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For thousands of years, Native medicine was the only medicine on the North American continent. It is America’s original holistic medicine, a powerful means of healing the body, balancing the emotions, and renewing the spirit. Medicine men and women prescribe prayers, dances, songs, herbal mixtures, counseling, and many other remedies that help not only the individual but the family and the community as well. The goal of healing is both wellness and wisdom.
Written by a master of alternative healing practices, Honoring the Medicine gathers together an unparalleled abundance of information about every aspect of Native American medicine and a healing philosophy that connects each of us with the whole web of life—people, plants, animals, the earth. Inside you will discover
• The power of the Four Winds—the psychological and spiritual qualities that contribute to harmony and health
• Native American Values—including wisdom from the Wolf and the inportance of commitment and cooperation
• The Vision Quest—searching for the Great Spirit’s guidance and life’s true purpose
• Moontime rituals—traditional practices that may be observed by women during menstruation
• Massage techniques, energy therapies, and the need for touch
• The benefits of ancient purification ceremonies, such as the Sweat Lodge
• Tips on finding and gathering healing plants—the wonders of herbs
• The purpose of smudging, fasting, and chanting—and how science confirms their effectiveness
Complete with true stories of miraculous healing, this unique book will benefit everyone who is committed to improving his or her quality of life. “If you have the courage to look within and without,” Kenneth Cohen tells us, “you may find that you also have an indigenous soul.”
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Praise for HONORING THE MEDICINE “Rich, provocative, and fascinating. Kenneth Cohen’s long awaited tome is a treasure chest of Native American healing culture.” —Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine “Comprehensive and authoritative.” —Booklist “Honoring the Medicine will challenge your everyday perceptions of reality and lead you to a quiet, more mindful and healthful place. Be prepared: it could transform your life.” —MARGARET COEL, author of Eye of the Wolf “A timeless classic.” —BRADFORD P. KEENEY, PH.D., editor, Profiles of Healing “[A] remarkable, penetrating work. . . . [Cohen] has emerged as one of the great explicators of the Native American worldview.” —LARRY DOSSEY, M.D., author of Healing Beyond the Body and Reinventing Medicine “[Kenneth Cohen] inspires us to reconnect with the traditional ways for healing the earth and ourselves . . . a brilliant work.” —SANDRA INGERMAN, author of Soul Retrieval and Medicine for the Earth “Ken Bear Hawk Cohen is a traditional native healer and Pipe Carrier. . . . Written for the general reader who wishes to learn more about Native American medicine, as well as medical professionals and holistic healers, Honoring the Medicine explores the core principles of the living tradition.” —Eagle Feather News “This is a book you could carry into the wilderness if you had to choose just one.” —STEPHEN LARSON, Ph.D., author of The Shaman’s Doorway
“Cohen’s book is a form of medicine in itself—medicine for the mind. [Slowly] and carefully [Cohen] untangles the confusion that for so long has created a barrier between the western world into which he was born, and the Native one into which he was adopted.” —EVAN PRITCHARD (Micmac), author of No Word for Time “Honoring the Medicine takes you on a vision quest.” —TED C. WILLIAMS (Tuscarora), author of The Reservation “This is the best overview available of America’s original holistic medicine.” —Spirituality and Health “Ken Bear Hawk’s message is recognized, respected, and needed. He brings new gifts and insight to America’s most ancient tradition and to the larger world.” —TOM HEIDLEBAUGH (Leni-Lenape), storyteller, poet, contributor to The Great Canoes “[Honoring the Medicine] rekindles ancestral knowledge, awakens hope, and points the way that must be re-established so that we live in health and harmony.” —Healthy Horizons “A magical, comprehensive integration of indigenous, western, and multicultural knowledge!” —U.S. Congresswoman CLAUDINE SCHNEIDER “A remarkable book.” —STANLEY KRIPPNER, Ph.D., past president of The American Psychological Association
HONORING THE MEDICINE
Also by Kenneth Cohen The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing
HONORING THE MEDICINE The Essential Guide to Native American Healing Kenneth “Bear Hawk” Cohen Ballantine Books • New York T
2006 Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kenneth Cohen All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by One World, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2003. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Cohen, Kenneth. Honoring the medicine: the essential guide to Native American healing / Kenneth “Bear Hawk” Cohen. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Indians of North America—Medicine. 2. Indian philosophy—North America. I. Title. E98.M4 C64 2003 615.8'82'08997—dc21 2002034469 ISBN 0-345-43513-3 Printed in the United States of America www.ballantinebooks.com 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Book design by Susan Turner
To the Original People of Turtle Island Great Mystery, I ask for your guidance. Help me to truly listen, with an open mind and a pure heart, and to speak in a way that honors the People and their teachings. May my words help to increase respect, healing, and justice for the people of Turtle Island, their children, and all of our relations. Thank you thank you thank you thank you!
The Fires kept burning are merely emblematic of the greater Fire, the greater Light, the Great Spirit. I realize now as never before it is not only for the Cherokees but for all mankind. . . . —REDBIRD SMITH (1850–1918) Cherokee spiritual leader
CONTENTS Acknowledgments xi An Important Message from the Author xiii A Blessing from a Cree Elder xv A Note About Cree Syllabics xxi Introduction 1 Native American or American Indian: Can You Be Politically Correct? 22 PART I: PRINCIPLES AND VALUES The Native American Philosophy of Life 37 1 The Power of Silence 39 2 The Four Winds: Getting Oriented in the Realm of the Sacred 47 3 The Cycles of Truth: Wisdom from the Wolf 75 4 The Vision and Vision Quest: Messages from the Spirit 98 5 Where Healing Dwells: The Importance of Sacred Space 112 6 Asking for Help: Finding and Paying a Healer 133 PART II: METHODS OF HEALING 7 What Is Involved in a Native American Healing? Traditions, Protocols, and Moontime Power 145 8 The Principles of Native American Counseling 167 9 Cultivating the Good Mind: A Counselor’s Gardening Tools 189 10 Massage and Energy Therapies 215 11 The Paleolithic Posture 240 12 Unfolding the Mystery: Sweat Lodge and Sacred Pipe 251 13 Tobacco: Wicked Weed or Gift of the Gods? 267 14 Plant People: The Healing Power of Herbs 280 APPENDIXES A A Comparison of Western and Native American Medicine 307 B Meetings with Remarkable Elders 309 Notes 349 Native American Resources 385 Index 419 About the Author 431 ix
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my colleague and friend Joan Borysenko for her intuition and vision. After reading a very early draft of this book, she said, “You’ve got to publish this!” Little did she or I suspect the work and graces that would follow her encouragement. I thank my family of birth, my father, mother, and brother, for the lessons of childhood, and my adoptive Cree family, Andy, Irene, and Joseph, for lessons that have helped shape my adulthood. I thank Cree elders Albert Lightning, Glecia Bear, and John and Steve Moosomin for their wise words and encouragement, and the many other Cree healers who have accompanied me at various stages of the journey along the Red Road, including Stuart and Yvonne, and Rose and Ric. I thank my dear friend Tom Laughing Bear Heidlebaugh (Leni-Lenape) for his depth of understanding of Native American and African spirituality. His poetry, humor, and courage in the face of cancer and unremitting pain—and his wife’s bravery in supporting and caretaking him—are an inspiration to people of all nations. The memory of my friend fills me with happy-sadness. I thank the fine elders and healers who have been my teachers and friends: Keetoowah Christie (Cherokee), Rolling Thunder (Cherokee), War Eagle (Cherokee-Lumbee) and Helen (Comanche), Hawk Littlejohn (Cherokee), Twylah Nitsch (Seneca), Nonoy (Filipino), Fred Lee “Ingwe” (Zulu), and Dr. Aguomo Umunakwe (Igbo). Mahalo (Thank you) to Kahiliopua, Herb, Lahe’ena’e Gay, Abraham Piianaia, and my other Hawaiian relations for extending their hospitality and aloha. Warm gratitude to Gulli and Gudrun Bergmann for introducing me to “the Land of Fire and Ice” (Iceland) and the spirits who live there. I thank my extended family in the “Medicine”: the former residents of Meta-Tantay, treasured friends Richard and Lora Dart, and my Si.Si.Wiss brothers and sisters under the guidance of Johnny Moses Whis.tem.men.knee, Vi Taqsablu Hilbert, and other elders. Words cannot express my gratitude to N’Tsukw (Innu), who has been my friend for more than twenty-five years. I will never forget our walk up the mountain as he told me the ancient history of Turtle Island the songs and prayers, as we shared smoke from a clay pipe the delicious meals he served when all he could afford was an onion and a loaf of bread visiting with his mother, who at age ninety had more vitality and wit than most women half her age and the way he stood by me during my time of hardship. I feel blessed that N’Tsukw’s good teachings became part of my life path when I was at an impressionable age. xi
Honor to the wise teachers who helped deepen my understanding of Western religious traditions: Rabbi Burt Jacobson, Rabbi Zalman Schachter, Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, and to the faculty of the New Seminary. After Rabbi Gelberman lost his family to the Nazis, he founded the interfaith New Seminary as a way to promote peace through appreciation and respect for all spiritual traditions. May this work contribute to that good vision. I am grateful to scientists and colleagues who are bridging the illusory gap between science and spirit, between intellect and intuition, between God and Nature. To Daniel Benor, Larry Dossey, Elmer Green, and other trailblazers on the road to Knowledge and Wisdom. For help with research or for providing impossible-to-find journal articles, I thank Rebecca Cohen, Robert Freedman, John B. Little, Fernando Pages, and Edward P. Radford Jr. The immediate and open-minded response of many scientists to my requests increases my faith in the integrity of science and convinces me that governments and corporations are more than willing to use scientists’ research but rarely their ethics. To the many other elders, teachers, and acquaintances along the Way. I thank all of these people for helping to open my mind to deeper realities. Blame me for my mistakes and misunderstandings. To Tami Simon and associates at Sounds True, publishers and preservers of the oral traditions of many cultures. I am honored to count you as friends and colleagues. To my agent, Ned Leavitt. How fortunate that I found an agent as dedicated to spiritual growth and indigenous wisdom as he is to integrity in business! We sealed our contract with a handshake, a pouch of tobacco, and a signature, in that order of importance. I am grateful that writing books gave us the opportunity to meet. I thank my editor, Ginny Faber, for inspiring me with her insight, questions, suggestions, critiques, and enthusiasm. Ginny taught me that style and truth can go hand in hand—a book is great only if each word and each sentence is great. I also thank the production staff of Ballantine Books for their expertise. And to my daughter, the little Bear who became a fine young lady, who taught me the meaning of the prayer “for the future generations.” Human knowledge is like a drop of rain in the great sea of life. It is neither complete nor perfect. I welcome my readers’ suggestions and criticism, so that I can improve future editions. You may write to me care of the publisher. HONORING THE MEDICINE xii
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE from the Author The healing methods described in this book are presented for education, personal development, and spiritual enrichment. They should not be used as a substitute for necessary medical diagnosis, therapy, or supervision by a qualified health care professional. Names, places, and characteristics of healing subjects have been changed to preserve confidentiality. Any similarity to specific individuals is entirely coincidental.
