J. Reuben Silverbird
J. Reuben Silverbird, or „Joseph Reuben Silverbird“, proper name apparently Ruben Ortiz, is a musician, actor, and Plastic Shaman and has been living in Vienna/Austria since 1999. Correspondingly, his main area of activity is Austria, but he also tours Norway and did a tour through Australia in 2011. He maintains contacts to Unification Church (the „Moonies“) and to Falun Gong.
Ortiz was born July 27, 1930, presumably in California. According to his own statement, he comes from a family who had been in the showbusiness for several generations, with his parents being actors and musicians. Ortiz decided on a similar career path; from the late 1940s through the 1960s, he formed the „Ortiz Trio“ with a brother and a sister. Later on, he formed „The Coronados“, according to a newspaper article he was again joined by several siblings and a brother-in-law, with the band establishing in the market for Latino music. From about 1970 on, another band, „The Silverbirds“, was founded once again with family members; this band aimed at the evolving market of Native American music taking up Native American issues in their lyrics.
Ortiz claims to have three sons, Perry, Mark, and Gil. He seems to have been married twice, his first wife Ginger was also a singer with the „Coronados“ and the „Silverbirds“. An article dated December 1986 introducing New York „Silverbird Restaurant“ run by Ortiz mentions a first marriage which broke up and a second marriage at that point in time to a German by the name of Inge.
Ortiz has been living in Vienna since 1999, where he initially held a job as a consultant for the theme park „Indian Village Europe“. When this project ended, Ortiz tried to establish as a musician and actor in Europe and additionally entered the market as a shaman and alleged healer.
Ortiz portrays himself as the son of a Native American family and claims his father, whose name he renders as Joseph Ortiz Cordona, was a Nedhni Apache, while his mother, Florinda Blair, was a Navaho; at times his mother gets described as a Navaho-Cherokee or a Cherokee. Occasionally, Ortiz claims his mother's family was related to Sequoyah who invented the Cherokee alphabet, whom he misspells as Sequoia which is the spelling for the Redwood tree. On the other hand, there are press articles dating back to the 1970s in which the „Silverbirds“ are said to be Navaho.
According to press articles promoting the „Silverbirds“, the family had been living in Dumont, New York, for several years already. Six of the family members are said to have „Navajo and Spanish blood“, while one was of Cherokee descent. Ortiz' first name gets rendered as „Ruben“.
Ortiz' claims are dubious, since he never mentions clans of or relations in the indigenous nations except for rather vague pieces of information, and furthermore because he constantly uses an incorrect spelling for the „Nedhni“-Apache.
In describing his childhood, Ortiz presents his parents as renowned actors and musicians, with his father regularly discussing with bishops and leading politicians. He further claims to have been born blind and only gained sight through indigenous healing methods several years later.
Regarding the job held at the „Indian Village Europe“, Ortiz claims to have been hired as a „coordinator“, although he does not specify a job description.
The Legends Revealed
Despite Ortiz' attempts, there is enough information available to counter the various and at times even inconsistent legends he has been spreading since the 1960s. The alleged brother-in-law Steven Coronado who played with the „Coronados“ and later the „Silverbirds“, too, was in fact Ruben's younger brother Steven Ortiz. Steven is somewhat more truthful about his family and mentions his parents' proper names as José Torres Ortiz and Florinda Naranjo Ortiz.
Ortiz' parents in fact were Mexican citizens living in Mexico who operated a small family circus/traveling vaudeville show, crossing the border to the USA for the season to perform in towns in Texas and New Mexico. Their competitors were another Mexican circus family by the name of Mendoza, touring the same region with a similar show.
According to Steven's report, his father went out of business and sold his circus tent which he attributes to a gasoline shortage due to World War II. Ruben's blindness indeed gets mentioned, however, Ruben was not born blind, and his blindness according to Steven's account seems to have been no more than a matter of weeks or perhaps months. There are also no indigenous healing methods mentioned; Steven Ortiz rather attributes Ruben's recovery to their mother's intense praying.
Besides performing, the younger Ortiz also mentions his father selling medical remedies to their audience. In accordance with the legend of being indigenous, he first asserts that his father never charged for the remedies, but in the following paragraph mentions that sales of these medicines went well.
Ortiz' employment with the „Indian Village Europe“ seems to have gone back to his legends about an indigenous status taken seriously by a US employee of the park responsible for hiring Native personnel for the exhibition. However, Ortiz' job was not a coordinator, but a consultant. Given the ambitious aims this park had regarding a presentation of the diversity of indigenous cultures to a European audience, hiring a person for a consultant who is not Native and has no further insight into the issues will have thwarted the project considerably and contributed to cementing stereotypes with the audience rather than providing factual information.
