approved this nonsense?
"We were appalled by the ridiculous conjecture in Ghost Adventures. There was a staged fire with an animal skull, feather and a bullet, and bizarre explanations from white men who came to 'get' the story that fit their series. It was like people told them the craziest things and they gobbled it up, or worse yet, they made it up. The references to a phoenix found in the cave and the arch as a gateway to evil are not from our culture. I wonder if the Navajo people in that episode knew what the producers were conjuring up. It was laughable and sad—an amateurish, negative representation of Navajo culture.”
One person (who also asked to remain anonymous) said on Instagram: “Awful. Seen so many young kids on the rez think that the show was real when it misrepresents ceremony and our traditions and stories - that's the worrying part, so many young Navajo getting what they think is traditional knowledge from a made-up TV showing white people.”
Navajo actor Loren Anthony said to ICMN of a Native woman referred to as Walking Thunder, “No one that I know is called Walking Thunder (the alleged name of the woman conducting a ceremony on Zak Bagans and his crew) on our rez. I gave the the Ghost Adventures episode a 10 out of 10 for shaking my head. I enjoyed every over-exaggerated minute of it.”
Another person on Instagram, forgetwinnetoufilm, said, “I'm not Navajo, though I work educating on appropriative themes & activities regularly. The "See there!" dismissive & privileged attitude by that Zak and crew, and the myriads of non-natives whose demeaning ‘You're overreacting like always’ smugness was reinforced.”
The criticism’s were not all that host Bagans’ received, there were some voices of support before the episode aired.
Lauren Richards-Evans on Facebook said the following statement in support.
“The Ghost Adventures crew were given permission to speak to the Navajo Nation, by the elders, and the subject of mythology in Native American culture must be private to some tribes, so for outsiders to included in that, must be an honour. People are jumping down these guys' throats without knowing the facts, accusing them of all sorts, which of course will make them get blocked. Do Ghost Adventures' sometimes make assumptions? Yes, but the fact that they've taken the time to listen, and to talk to another culture is a good sign that they're open minded.”
Bettie Begay on Facebook said “I love the series and have been a fan since the show began. I believe in the paranormal and fully welcome the crew. I look forward to watching what they came up with.
MaRia Vasquez England said: “He was totally respectful. Its funny how a lot of navajos talk about what we’re taught not to.”
But many Facebook comments were less than friendly, calling Bagans a hoax, disrespectful and more.
To add to the controversy, “Ghost Adventures” had another episode coming. According to the Travel Channel / Ghost Adventures website, a Saturday June 24th episode also takes place in the Navajo Nation and is listed as follows:
Season 13, Episode 7
Upper Fruitland Curse
"Zak Bagans and his crew head to Upper Fruitland, New Mexico, to help a family who are troubled by the ghost of a faceless young boy. During the intense lockdown inside the Navajo Nation, the guys capture a chair moving on its own."
Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) - ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor Follow @VinceSchilling