Blessing from a Cree Elder xv
HONORING THE MEDICINE xvi
Kenneth Cohen xvii
TRANSLATION Oh Grandfather, Creator, Holy Woman, Earth Mother, I call on You in a sacred manner. I call on You with prayer for the sake of this book of wisdom. I pray that its knowledge be spread throughout the land. May it be helpful to many people, not only Native people but also Europeans, Africans, Chinese, and All Nations. I pray to the Spirits of the Four Winds and ask their pity that this knowledge reach out to the four directions. Pity also the calling and crying out of my adopted son, Ken Bear Hawk, who has written this book. Many people in both our own Nation and other Nations are lost today. Money and greed have led them astray. Therefore, we request, Almighty Creator, through the power of your miraculous essence and spirit and with Your Love, that the teachings in this book bring great benefits to the people, affect them in a good way, and help them to change their lives around. This book contains medicine, medicine from the root given by our Creator. In the past, You also gave our grandfathers and ancestors the healing medicine root. Today, everything is changing, and many young people feel lost and confused. I pray that the good words and information in Honoring the Medicine provide guidance for many people. May those whose hands it touches use the knowledge as medicine. This book is a spiritual medicine that will protect the people. Creator, I pray to you for pity and blessing to help mankind return to the ways of the natural medicine placed here by our Creator for healing. Today, many people have lost their connection to Mother Earth and her spiritual gifts. We refer to these gifts as “medicine.” Yet I also see that our neighbors and relatives from many nations are starting to return to the herbs, roots, and other natural medicines. My relatives, this is the only medicine that will help us to survive, as has been foretold by the elders. We will be renewed by the sacred power of the sweetgrass and the pipe. Today, I have spoken my wishes in my Cree language. A language from across the ocean will communicate for me in this book. The wording of the book’s title says so much. Honoring the Medicine is a tremendous concept. In the past, the medicine of the earth was understood and used for healing. Let us ask for mercy from Creator for our neglect of these medicines. This book will help us return to them. May our children, our grandchildren, and the unborn generations be given life from these HONORING THE MEDICINE xviii
medicine roots. Let us think in an expansive and good way toward the medicine so that the Spirit will live on. Honoring the Medicine is the kind of legacy that people should leave behind for their children. That is all I can say in praying and asking for a blessing today. Hiy! Hiy! (With deep gratitude) —Prayer by Andrew Naytowhow (Nêhiyaw—Sturgeon Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan) • Transcribed to Cree syllabics by Mary Anne Martell (Nêhiyaw—Waterhen Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan) • Syllabics typed by Scott Bear (Nêhiyaw—Flying Dust First Nation, Saskatchewan) • Helpers (Ôskapêwisak) Joseph Naytowhow (Nêhiyaw—Sturgeon Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan) and Cheryl L’Hirondelle-Wayinohtêw (âpihtawikosisân/Nêhiyaw—Pahpahcasis First Nation, Saskatchewan) • English translation by Joseph Naytowhow Kenneth Cohen xix
NOTE ABOUT Cree Syllabics Most Native American languages use English letters to represent their words. Cree and Cherokee, however, have their own writing systems. In 1819, a Cherokee man named Sequoyah, who didn’t know how to read or write in any language, invented the Cherokee syllabary to represent Cherokee sounds. This was an extraordinary intellectual and creative achievement most of the world’s written languages evolved over thousands of years. Not long after Sequoyah’s invention, Calling Badger, a Cree medicine man from western Canada, journeyed to the spirit world, where he learned prophecies, sacred teachings, and a unique system of Cree syllabics. The spirits warned Calling Badger that Christian missionaries would try to take credit for the syllabary. As predicted, a Methodist missionary named James Evans (1801–1846) claimed that he invented the writing system based on a combination of shorthand and common symbols from Cree art. Although many scholars support the Evans story, I am among the minority of “traditionalists” who attribute the syllabary to Calling Badger. Calling Badger’s life story and teachings were passed down by the descendants of Fine Day (born sometime before 1854), the noted Cree medicine man and warrior. I heard the story of Cree syllabics directly from Fine Day’s greatgrandson. The Cree system is far more flexible than the Cherokee syllabary and has been adapted to represent related Algonquin languages such as Anishinabe and Innu, as well as an unrelated language spoken by the Inuit. Thanks to their syllabaries, by the end of the nineteenth century, the Cree and Cherokee nations probably had the highest literacy rates of any nation in the world.
HONORING THE MEDICINE
INTRODUCTION 1 In November of 1993, I was invited to speak at a small conference on complementary and alternative medicine in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C. In attendance were about twenty medical school professors, researchers, and clinicians, and representatives from several systems of healing, including acupuncture, Ayurveda, spiritual counseling, and Christian prayer healing. I represented Native American medicine. The purpose of the conference was to review these healing systems, look for common factors, and create guidelines for the conduct and evaluation of healing research. I was surprised and delighted when the conference organizer, Wayne Jonas, M.D., a leading scientist from the National Institutes of Health, requested that I open the conference with a traditional Native American prayer ceremony to honor the medicine of America’s original healers. The ceremony took place under a giant oak tree. Conference participants came from varied backgrounds and represented healing methods that seemed, on the surface, very different from one another. Yet we all stood around that oak tree with our feet planted on the same ground. This book is a branch of that tree. It is an expression of my belief that people of various healing and spiritual traditions must engage in respectful dialogue if they are to understand one another and create a strong foundation for health and peace. At the prayer ceremony, I burned a “smudge” of sage and cedar, sacred Native American plants. We drew in the same fragrant air and mixed it with the unique breath in our own bodies. At the level of roots and breath, at the level of our humanness, there are only small differences among us. I have yet to hear a pine tree criticize the authenticity or “truthfulness” of a willow. Native American healing takes us to these roots because it is an expression of the ancient wisdom of humanity. Indigenous spirituality is the world’s oldest religion. I hope that when you read this book you will trace your mind back to its own roots and reaffirm the importance of living in a way that respects our common soil. Honoring the Medicine is about far more than “medicine” in the conventional
sense, about preventing or treating disease. It is about the sacred powers that, in Native American culture, are the source of life, wisdom, and healing. They are medicine. The medicine is in us and around us. Honoring the Medicine is a book for healers, which means that it is for everyone, because we are all healers. When you touch someone with your eyes or your hands, you communicate who you are. If you honor the medicine, you inspire honor and wisdom in others. WELLNESS AND WISDOM From the Native American perspective, medicine belongs more to the realm of healing than curing. These two concepts are not identical. Physicians aim to cure disease, to vanquish it, to make it go away. Traditional indigenous healers emphasize healing, in the sense of “making whole” by establishing, enhancing, or restoring well-being and harmony. Imagine that you visit your physician because you have a painful cough and lowgrade fever. He determines that it is bronchitis and prescribes an antibiotic, which you must take for the next ten days. The antibiotic works—your fever disappears, and the cough goes away. You are “cured.” But you may feel ill in other ways—the antibiotic may have upset your digestion or weakened your immune system, making you susceptible to another infection. You certainly don’t feel empowered by medication. Some drugs, such as those used in chemotherapy, have devastating side effects, such as exhaustion, depression, nausea, and death. For the patient, recovery from illness can be an impersonal and lonely battle. Now, suppose you go to a Native American healer with the same symptoms. The healer invites your family to attend a healing ceremony. They pray with him as he holds a cup of herbal tea in his hands and asks the Great Spirit for help. You are surrounded by a community of caring human beings. Healing emphasizes your connection to people, nature, and spirit. It includes more than self-centered or personal care. The goal of healing is both wellness and wisdom. I am not saying that Native American healers are unable to cure, only that curing is not always the exclusive, or even sometimes the primary, goal. The efficacy of a cure can be measured it belongs to the realm of science. The effects of healing are not as easy to quantify because healing touches every aspect of a person’s life—it belongs as much to spirit as to science. Though I will occasionally cite scientific research and theory to point out important parallels between Western and Native approaches to health, I believe that Native American healing goes far beyond the boundaries or capabilities of science. To accurately measure the effectiveness of Native American healing, a researcher would have to measure not only physiological or biochemical improvements but also changes in the patient’s happiness and the well-being of his or her family and community. Sometimes, the result of a Native HONORING THE MEDICINE 2
American healing for cancer is family harmony and a more dignified passage into the spirit world. Native American healing is America’s original holistic medicine. This book explores the principles and practices of this tradition, including, most important, the underlying philosophy and values on which it is based. In Native American communities, certain individuals are born with a gift of healing or possess a particular ability to receive and carry back to us messages from the Creator or helping spirits. Nevertheless, we all have latent healing abilities that can be awakened. This is a book for all who are committed to improving quality of life for themselves and their human, animal, and plant relations. I hope that health care professionals will see themselves as “healers” and will use the principles, insights, and tools in this book to become more caring and effective. Finally, it must be said that from the Native American viewpoint, healing, quality of life, and spiritual development cannot be separated from politics and economics. Native American healing emphasizes harmony with the Earth as an essential ingredient in personal health. But how can we find harmony with the Earth if we continue to cut her hair (the forests), steal her bones (minerals), and dump poison into her bloodstream (rivers and oceans)? We cannot preserve original healing traditions without recognizing the rights of the original people of North America to autonomy and control over their own lives and lands. The elders say that plants, swimmers, crawlers, four-leggeds, and those who fly are also “people,” with God-given rights to the food, shelter, and happiness that nature provides. Throughout this book, I will not hesitate to comment on the rights of these various “peoples” whenever it is relevant to the topic I am discussing. You will not find in these pages a linear analysis of the ABCs of healing. Such an analysis would not be possible in any event. Traditional Native reasoning and sciences tend to be nonhierarchical. All aspects of Native American healing are interconnected, and thus, one simple idea is not always the basis for a more “advanced” one. I will introduce concepts in one chapter and explore, expand, and reinterpret them again and again throughout the book. I invite you to wander with me over the landscape of Native American healing, to view it from the perspectives of both science and intuition, to understand it as a philosophy and a lifestyle, and to hear its call for ecological and social responsibility. Sometimes, I will express my thoughts with clear dispassion at other times, I may become ornery as hell as I recount the devastating effects of white colonialism on Native culture and describe the deficits of the Western medical establishment. I am not, however, at war with my own white ethnicity. I am at war with injustice. I hope you will join me. The technology and power of the West can be tools of destruction if they are not balanced by earth-based, holistic wisdom. The good medicine of America’s original Kenneth Cohen 3