Further claims are being provided by Amazon in the „About the Artist“ section for a CD dating back to 1992, in which Ortiz is described as a „distinguished spokesman for Native Americans“ and a „board member of the American Indian College Fund“. The AICF site does not list any person named „Silverbird“ or „Ortiz“ as a present or emeritus member of their board - however, a press article reveals how Ortiz learned about this fund and which contacts he did in fact have to its board: the fund happened to be announced in the Silverbird Restaurant in New York, as was covered by newspaper „Indian Time“, which was published in Akewsasne Mohawk Indian Territory.
A further claim published at various websites is that of Ortiz being the president of an „Annual American Indian Nations Powwow“, however, this organisation is unknown to anybody else but Ortiz and the only Google results are connected to his alias Reuben Silverbird. Ortiz also presents himself as a board member of the American Indian Museum in New York in promotional texts. The official name of this institution is „National Museum of the American Indian“, and again there is no „Silverbird“ or „Ortiz“ on its list of present or emeritus directors..
On his websites, Ortiz also contends he was „invited to speak and received plaudits from „The International Spiritualist Federation“, however, the ISF website does not mention any event including Ortiz and any sites found by Google happen to be his own and sites publishing his promotional texts.
In the same way, Ortiz – presumably on the background of a title as an alleged „UN peace ambassador“ obtained by the Unification Church – claims to be „attached to the United Nations as an NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation)“. It is quite evident that this status only applies to organisations, but not to individuals.
Metamorphosis of a Plastic Shaman
Apparently Ortiz only became a Plastic Shaman after his arrival in Europe, as no such activities are to be found for the time prior to his coming to Vienna. What can be verified is the New York restaurant, and his registering rights to various music pieces under the name of Ruben Ortiz and also Reuben Ortiz up until the late 1980s, with a gap between 1988 and his job as a consultant to the theme park in 1999. One of the songs, the Spanish title „No hay amor como el de madre“, interestingly includes Ortiz father, rendered as „José Ortiz 1900-1982“.
Taking up activities as a Plastic Shaman, Ortiz claimed his father was an Apache „wiseman“, while his mother allegedly was a Cherokee medicine woman, or sometimes a Navaho or Navaho-Cherokee medicine woman. If these claims were facts, Ortiz should have received an according education by his parents and should be fluent in at least two, if not three indigenous languages. However, Ortiz' claims are definitely and loudly countered by the fact that his usual stage costume as a musician as well as a "shaman" consists of clothes and war bonnet belonging to traditional Plains cultures. Neither Apache, nor Navaho or Cherokee wore clothes of Plains style. With Plains style clothes, Ortiz thus only addresses European stereotypes about indigenous peoples and reinforces them. This on its own speaks vividly against his claims to come from an indigenous family and of his parents being a "wiseman" and a medicine woman, and even more so against his claim of being a „shaman“.
Ortiz furthermore claims to have cooperated with Vincent LaDuke a.k.a. Sun Bear. LaDuke died in 1992 so is not in a position to confirm or reject this claim. However, LaDuke was one of the earliest Plastic Shamans established on the Newage market and his range of books, seminars etc was focused on a middle class white Newage clientele. An alleged or factual cooperation with LaDuke therefore does not provide any legitimation except within the esoteric market.
Range of activities
Ortiz does not have a particularly comprehensive range of seminars or ceremonies which again points against his claims regarding an indigenous and medicine person status. He seems to do predominantly lectures and seminars, but also sells sweatlodge ceremonies. His pricing, however, is certainly noteworthy due to the exorbitant amounts charged: so e.g. participation in a sweatlodge done during an incentive trip in an Austrian hotel was € 1,100 plus VAT! In Australia, sweatlodges with Ortiz were sold at $ 1,197 per person resp. $ 2,194 per couple. This indicates Ortiz will also do mixed sweatlodges which is not in accordance with indigenous traditions. The usual range of prices asked by most Plastic Shamans is less than 10% of these amounts. Customers do not only face being grossly overcharged: since Ortiz does not have any links to indigenous cultures and has had no formal training as a medicine person, he will not be in a position to do anything but a mere imitation of this ceremony, and not be able to judge whether participants are in appropriate health or whether they need to leave the lodge. Participating in Ortiz' sweatlodges may thus present a danger to attendants.