people teaches us how to rediscover the path of beauty that was once known to all of our ancestors, whether they were born on this land or any other. A MATTER OF METHOD I prayed and did much soul-searching to determine the clearest and most respectful approach to this complex subject, to settle on what scientists call a methodology. The literature about Native American healing can be divided into four broad categories: biographies or autobiographies of Native American healers, such as Thomas E. Mails’s Fools Crow, about the great Lakota medicine man anthropological works, especially ethnographies, studies of individual societies multidisciplinary studies, including books about history, art, religion, or ethnobotany that incidentally touch upon Native American healing and New Age writings, which I believe is more than a catchall category for quasi-religious books by aging hippies. Each of these perspectives has strengths and weaknesses, but none provided the kind of format that I wished to follow in my book. I decided on an integral methodology, which blends multidisciplinary scholarship with personal insight. In this book, I integrate scholarship from a variety of fields—including Native American studies, alternative medicine, theology, and psychology—with my experiences as a practitioner of indigenous healing and spirituality. THE PROBLEM WITH ANTHROPOLOGY Modern anthropology emphasizes the value of participant observation, which means that the anthropologist lives with the people he or she is studying, records their culture, and may ask questions or conduct surveys. Unfortunately, participant observation does not always result in objective documentation. A researcher’s personality, interests, and prejudices influence what he chooses to study, the quality of his interactions, his access to sacred or private information, the methods used to verify conclusions, and very important, the meaning and importance he attaches to conclusions. Anthropological research is usually funded by and conducted for universities. Cultures are commodified, turned into profit-making information for books or academic position. Throughout the twentieth century, indigenous cultures rarely benefited economically or socially from such research. Early ethnographers often shamelessly lied or used other means of coercion to gain access to their subjects. Dartmouth College Professor Christopher Ronwanièn:te Jocks (Mohawk) has described the way anthropologist Frank Cushing, who lived among the Zuni during the 1880s, “threatened his way into the Kivas”1 to gain information for his books and how other researchers stole ceremonial objects and altars to place in museums. On November 23, 1990, the United States Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation HONORING THE MEDICINE 4
Act, which requires federal agencies and private museums to return human remains, funerary materials, and sacred objects to their tribes of origin.2 I have personally been dismayed at how, even in modern times, protocol and common courtesy are often ignored by researchers. My own firsthand experience of such cultural arrogance involved a conversation I once had with a young archaeologist who had been hired by the federal government to survey a mountain sacred to several Pacific Northwest tribes. The archaeologist confided that after a few weeks of research, he “could find no evidence of sacred usage.” I asked if he had consulted tribal elders to learn about their oral history and tradition, neither of which always produce “artifacts” for study. He brushed my suggestion aside. “I am a scientist,” he scoffed. “I look at the data and analyze it. What do the elders know'” No doubt, the archaeologist told the government what it wanted to hear. The sacred mountain is now a nuclear waste repository. Fortunately, this kind of travesty is becoming less frequent. Archaeologists like the one I just described will soon become an extinct species. Today, researchers are more accountable to Native American people than they have been at any time in the past. More important, Native American scholars are writing their own ethnographies, as much to inform tribal members as to share with other cultures.3 Non-Native scholars are beginning to collaborate with Native elders, finally seeing them as the teachers and cultural treasures that they are, consultants rather than “informants”4 who simply provide raw data or information. Earlier researchers often exploited their Native contacts by not explaining how their information would be used or the impact it might have on the health and political challenges of their communities. MULTIDISCIPLINARY STUDIES By “multidisciplinary studies,” I mean books that are based primarily on research from a variety of disciplines rather than on personal experience. The best known is Virgil J. Vogel’s American Indian Medicine, which draws on ethnography, history, and Western medicine. Vogel uses a phenomenological approach, which means that he presents only the facts. His book is a meticulously researched and wellreferenced compendium of Native American beliefs and practices drawn from previously published works. The major weakness of such text-based approaches is that they tend to give the mistaken impression that Native American medicine is frozen in the past—a museum relic, a subject for historical scholarship, or a quaint reminder of where humanity has been. There is little attention paid to it as a living system, no sense of the modern practice and relevance of Native American healing or of the important dialogue that is occurring between Indian and non-Indian culture and science. Many multidisciplinary works also fail to engage the Native American worldview, that is, how Native Americans understand their own culture. Authors reduce their Kenneth Cohen 5
subjects to familiar and comfortable categories rather than venture into realms that question common beliefs about reality. For example, in 1964, Bert Kaplan and Dale Johnson, professors of psychology at two American universities, published an essay called “Navaho Psychopathology,” in which they claimed that the effectiveness of Navaho curing ceremonies is based on suggestion or autosuggestion and on reintegration of the patient with the social group.5 Although these are certainly important factors, the authors’ conclusions are based on their own cultural assumptions that spirits are hallucinations and thus a belief in them must be purely utilitarian. I disagree, as do most practitioners of Native American healing. A notable modern example of this reductionistic tendency can be found in scholar of religion Daniel C. Noel’s book The Soul of Shamanism. Noel implies that the proper way for Westerners to enter the shamanic realm is by exercising their imaginations by reading novels. He states that aside from drug-induced visions, “the only direct experience of nonordinary reality we can claim as Westerners to be truly ours—and recognizably shamanic—is the experience of imagination’s power in fictions and fantasies, dreams and reveries, or the arts of literature and the like.”6 Words in literature are described as “powerful peyote buttons” that can take us on magical flights.7 Although words are indeed powerful, shamanic traditions, including both Native American and ancient European, predate the written word. Noel ignores the vast realm of Druidic, Celtic, and Norse shamanism, all of which sought wordless communion with spiritual powers, and the indigenous spirit of many early Christian mystics who saw the world as the body of Christ and sought direct contact with the Divine through communion with nature. Although shamans are imaginative, they recognize that spiritual realms can only be perceived by a quiet mind.8 NEW AGE WRITINGS In a typical bookstore, most books about Native American healing are either in the Native American, anthropology, or American history sections. Many works that purport to be about Native American healing may also be found in the “New Age” section. The same is true in libraries. It is safe to say that their separate shelving reflects a value judgment that New Age books, generally unendorsed by academicians or Native people and rarely containing footnotes or bibliographies, are not authentic. The criteria used to determine which book goes where can be vague, however, and mistakes are often made. “New Age” is a relatively new genre. It consists mostly of nonfiction books on a wide range of subjects, from the occult to astrology to nondenominational spirituality and inspiration. The name grew out of the New Age movement, a Western social trend that began in the 1970s, picking up where the beatnik and hippie movements of the 1950s and 1960s left off. It reflects the same dissatisfaction with HONORING THE MEDICINE 6
materialism, conformity, and institutionalized religion, education, and government and includes a genuine yearning to find meaning, freedom, and purpose in life. Members of the New Age movement aspire to revolutionize consciousness through meditation and other spiritual practices. They seek an alternate lifestyle, never clearly defined but generally based on communal living and sound ecological principles, such as simplicity and conservation. Some believe that an alternate lifestyle is a matter of human destiny. During the last half of the twentieth century, New Agers were anticipating and preparing for the Age of Aquarius, which astrologers predict is a two-thousand-year period, from A.D. 2000 to A.D. 4000, in which people will seek peace and community and reconcile science with humanitarian concerns. New Age writings are generally optimistic and imaginative. Unfortunately, New Age writings are frequently overly imaginative, based on channeling from “higher” extraterrestrial sources, “memories” from past lives, or the unrestrained fantasies of self-styled experts. Authors may call themselves “medicine person” or “shaman” who have not been so designated or approved by indigenous people. Their books are often characterized by a lack of critical thinking, confusing traditional Native star knowledge with Western astrology, healing ceremonies with mediumship, and the Vision Quest with visualization. New Age books may also imply that the reader can learn Native American tradition or gain “medicine power” quickly, perhaps in ten easy lessons. By contrast, Native American healers believe that healing is a lifelong commitment that requires personal sacrifice. New Age authors do not necessarily appropriate traditions in a malicious attempt to convey misinformation more often, they are simply ignorant of the depth and difficulty of the subject. The problems inherent in the New Age movement are made clear by its most lucid critic, author Ken Wilber. Because there is no single or underlying New Age philosophy, he says, it is probably as correct to discuss New Age movements as a New Age movement. In Wilber’s tome Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, he points out that “these movements fail across the board: they lack any sustained vision-logic of both exterior and interior dimensions, they lack a consistent technology of access to higher interior dimensions, they lack a means (and even a theory) of social institutionalization.” Despite their loud espousal of “new paradigms” and quantum or post-Cartesian worldviews, the majority of New Age authors “do not engage the rational worldview in a way that can transcend and include it rather, most of them end up regressing to various forms of mythic imperialism. . . .”9 They reject rationality and tradition as vehemently as they believe society rejects intuition and spontaneity. I once attended a “traditional Cherokee ceremony” in which the leader intoned Wiccan conjuring chants in Latin. He justified the mix saying that Wicca is a Kenneth Cohen 7
European indigenous tradition and that both Wiccan and Cherokee healers use conjuring spells. True enough, but the language, intent, and geographic root of these spells are far from identical! Books by self-appointed New Age “experts” frequently contain the same indiscriminate mixing of cultures: many wells dug but none deep enough to strike water. The quest for meaning, connection, and personal vision is taken as equivalent to “Do your own thing.” Moreover, “facts” and false personal histories are sometimes created to hide ignorance. “I learned healing from my grandmother, who told me in dreams that she was a Cherokee princess and then taught me. My knowledge comes from the spirit world.” Those words were spoken to me by a British teacher of “Indian shamanism.” The colonial mentality is betrayed by the use of the term princess, a designation unknown to a people without royalty. (I have always found it odd that no one claims to have received the truth from the Cherokee emperor!) Some New Agers are quite good actors, playing to the American romanticized image of Indians, with feathers, beads, and buckskin.10 Claiming Indian ethnicity may mean jobs and economic opportunities that are denied real Indians, who frequently don’t look the part. Tragically, many impostors are given the stamp of authenticity by publishing houses, conference organizers, and the media. This results in confusion not only for serious students of Native American culture but also for Indian people themselves. At my lectures on Native American healing, I like to do some “reality testing.” I show a slide given to me by a Cherokee elder, who said, “If you don’t believe that I’m a medicine person, look at this!” It’s a picture of him dressed in a full warbonnet and Plains-style breastplate, neither of which is Cherokee, surrounded by a purple glow, his “aura,” courtesy of special effects. We had a good laugh the first time he showed it to me. When I present the slide at science conferences, it always draws oohs, aahs, and knowing nods of approval. And my own credibility also goes up several notches as the student of the Indian mystic. When I click to the next slide, the audience sees the elder as he normally looks—balding, crippled from diabetes, dressed in dirty overalls, and sitting in a wheelchair outside his trailer. Behind the trailer is a small storage shed where he keeps a mini-arsenal of shotguns, rifles, and pistols. I share this quote with the audience: “I used to hunt when I was younger, but now I only use weapons to scare away trespassers.” With this slide, I like to shock my listeners into an alternate reality, called the reality of Indian life. New Age books about Native American healing are frequently written by people who seem entranced by the exotic. They have learned how to talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. It is neither easy nor fun to walk the Red Road, the path of Native American spirituality. Do you know why the grass always looks greener in someone else’s yard? Because unless you’re standing in it, you can probably only see the surface. HONORING THE MEDICINE 8
RESTORING SOUL The integral approach I take in Honoring the Medicine blends philosophy, science, values, principles, and practice. An integral methodology is based on personal experience, dialogue with peers, and scholarship. It is also interdisciplinary because it recognizes the holistic nature of Native American thinking and culture, in which subjects such as healing, worldview, ethics, lifestyle, geography, music, dance, art, politics, and prayer cannot be divided.11 In Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts, University of California Professor Greg Sarris describes an approach to oral literature and storytelling that matches my own goal as an author: “[T]he writing, as much as possible, should reflect oral tendencies to engage the larger world in which the spoken word lives so that it is seen for what it might or might not be beyond the page.”12 In sociological terms, the integral methodology emphasizes emic inquiry: it recognizes the internal structure and validity of culture and acknowledges that peoples have their own cultural explanations for beliefs and behaviors. This is in contrast with etic interpretation, which denies the inherent significance of such beliefs and assumes instead that the truth can only be seen through the lens of Western culture and its evidence-based science. The “objectivity” of science is a euphemism that often masks unconscious, culture-bound preconceptions about the criteria that determine truth. This book is based on what I have learned in more than thirty years of study with indigenous elders and healers and on my personal experiences as a practitioner of Native American healing. It also incorporates insights and data from ethnographies and historical works whenever appropriate. However, as much as I value historical analysis, I am more concerned with the future of Native American healing. Native American healing has changed as Native people have adapted to new circumstances. In the past, Native American healing evolved as tribes migrated and adapted to new landscapes or as they traded goods and information with other tribes. It is a mistake to consider Native American healing only as it was practiced in precolonial times, just as it would be a mistake to presume to understand the validity of Western medicine by studying only the writings of Hippocrates. Although Native American healing practices have ancient roots and include tried and tested methods that remain unchanged over long periods of time, like scientists, Native healers adjust procedures based on clinical observation, insight, and information shared with colleagues and peers. Native American healing is a powerful system of healing, as deserving of respect as acupuncture, homeopathy, Ayurveda, or any other great traditional method of health care. In this book, I will explore traditional, modern, and cross-cultural perspectives on Native American healing by trying to answer the following questions: Kenneth Cohen 9
How do Native American people understand health and disease—that is, what are the principles of indigenous healing? Can the indigenous and Western communities engage in respectful, mutually enriching dialogue to the benefit of all people, Native and non-Native alike, in their common quest for healing and understanding? The need for such cross-cultural dialogue in education and science is now being recognized by many Native Americans. Tewa Indian educator and artist Dr. Gregory Cajete puts it succinctly: Many aspects of American Indian culture are now being examined through more enlightened perspectives that have evolved from theoretical physics, ecology, theology, ethics, mythology, and the psychology of consciousness. This examination has great potential for American Indians. It presents a contemporary foundation for interpreting important elements of the traditional paradigms of Native America in the context of a twenty-first century world.13 Everett R. Rhoades, M.D. (Kiowa), of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, echoes Dr. Cajete’s philosophy in his important essay “Two Paths to Healing: Can Traditional and Western Scientific Medicine Work Together'” The results of rigorous scientific evaluations of alternative healing practices, including Indian healing, may lead to major advances in our shared understanding of the nature of the healing process. While Indian people must protect our most sacred ceremonies from intrusion, we should welcome scientific scrutiny of our Indian medical practices, in the hope that all will gain from increased understanding—both western and traditional healers and their Indian and non-Indian patients.14 Nevertheless, I’ve been unable to present conclusive experimental data in this book for the simple reason that there isn’t any. In 1992, a report to the National Institutes of Health on alternative medical systems in the United States stated: Formal research into the healing ceremonies and herbal medicines conducted and used by bona fide Native American Indian healers or holy people is almost nonexistent, even though Native American Indians believe they positively cure both the mind and body. Ailments and diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid conditions, cancer, skin rashes, and asthma reportedly have been cured by Native American Indian doctors who are knowledgeable about the complex ceremonies.15 In 1994, when I was preparing to edit one of the first scientific newsletters to look seriously at Native American healing, I put out a plea to Native American scholars HONORING THE MEDICINE 10
and colleagues and non-Native scientists for research data. None was forthcoming. In 1997, a premier journal of alternative medicine, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, printed my request for research documenting allopathic-indigenous medicine collaboration. Out of the nineteen thousand subscribers and many more readers of that issue, I received two responses. The first was a letter from a nonIndian physician in Canada who had been treating Indian people and participating in their ceremonies. He wondered if I had any experimental data. The second was from a group in New Mexico that was providing innovative treatment for HIV and AIDS patients by leading them on pilgrimages to healing places and people, including Native elders. They were unaware of any supportive research but, like the physician I described above, hoped that I had some. What I do have is my clinical observations and observations and reports of other clinicians who combine Western and indigenous treatment strategies. Several hospitals located near or within Indian nations have established Indian Healing Rooms for Native healers to treat patients who are also receiving medical care.16 There are also a few facilities where physicians, nurses, and Indian doctors work together as professional colleagues to develop culturally appropriate treatment strategies.17 A primary focus of these collaborations has naturally been to treat Indian people for such epidemic conditions as alcoholism and diabetes. Multicultural wellness and health education programs have also sprung up across North America.18 There also exists a wealth of correlative research from healing interventions similar to those practiced by Native Americans. The scientific investigation of spiritual healing, psychic healing, and energy medicine are highly relevant to understanding Native American healing. For example, research on the effects of guided imagery (considered spiritual and psychic healing) and healing touch (a branch of energy medicine), although generally conducted by and with non-Indians, may provide insight into the mechanism of parallel Native American methods. I will discuss such correlations in later chapters. In standard Western medicine, the intervention is considered the effective agent. It is irrelevant who prescribes your penicillin. Not so in Indian healing. The time, place, healer, and patient must be in harmony. I believe that it is impossible to avoid the personal element in writing about such a personal form of healing. In order to illustrate this personal element and to avoid violating private and privileged methods used by other healers, I have described case histories based on elements of interventions with my own clients. Name, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and other identifying characteristics have been changed to preserve their confidentiality. I describe other healers’ interventions only if they have been published in works that seem to me to demonstrate accuracy, honesty, and integrity. Some people might label my methodology as subjective or unscientific. The alternative, journalistic approach is too heartless for my taste. The decision about Kenneth Cohen 11