Apart from his limited repertoire in lectures, Ortiz also sells and performs „Indian weddings“ for persons of rather modest celebrity status, so e.g. for an Austrian soap opera actor  and for Austrian singer „Waterloo“ Hans Kreuzmayr. Kreuzmayr apparently is fascinated by Indians and has played the part of „Winnetou“ at the „Karl-May-Festival“ at Winzendorf, Austria in 1999, but also believes to be Lakota and, in 2009, published a book titled „The secret knowledge of the Lakota“, to which Ortiz has provided a preface. Kreuzmayr comments: „Chief Silverbird is my mentor, he has taught me the knowledge of his people. Eight years ago, he acknowledged me as an Indian. This was a great honour for me.“ How a person wrongfully claiming to be Apache, Navaho, and Cherokee may teach „secret knowledge“ of the Lakota will remain Kreuzmayr's and Ortiz' secret.
Activities on Newage Congresses
Since at least 2004, Ortiz' participation in various Newage Congresses, posing as a „shaman“, is still well documented in the internet. He made an appearance at the 2006 Congress „Weltfriedenskongress: Spiritualität und Weltfrieden“ [World Peace Congress: Spirituality and World Peace], beside established Plastic Shamans like Kachinas Kutenai, Devalon Small Legs, and John Colbert a.k.a. Lightning Bear a.k.a. Pushican who, in 2000, had been sentenced by a German court of justice: Colbert had sewed up the vagina of a young woman, a minor at the point in time, in a fake ceremony invented by him.
During the Congress „The Art of Healing“ organised in Graz, Austria, Ortiz appeared along with plastic shamans „Tacan'sina Miwatani“ a.k.a. Jürgen-Michael Kohfink and Wa-Na-Nee-Che in 2004. In 2006 he also participated in the 24th Basel PSI-Days' 8th World Congress for Mental Healing. In 2011, Ortiz took part in the 2011 Bleep Congress in Stuttgart as a lecturer.
Involvement with Unification Church and other cults
Since at least 2000, Ortiz has been involved with Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and also accepted the fake title of a „peace ambassador“ from the cult. While in earlier articles in UC media, Ortiz is called an „ambassador of Indian Village“ in Vienna, a „spiritual leader of 100 nations“, or a „representative for pre-Christian religions of Europe“, a precise date of his receiving the fake title cannot be established from the cult press and websites. A Moon front organisation, „Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace“ (IIFWP) – now Universal Peace Foundation (UPF) – in 2003 already had Ortiz giving a lecture on his experience as a peace ambassador.
Ortiz' presence in various cult events is documented by the cult press, so e.g. he was treated to a trip to Korea by the cult to take part in a so-called blessing (i.e. a mass wedding), he participated in a reception for various members of the Moon family on a tour through Europe at which Ortiz held a laudatio deploring the entry ban against Sun Myung Moon and wife by the Schengen Treaty states, and gave an address on the occasion of Sun Myung Moon's death in 2012. Another vanity award bestowed on Ortiz by the Moon cult was the „Crown of Peace“ granted in Budapest, Hungary in 2004; apparently this happened some time after having received the fake title of an ambassador.
In 2005, he also participated in the founding event of the Austrian branch of the "Universal Peace Federation" and "gave an appraisal of the achievements of the founder", i.e. Sun Myung Moon. The article - perhaps involuntarily - adds a humorous touch in claiming "Native American Elder Reuben Silverbird, who wore traditional Austrian clothes...". In 2010, the cult treated him to a party for this 80th birthday.
It is quite apparent that Ortiz is the cult's compliant footman and at its beck and call, in due return for fake titles, trips, and some VIP treatment, from at least the year 2000 up until today.
Ortiz also uses his cult title claiming he was a „UN peace ambassador“ to promote his business activities as a musician, and as a plastic shaman, as well as furthering book sales and even sales at e-bay.
In 2011, newspaper „Epoch Times“ published an article in which Ortiz praised the performance of Shen Yun company of traditional Chinese dance and music. While the Epoch Time's English edition headlined „UN Peace Ambassador sees something of great importance in Shen Yun“, its German edition titles, quoting Ortiz, „Chinese culture revived again“. Epoch Times was founded in New York in 1999, by a group of activists with ties to Falun Gong and is listed as a „Falun Gong affiliated media source“ by the US Congressional Research Service.
Versions of this article in other languages
- Deutsch: J. Reuben Silverbird
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