whether or not to report a Native American healing must be based on more than the accuracy of information. We must also consider such ethical questions as the integrity of the source and the appropriateness of information for the audience. For example, I would not wish the New York Times Travel Section to describe the location of my private Vision Quest site. When the sacred is treated as an object, it becomes devoid of life or meaning. The wisdom of Native American healing may, in fact, be a way to restore meaning to a world increasingly in search of its soul. THE LIMITS OF LITERATURE There are certain things that this book will not teach you: • This book will not teach you everything important there is to know about Native American culture. Healing is only one aspect of culture, and spiritual healers are in the minority, no matter what their ethnicity. Let’s suppose that you are speaking to a group of Native Americans, and you ask, “Will the real Native American please stand up'” Who do you suppose will stand—the doctor, lawyer, carpenter, priest, ballerina, psychologist, soldier, historian, casino owner, school administrator? “No, not them,” you declare. “I wanted to see the real Indian.” “Ah, the medicine man.” “Yes, that’s right.” The problem with stereotypes is that they don’t portray people as people. Although the continuity of Native American culture has allowed the preservation of powerful, ancient teachings, these teachings are maintained by only a small percentage of the present diverse Indian population. • This book will not turn you into a Native American medicine person, although it will suggest practical ways of improving your ability to heal yourself and others. The role of medicine man or woman is generally only open to people who are ethnically Native American and who have either grown up or spent a significant part of their lives within indigenous culture. It is a calling. The medicine powers choose their apprentices it is not up to us. The title “medicine person” is conferred upon a man or woman by a Native American community as a token of courageous and selfless service. Learning to become a traditional healer is hard work. It requires years of rigorous training and testing and consistent demonstration of endurance, courage, patience, generosity, and in general, character. Humor is also an essential ingredient. Elders will not teach people who take themselves too seriously or who become sullen in the face of suffering. Nor will they train a lazy person. If Native American healing is HONORING THE MEDICINE 12
your path, you are likely to spend far more time milking goats and fixing chimneys than reading books. • This book will not reveal secret rituals. Many ceremonies are considered the property of particular Native American nations, clans, societies, and individuals. I will not discuss the details of such ceremonies. In the Indian world, you must earn what you learn. In any case, healing techniques are never blindly imitated. Individual healers often create or modify healing methods according to dreams or other forms of received spiritual guidance. Ceremonies are also kept secret for a practical reason: Native healers commonly believe that to share specific healing methods widely or indiscriminately is to dilute and weaken their power.19 In this book, I will, however, explore the principles of the most common ceremonies, such as the Sweat Lodge and the Sacred Pipe. Both ceremonies have been written about previously by numerous Native and non-Native authors and are widely shared with people of different ethnicities and nationalities. In Honoring the Medicine, I will focus on principles and methods most commonly practiced by Native American healers, such as smudging (purification with smoke), vision-seeking, counseling, massage, and herbalism. These form the core of my own work as a practitioner and an educator. Needless to say, however, in presenting specific techniques, I have had to choose from a multiplicity of individual and tribal variations. My selection is based on the answer to the question “Which methods are most likely to help Native and non-Native people deepen their understanding of Native American healing and improve their ability to heal themselves and others'” Or put in traditional terms: “Which methods can be described for the good of All Relations'” • One last caveat: This book is not the final, authoritative word on Native American healing. Diversity is the rule in Indian Country. Native Americans have practiced healing for at least twelve thousand years and possibly for more than forty thousand years. In the year 2000, there were 4.1 million Native Americans in the United States, divided into more than 700 tribes, 58 linguistic stocks, and more than 225 distinct languages.20 If we consider the acceptance of personal innovation by individual healers and visionaries and the prevalence of cultural and intellectual exchange both today and in the past (because of trading, nomadic lifestyles, and the migration of tribes), the number of possible permutations of healing methods seems almost infinite. No single book could represent the interests or philosophy of all Indian people. Although I will discuss common practices and shared beliefs, such as the interrelatedness and sacredness of life, there is no Indian Bible in which the fundamental tenets of sacred healing are set forth. Scholars of Native American healing and spirKenneth Cohen 13
ituality may have differences of opinion, but these are never doctrinal disputes the closest we can come to a standard of authenticity is found in the teachings of traditional elders. Some New Age authors, including a few Native Americans, claim authenticity because of their “lineage,” referring to a specific succession of spiritual power passed down either by initiation or through the bloodline. Although lineage and training are important, a Native American healer is not considered an authority solely on the basis of these things, but only if he or she actually embodies—that is, lives—the teachings. Ultimately, a healer or an author can only represent himself or herself. It is up to the Indian community and the individual reader to determine if the words ring true. My hope for Honoring the Medicine is that it will make you an appreciative student and inspire respectful dialogue with people of diverse cultures and viewpoints. I advise applying a balance of open-mindedness, humility, and healthy skepticism to everything you read about Native American healing, whether written by Indians or non-Indians. TRANSLATING CULTURES: IS ENGLISH A PRIMITIVE LANGUAGE? No matter what methodology the researcher uses, the transmission of ideas from one culture to another is always limited by his or her language. There is an element of fiction when a foreign culture is translated into an English narrative. Throughout the world, ancient, indigenous languages are disappearing as quickly as old-growth forests. Of the three to six thousand languages spoken in the world today, 80 to 90 percent are spoken by indigenous people. According to Professor H. Russell Bernard, the ability of the human species to adapt to varied environments— such as jungle, Arctic tundra, deserts, and mountains—is due to cultural traits preserved by language. Various ethnic groups use language to communicate their understanding of weather, herbs, health, disease, survival, children, power, politics, conflict, and peace. Dr. Bernard writes in the magazine Cultural Survival Quarterly, “The loss of language diversity diminishes our ability to adapt because it decreases the pool of knowledge from which to draw.”21 Books written in English or other non-Indian languages tend inevitably to convey some misinformation because our understanding is filtered through cultural perspectives embedded in the language itself. For example, words like religion, God, healing, power, vision, nature, government, story, or history carry different connotations in English than in a Native American language. To an English-speaking Christian, the word religion suggests sacred texts, church, and priesthood. Religion HONORING THE MEDICINE 14
is generally something apart from everyday life concerns, though this isn’t necessarily true for the very religious. To a Native American, religion is a way of life and a deep appreciation of the connection among people, Creator, and nature. The earth itself is the church, the place of worship. As another example, to a Westerner, stories are entertaining tales, usually told to children. Although a story or parable may be used to communicate a moral or religious principle, it is not a primary way to teach culture. By contrast, to a Native American, “stories” are synonymous with “teachings.” Many are shared only during the winter season, when people of all ages gather at the home of an elder to learn about history, culture, and values. Because most stories are still part of the oral tradition, rather than read or memorized from books, they are constantly evolving. Native healers do not analyze or interpret stories but rather allow stories to act on the listener so that he or she comes to understand them in his or her own way. Misunderstandings may also occur because Native languages frequently have a multiplicity of terms for phenomena or feelings for which there may be only a single word in English. For example, Alaskans who listen to the weather report in Inuktitut (the Inuit language) are better equipped for survival and safety. Some of the most common Inuktitut words for snow are: aniugaviniq—very hard, compressed, and frozen snow apigiannagaut—the first snowfall of autumn apijaq—snow covered by bad weather katakartanaq—snow with a hard crust that gives way under footsteps kavisilaq—snow roughened by rain or frost kinirtaq—compact, damp snow mannguq—melting snow masak—wet, falling snow matsaaq—half-melted snow natiruvaaq—drifting snow pukak—crystalline snow that breaks down and separates like salt qannialaaq—light-falling snow qiasuqaq—snow that has thawed and refrozen with an ice surface qiqumaaq—snow whose surface has frozen after a light spring thaw22 In many Native American languages, orientation and place are embedded in description. For instance, a different suffix may be added to a verb if one is going to or from a cardinal direction. In the Karuk language of northern California, a few of the many common directional verb suffixes are: -kath: hence across a body of water -kara: horizontally away from the center of a body of water -rina: hither from across a body of water Kenneth Cohen 15
-rípaa: horizontally toward the center of a body of water -ríshuk: out of a container -kiv: out through a tubular space -rúprav: out through a solid -rúpuk: out of an enclosed space23 In some Native languages, the sense of place is reinforced by conjugating verbs according to how information is received. For instance, in the California Wintu language, “evidential suffixes” support a speaker’s claim. A different suffix is used if the speaker personally witnessed an event, heard about an event, or logically deduced that an event occurred. The English phrase “I saw an eagle” lacks context and definition compared to the closest equivalent in Wintu. We can see how much more precise the practice of law could be in an Indian court. In Native American languages, discussions of culture and healing tend to be contextual rather than textual, concrete rather than abstract. Native American languages stem from cultures that recognize interrelatedness and thus stress cooperation rather than possession. As Dorothy Lee points out in Freedom and Culture, a Wintu phrase that literally means “The chief stood with the people” is translated “The chief ruled the people.” In English, we say, “I own that piece of pottery” in Wintu, “I live with that piece of pottery.” We also see lack of possessiveness in Indian languages’ emphasis on verbs and process rather than nouns and substance. The Maliseet language spoken in Maine and New Brunswick does not contain the word wind, only to blow or to be windy. Natural phenomena are also represented by verbs. The Maliseet word nipawset, “moon,” literally means “walks at night.” Indian languages thus embody a unique style of reasoning. According to Robert Leavitt, professor of Education at the University of New Brunswick (Canada): Speakers of North American Native languages do not necessarily organize reasoning according to a linear sequence of cause-and-effect, or axiomstheorems-corollaries, as do speakers of European languages. Instead they may keep a number of related ideas in mind, without assigning them an order or hierarchy.24 Thus, the difficulty that many Western scientists have in understanding Native American medicine may be a result of the way language tends to mold perception. Whereas a Native American healer looks at disease as a disturbance in the relationship among self, spiritual forces, community, and environment, the Western physician focuses on body parts and biochemicals. Health for the Indian is the state of Mitakuye Oyasin (Lakota for “We are all related”). Health for the non-Indian physician is the absence of disease and must be confirmed by laboratory tests. To foster mutual understanding, we need to do more than translate one another’s languages HONORING THE MEDICINE 16
we need to translate our worldview, and no matter what the language, we need to free ourselves from prejudice and preconception. There is a contradiction and paradox inherent in the quest to learn through the written word about healing traditions that were once nonliterate and are still predominantly oral. Native Americans have always placed more value on silence and experience than on concept and dogma. To use a Zen Buddhist analogy, the only way to truly understand Indian healing may be to use the words in this book as “a finger pointing at the moon.”25 When someone points his finger at the moon, look at the moon, not at the finger. Seek the experience behind the words. DO I JOURNEY WHERE WISE MEN FEAR TO TREAD? I live in a small log cabin in an ancient glacial valley at an elevation of nine thousand feet above sea level. From my window, I look out on snowcapped peaks that rise another three thousand feet. Outside my home is an ancient pass over the Continental Divide, traversed by nomadic Utes, Apache, and other tribal people for at least eleven thousand years. The presence of ceremonial materials, such as obsidian and red ocher, left as offerings along the high trails, suggests that these mountains were places of prayer and vision-seeking. The winters are long here, with the first snow falling in September and the last in May. The nearly constant wind generated by the natural tunnel of surrounding mountains frequently drops the temperature to twenty or thirty degrees below zero. During the brief spring and summer, the meadows turn into a garden of wildflowers: columbines, irises, alpine buttercups, roses. Thunder rolls across the Divide every afternoon, frequently accompanied by rain and hail. Thunderbird—the spirit of thunder, the West, and the electricity of life—lives in these mountains I was graced by his presence during my first Vision Quest. I am grateful to the natural elements. Thunder, wind, and cold strengthen and unify the people who dwell here. I have always found that natural challenges bring out the best in people, unlike social and economic hardship, which sometimes brings out the worst. A snowstorm makes good neighbors and, for Native people, has always been a natural time for storytelling. Severe weather also provides a deterrent to anyone who would disturb the solitude of mountains and mountain people. One snowy winter morning about fifteen years ago, my dedication to this place almost faltered. I was getting tired of both the cold and my poverty. I had just returned home from a conference presentation in Hawai’i, where I had been offered a prestigious teaching position—an inviting contrast to my mountain hermitage. I thought, “The heck with this. I’m moving to Hawai’i!” As I opened the curtains over the picture window in my living room, I saw walking over the snow-covered trail a beautiful red fox. He was not more than fifty yards off, and I knew that there Kenneth Cohen 17
HONORING THE MEDICINE 18 Within a week after I finished this introduction, a fox visited me again and waited patiently as I fetched my camera.
was sufficient light in the house for him to see me. Yet he kept walking toward the house, veering off the trail to pass through the garden in front of my window. When he was only two or three feet in front of me, he stopped, staring for a moment, gently and wisely, into my eyes. Then he calmly walked away. There was no question in my mind that this fox knew where he was going, that there was a purpose in his visit. I immediately called Twylah Nitsch, a Seneca grandmother and personal friend, to tell her about the fox. “What were you thinking earlier in the morning'” she asked. I told her about wanting to leave the mountains. Grandmother quickly set me straight. “You are a Wolf Clan Teaching Lodge member. Do you think a wolf is going to come knocking at your door? No, the wolves send their little brother, the fox. That fox is a messenger and a message. You are not supposed to move away because they want you to stay. Native American tradition is not only for the two-legged people. It is also for the creature teachers your prayers can help preserve the land for their future generations. Stop sitting on your medicine and get to work!” When I search my soul and ask, “Why write this book'” I remember this story. I am not concerned with being known as an “authority.” Creator cuts down those who use sacred knowledge for ego fulfillment or economic gain. Who can be an authority in matters of shared wisdom? The winter wind, Keewaytin, Spirit of the North, as my Cree relations call him, knows far more about indigenous wisdom than I ever shall. Nor am I motivated by the catharsis that every writer knows results from expressing one’s truths. Rather, I am compelled to write by the lesson of that fox. If I can encourage or inspire others to listen to the voice of Mother Earth, to heal themselves and others, and to create a better world for the future generations, then I will have lived a good life. I also write because I am a parent. I would like to make the world a better place for my own children. Like many health educators, I feel compelled to write about healing because of my personal experiences as a patient. When I was in my thirties, I developed a serious infection in my heart (see Chapter 8, pages 185–187). Native American healing—or rather, the Great Spirit’s power acting through the healers—saved my life when both allopathic and alternative medicine had failed. Healing from serious illness creates obligations to be more caring for the precious gift of life and to help others navigate the storm one has weathered. I hope this book will also be of value to my Native American colleagues who are looking for new ways to understand or communicate their art. Native American medicine and indigenous healing, in general, deserve a respected place among the world’s great healing traditions. Most of the world’s patients go to indigenous healers, sometimes because of better access, sometimes because of economic constraints, but often by choice. Native American medicine is certainly more compassionate than Western medicine as it is generally practiced. In the West, the separation of church and state led to a secularization of all knowledge. Kenneth Cohen 19
By ignoring the sacred dimension of health, we create profanity and treat people as mechanical things, without soul or meaning. As many modern medical writers point out, we need to reintegrate healing and spirit, to realize that healing is a sacred task that involves the well-being of ourselves, our families and community, and the Earth itself. Native American healing is an example of this wisdom. Native American healing wisdom may be needed for the survival of Indians and non-Indians alike. Its emphasis on respect, justice, and frugality with generosity is sound ecology. We need to learn these lessons if we are to prevent the widely prophesied political and economic conflicts or catastrophes and “earth changes”: cataclysmic natural events that may occur as part of the Earth’s attempts to rebalance the scales that Western civilization has upset. The elders say that the time is right to share sacred teachings. On August 20, 1994, a rare white buffalo calf was born on a farm in Wisconsin. Native medicine people recognized the calf as a symbol of the rebirth of the sacred in a world that has long suffered for its lack. The urgency of sharing these teachings was confirmed for me during a Sacred Pipe Ceremony that I conducted at the turn of the millennium. The Pipe Ceremony is a way of communing with the forces of life, all of which are symbolically placed in the tobacco, ignited by the fire of transformation, and sent prayerfully up to Creator with one’s breath. At the end of the Pipe Ceremony, I had a vision in which I saw, with the eye of spirit, layers of shimmering clouds hovering overhead. Eagles were flying slowly, almost meditatively, in the highest clouds. They transmitted a message to my mind: “In the Old Days, our spirits lived in and around the people. But today, people are polluting and destroying our home few see or respect us physically or spiritually. Our spirits have withdrawn upward. We no longer dwell naturally among you but must be enticed down through ceremony and personal sacrifice.” The Eagle Spirit grants people the ability to dream and to see life from a higher, wider, and more balanced perspective. How sad that at a time when we need Eagle’s inspiration the most, the Eagle is farthest away. We have made the world inhospitable to the Eagle, and like a traumatized person, his spirit has dissociated to an inaccessible realm. We can bring the Eagle back by caring for the Earth, by making the Earth a beautiful place where the Eagle will wish to nest and raise her young, and by prioritizing sacred knowledge, especially the wisdom that comes in dreams and visions, over material wealth. I am not Native American by birth. Nor do I share Native Americans’ ethnic history, though there are certainly similarities between the Native holocaust and that of my own Jewish ancestors. This work does not claim to officially represent any Native American nation or clan but, rather, expresses my personal view of Native American spirituality and healing, as learned from elders and medicine people of many nations and from the lessons of vision, dream, and prayer. HONORING THE MEDICINE 20
How did I come to this way of life? My training has been a matter of place, timing, and affinity. I have never sought out Native American teachers, but I gratefully listened to their wisdom when life circumstances brought us together. I have simply walked the path that Creator has set before me. I have been involved in natural healing since my teens, when I began studying Chinese medicine and the Chinese language. I speak Chinese fluently and am the author of a book about qigong, the ancient Chinese system of healing exercises and meditations. When I was in my twenties, I met Native American healers because of our common interest in healing and spirituality. Several Native American elders accepted me as a kind of ambassador from the North (symbolizing the white race) and South (symbolizing the Chinese race) portions of the great medicine wheel of life. I do not live in China, however, and although I have immense respect for Chinese methods of healing, these do not resonate in my soul. My soul is linked to where I live and how I live. I was an apprentice to the Cherokee elder Keetoowah, great-grandson of the famed Cherokee warrior Ned Christie, from 1976 to 1981. Keetoowah gave me my Indian name, “Bear Hawk” (Yonah Tawodih), and the sacred pipe, taught me legends and songs, and trained me in various healing methods. An invitation by the Canadian Ministry of Culture to teach natural healing in Saskatchewan in the 1980s resulted in meetings with respected Cree elders. In 1987, I was formally adopted by Andy Naytowhow, a Cree pipe carrier and spiritual counselor from Sturgeon Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan. I was on the road much of the time during the 1980s and continued studying with medicine people from several Indian nations. I discuss some of these journeys in “Meetings with Remarkable Elders,” one of the appendixes to this book. While following my interest in the common roots of indigenous spirituality, I became a close friend and student of healers among the Zulu people of South Africa and the Igbo of Nigeria. I feel blessed beyond any personal merit of which I am aware to have been given teachings and permission to share teachings from all four quadrants of the Great Wheel: the Red, Yellow, White, and Black. I know that all four colors are spokes from a common hub, and that hub, the Great Mystery, is ultimately beyond knowledge. If my words even hint at where to look, then perhaps this book will accomplish something good. “God is never a matter of distance, but of direction or orientation,” a wise man once told me. If you have the courage to look within and without, you may find that you also have an indigenous soul. Indian relations recognize my work as congruent with and often representative of their values and practices. The teachings are expressed with their encouragement, guidance, and support. I have tried to live according to the advice of traditional Native American elders for most of my adult life. I pray that this book honors their gifts. Kenneth Cohen 21
NATIVE AMERICAN OR AMERICAN INDIAN Can You Be Politically Correct? Although Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” you are less likely to want to see, smell, or buy a rose if a florist offers to show you “a blood-colored outgrowth of a thorny shrub.” Names do make a difference. Minorities and oppressed people are especially sensitive to the terminology used to describe them or their culture. The same words may mean different things to Native Americans or to white people, or they may be insulting in one language and either meaningless or used inappropriately in another. For example, no Native American woman wants to be referred to as a squaw, an Algonquian-based insult. A Native American physician does not expect to be called “chief.” Some tribes are designated by strange foreign terms like Gros Ventre (“Big Bellies”), Nez Perce (“Pierced Noses”), or Apache (a Zuni Indian word meaning “enemy”). Native cultural and religious terms are sometimes appropriated by Western businesses for their commercial value. Would you feel comfortable riding in a Jeep Jew or drinking Communion Beer? I have also seen people go to the other extreme: they try so hard to make every word polite and politically correct that they become tongue-tied, like a centipede that is asked, “How do you move all those legs'” I once met a young white man who had learned Indian sign language from a book and planned to use it when he visited an Indian reservation. He believed that this would demonstrate his respect for tradition. I was sorry to disappoint him: “When Indian people don’t speak one another’s languages, they communicate in English. People are likely to think that you are ‘signing’ because you’re deaf.” I don’t wish to scare you from talking with or about people who are unfamiliar. If you speak with a Native American and are unsure about appropriate terminology, simply ask. Your question communicates respect. AMERICAN INDIAN OR NATIVE AMERICAN? There are problems inherent in any of the terms commonly used by both indigenous and nonindigenous people to designate the original inhabitants of Turtle Island 22
(an ancient indigenous name for North America). In precolonial times, a general term for aboriginal Americans was unnecessary and did not always exist. Today, as in the past, Native Americans identify themselves by family, community (or band), clan, and nation. A Native American clan is a group of people who recognize kinship because of a special relationship to or descent from a common ancestor or ancestral group. Clans may be named after a deed, characteristic, or totem (Algonquian for “helping spirit”) of the ancestor—for example, the Bad War Deeds Clan, Long Hair Clan, Bear Clan, Wolf Clan, Caribou Clan, Wind Clan, Salt Clan, or Yucca Fruit Clan.1 The words nation and tribe are often used interchangeably, though the term nation is generally more appropriate. The word tribe means a social group of numerous families and generations that share a common history, language, and culture. A nation is a tribe that is also a politically distinct entity and has the right to self-determination. How would an ancient indigenous American identify himself or herself? A Cherokee woman living five hundred years ago would not call herself an American Indian. She might say, “I am Saloli [a common personal name, meaning “Squirrel”], an Ani Wahya [Wolf Clan member] Ani Yunwiya [Cherokee], from Kituwah [an ancient town site, near present Bryson City, North Carolina].” Saloli’s people call themselves Ani Yunwiya, the Principal People, in their own language. In other Indian languages, a tribal designation might refer to the tribe’s lodges (Haudenosaunee, “People of the Longhouse”), a sacred animal (the Absarokee, “Children of the Long-Beaked Bird,” the Raven or Crow), or their lands (Tsimshian, “Those inside the Skeena River” in British Columbia). Christopher Columbus, a lost sailor discovered by the Taino tribe of the Antilles in 1492, called the indigenous people he encountered los Indios, “Indians,” because these gentle and generous people were una gente en Dios, “a people in God.” Some scholars believe that the term Indian may reflect Columbus’s belief that he had landed in India, an apt indication of his lack of orientation. The English, French, and Italian colonial invaders who followed him lumped all of Turtle Island’s original inhabitants together as “savages” or other similar terms derived from the Latin silvaticus, meaning “a person of the woods” (silva). By the seventeenth century, Indians became the common designation, although the French continued to use sauvage through the nineteenth century. In 1643, Englishman Roger Williams summarized the common range of nomenclature in A Key into the Language of America Or, An Help to the Language of the Natives in That Part of America Called NewEngland: “Natives, Savages, Indians, Wild-men (so the Dutch call them Wilden), Abergeny men, Pagans, Barbarians, Heathen”—terms that reflected and reinforced the Europeans’ belief in the moral, theological, cultural, and biological inferiority of America’s original inhabitants.2 The tone soon shifted. The new Euro-Americans began to refer to the Native Kenneth Cohen 23
Americans as wild animals rather than wild men. In Indians of California: The Changing Image, James J. Rawls, Ph.D., history instructor from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, writes that “whites often compared California Indians to creatures that they regarded as especially repulsive”: snakes, toads, baboons, and hogs.3 Supported by an anthropocentric theology that placed man at the center of creation, Christians could exterminate “pests and vermin” without compunction. Similarly, modern soldiers find it easier to wage war against labels— “Nips,” “Gooks”—than against human beings with souls and families. Generalizations and stereotypes also serve political ends, as they allow legislators to promote laws that manipulate the fate of widely divergent people with unique needs and lifestyles while emphasizing American unity and nationalism. Today, it is virtually impossible to find a universally satisfactory or politically correct term for the original people of this continent. When one of my Cherokee elders was referred to as an “American Indian,” he exclaimed, “I ain’t no damn Indian! I’m a Native American.” Yet most of America’s original inhabitants do call themselves “Indians” among themselves. A Cree friend calls himself “Indian” but reminds me that in Canada, the preferred generalization is “First Nations.” “Yet,” he tells me, “I prefer Native American in literature. The term feels more elegant.” So he becomes an “Indian” in everyday life and a Native American in books. A consistent designation is important for clarity. I do not wish to perpetuate confusion by referring to the “aboriginal, indigenous, Indian, Native Americans of the First Nations.” Frankly, I like to call the indigenous people “the People,” a term consistent with the words used for original Native nations in their own languages. In the Cree language, indigenous North Americans are collectively referred to as iyiniwak, “Peoples.” The names of many individual tribes, when translated, also simply mean “the People.” An Innu (“the People” of Labrador, Baffin Island, and Québec) elder and friend, N’tsukw, has a definition that is a real gem: “We call ourselves the People because we know that we are only just people, two-leggeds, not better or higher than any other form of life or any other aspect of Creation.”4 In this book, I have opted for elegance and generally referred to the People as Native American. I will, however, sometimes use the terms Indian, First Nations (when referring specifically to Canadian Indians), or indigenous (when my discussion is relevant to indigenous people of other lands). WHO IS NATIVE AMERICAN? What makes a person a Native American? This is an important and controversial topic. Is a person a Native American because of his or her ancestry, culture, or political status, or because of self-identification, which may or may not be verifiable? Who is entitled to live on tribal lands or share tribal revenue? Whose voice must be HONORING THE MEDICINE 24
heard when consensus decisions are made either within Indian nations or between Indian nations and foreign governments? Who has the right to carry a Native American passport? Criteria that establish Indian identity may include membership in or adoption by a recognized Indian family, a specific percentage of Indian “blood” (blood quantum, in legal terms),5 or residence on tribal lands. Among some tribes, to claim tribal membership, you need only trace your genealogy to a Native American ancestor. (By this definition, former American President Bill Clinton is Cherokee.) The United States government has frequently issued statutes that attempt to define Native ethnicity in order to clarify the rights of its “domestic dependent nations.” The results have been uniformly disastrous. For example, during the early nineteenth century, many Native people did not register on U.S. government– sponsored tribal rolls. They did not recognize United States jurisdiction or care about the government’s attempts to quantify them. Today, their descendants are clearly Native American, though not in the eyes of the U.S. government. Entire tribes, such as the forty-thousand-member Lumbee of North Carolina and the Duwamish of Washington (tribe of the famous Chief Seattle), remain unrecognized and are defined by the United States as nonexistent, often because of ignorance of a tribe’s history and continuity a lack of distinct, treaty-guaranteed lands and greed for title over contested tribal homelands and their resources. The Native American identity issue was highlighted in 1990 with the passage of the United States Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The act made it illegal for non-Indians to sell goods that are labeled “Indian-made.” The law was designed to protect both consumers and Native Americans and has a clear application when you turn over an “Indian-made” pottery bowl and discover that it was “made in Japan.” The law, however, also allows the U.S. government to prosecute Native Americans who do not meet United States definitions of identity. A descendant of a nonenrolled Native American or a member of a Native American community who does not have the requisite blood quantum can no longer legally sell “Indian-made” jewelry at a powwow. The real issue here is not what determines Indian identity but who determines it. The question of Indian identity should not be in the hands of United States courts in the first place but rather decided by Native American nations and communities. Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) scholar Taiaiake Alfred brings wisdom and clarity to the issue: Respecting the right of [indigenous] communities to determine membership for themselves would promote reconstruction of indigenous nations as groups of related people, descended from historic tribal communities, who meet commonly defined cultural and racial characteristics for inclusion.6 Kenneth Cohen 25
TERMS FOR NATIVE NATIONS Many of the English names for Native American nations are based on derogatory terms used by the enemies of those nations. For example, the names Iroquois and Sioux are derived from words that mean “enemy.” The word Mohawk, one of the six nations that comprise the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora), is based on an Algonquian word that means “cannibal monster.” They call themselves Kanien’kehaka, People of the Flint. Some tribal designations are based on insulting remarks about a tribe’s way of life, such as Eskimo, derived from a phrase meaning “eaters of raw meat,” or Naskapi, meaning “uncivilized.” In this book, I use tribal names that are widely recognized by both Native and non-Native scholars as respectful designations (see the accompanying table). I hope that other people who refer to Native American nations will continue this custom and adopt designations preferred by the tribes. In order not to confuse the reader, however, I will sometimes use less exact terminology when referring to peoples who have distinct words for each of their many bands or who use common tribal names among outsiders but different, more personal terms among themselves. (The Apache, Arapaho, and Comanche, for example, call themselves the Inde, Inunaina, and Nerm, respectively.) Names of Native American Nations HONORING THE MEDICINE 26 COMMON TERM PROPER TERM Cheyenne Tsistsistas Crow Absarokee Delaware LeniLenape Eskimo Inuit Inupiaq or Yup’ik Iroquois Confederacy Haudenosaunee or “Six Nations” Montagnais or Naskapi Innu Navajo Diné Nootka Nuuchahnulth Ojibwa or Chippewa Anishinabe Papago Tohono O’Odham Sioux Lakota Dakota or Nakota Winnebago Ho Chunk
EARTH PEOPLE In Native American literature, the term white man is frequently a designation of colonial values—the need to dominate, divide, and acquire—rather than of ethnicity.7 People who superficially imitate Native Americans while denying their own ethnicity, perhaps by wearing Native American clothing and jewelry and imitating speech patterns and mannerisms, are called by an equally derogatory term: wannabees. There are also wannabees among Native American people: “red apples,” who are red on the outside but white on the inside. In the past, red apples were called “loafers around the forts,” because they hung around the soldiers’ forts to receive handouts rather than fight against injustice or live in a way that affirms Native American freedom, sovereignty, and values. Today, we have an entirely new fruit, one with a white skin and a red heart. What should we call people who identify with Native American values and behave in a way consistent with those values? A person can be born Indian but act like a colonizer. A person can also be born white or Asian or black and act like a traditional Native American. Yes, it is possible. Not through imitation but by having the courage to follow the guidance of the heart. I have met many non-Native people who have shed colonial assumptions and learned to live lightly and respectfully on the earth. Native American elders recognize that in today’s mixed-up world, race is no longer a guarantee of culture. The Creator has revealed his wonderful sense of humor in putting so many red souls in multicolored bodies! People who respect Native American people, culture, and land and who are willing to make a personal and political stand for them deserve a proper term of respect. I like the designation suggested by a Lakota acquaintance: Maka Oyate, Earth People. The term is similar to a Cree phrase that is sometimes used by spirits (who speak through a ceremonial leader) to refer to Indian people: aks-ju-aski-wes-skinhagun, “Earth-Made People.” In the Holy Bible, the first human being is called Adam, meaning “Earth Person,” because this androgynous being was formed of earth infused with God’s breath. You cannot become an Indian if you were not born one. But you can be an Earth Person. WHAT NATIVE AMERICANS MEAN BY “MEDICINE” To an English speaker, a “medicine” is something used to treat disease or enhance well-being. Native Americans accept this definition, but in the context of traditional culture, the word medicine has a much broader and richer meaning. Medicine means the presence and power embodied in or demonstrated by a person, a place, an event, an object, or a natural phenomenon. In some tribes, the word for mediKenneth Cohen 27
cine may connote spirit, power, energy, or mystic potency. For example, in the Wyandot (Huron) language, the word arendi (sometimes spelled orenda) means “spiritual power” or “medicine.” The “medicine man” is the arendiwane, a compound of arendi and wane, meaning “powerful” or “great.” Thus, the “medicine man” is someone whose spiritual power is great. His medicine, whether a prayer or an herb, affects more than illness it establishes or restores a state of harmony and positive thinking. A medicine may be something you have, a “medicine object” that has the power to affect your or another’s well-being. For example, I have a beautiful piece of granite with a small amethyst crystal embedded in it. It was given to me by a dear friend, and whenever I look at it or hold it, I feel happy. I discovered that when I allow a client to hold it, he or she also feels happy. This is a kind of medicine. More important, if you live a life of integrity and kindness, then medicine (spiritual potency) will become part of you. The elders teach that some medicine is inborn. The Great Spirit gives each person a medicine, a unique spiritual gift or talent. What a tragedy when people do not take the time to explore those gifts or do not have the confidence to express them! Medicine may be good or bad according to the intent with which we use it or how it affects people. A kind word is good medicine, and an insulting or a discouraging word is bad medicine. A natural herb received from a compassionate healer is good medicine. The same herb, offered by an angry person, is bad medicine. A stethoscope is good medicine when used by a caring and wise physician. A stethoscope is an instrument of evil if the physician is demeaning to the patient. Your feelings, intuition, and culture may determine whether a medicine is good or bad. For example, the owl is good medicine to some Northern Plains peoples, who often consider it a symbol of change and spiritual transformation. Yet my Cherokee friends won’t allow an owl feather in their homes because they consider it to be an omen of death. Tobacco is a powerful healing ally to Native Americans who use it in prayer. However, to a white person who lost a loved one to emphysema or cancer, just the thought of tobacco may create feelings of anger and bitterness. Dreams may also be good or bad medicine. Dreams of healing or helping advice or dreams that have beautiful images are good medicine. Nightmares may also be good medicine if they are sources of personal insight or if they provide warnings that lead to positive change. Native Americans believe, however, that some nightmares are bad medicine inflicted by malicious spirits, people, or sorcerers. Good medicine always gives you a sense of sacredness or sacred power. Good medicine is healing. HONORING THE MEDICINE 28
MEDICINE PEOPLE AND SPIRIT POWERS The terms medicine man and medicine woman are ambiguous. Many Native languages have specific words for various healing specialists, including snakebite doctors, midwives, conjurers, diviners, bone-setters, wound-healers, and herbalists. Various types of healers may identify themselves by wearing symbols of their specialty. For example, a Seminole healer who wears an owl feather in his hat is a “general practitioner” and can treat many types of disorders, symbolized by the many bars on the owl feather. If he wears a yellow-flicker feather, he is a headache specialist and can get at the root of the problem the way a flicker probes a tree for insects. Some healers are associated with specific animals, elements, or powers that they invoke or with which they commune, variously called dream helpers, spirit helpers, spirit powers, spirit guides, tutelary spirits, totems, guardian spirits, or animal allies. For instance, a healer might be a “bear-dreamer” because she dreams of bears, or a “water-doctor” because she uses water in healing ceremonies. Because Native Americans recognize that all phenomena exist in physical and spiritual dimensions, there are an infinite number of spiritual powers, and no person can name or understand them all. Powerful Cree healers may commune with Asinapewiyiniw, Old Man Stone Spirit, or with the spirit of an emotion such as Love or the spirit of an activity—for example, the Song Spirit. These powers may grant healers the ability to treat a limited or wide range of problems. Healers may increase their repertoire as they acquire new powers or spiritual visions. The following three examples illustrate a typical range of categories of healing practitioners as well as the similarity of these categories from one tribe to another: Yurok (Northwestern California)8 • Meges: Herbalist. • Kwes'oye'ey: Prayer Doctor. • 'umelo:yik: Brush Dance Doctors, who perform the child-curing Brush Dance and practice steaming patients with herbal infusions. • Kegey: The High Doctor, Indian Doctor, or “Sucking Doctor.” From the verb stem key(chek’in-), “to sit,” and an internal element (infix), e.g., meaning “an intensive repeated action or practice,” probably referring either to the practice of sitting on a redwood stool and smoking a pipe while diagnosing a patient or to the sacred place for healing training high in the mountains, known as a “prayer seat.” The Kegey can cure serious disease by sucking out disease-causing objects or spirits. The Kegey is usually a woman, and the potential to become one is frequently passed from mother to daughter. Kenneth Cohen 29
Lakota9 • Pejuta Wicasa, Pejuta Winyela: Herb Man, Herb Woman. • Heyoka: A Sacred Clown or Contrary, who may heal with the power of thunder. • Wapiya: Literally, “to make good,” translated sometimes “Conjurer.” The Wapiya is a ceremonial leader who may use clairvoyance and spiritual powers to locate healing herbs or to suck or draw out diseasecausing objects or spirits. • Wicasa Wakan, Winyan Wakan: Holy or Sacred Man, Holy or Sacred Woman, who can cure, prophesy, conduct ceremonies, and talk to the spirits in nature and people. This beautiful term may also imply someone who serves the Wakan, the Sacred and Divine.10 Anishinabe11 • Maskikiwinini: Herbalist. • Wabeno: “Dawn Men,” who use the power of fire and hot coals to heal and make charms. • Jessakid: Healers who receive from the Thunder Spirit the gift of seeing hidden truths and sucking out disease. • Mide: The High Healers and Priests of the Midewewin Grand Medicine Society. Mide commonly means “the sound of the drum” (related to the Penobscot term for healer, medo’olinu, “drum-sound person”). Without understanding the special meaning of the word medicine, English readers might assume that medicine man or medicine woman refers to an herbalist (for example, pejuta wicasa). Frequently, however, the term medicine man is used to translate an indigenous term for holy person (for example, wicasa wakan). A holy person is the highest and most diverse kind of healer, someone who has such deep knowledge of spiritual forces that he or she can discover whatever kind of medicine is most suitable for the patient’s well-being, whether it be herbal, psychological, or ceremonial. I use the terms medicine man and medicine woman in this sense, as synonyms for “holy person.” I sometimes preface the name of a medicine person with “Grandfather” or “Grandmother.” These are terms of respect and an expression of my feeling of personal affinity rather than a suggestion of blood relationship.12 Any type of Native healing practitioner, whether a holy person or a specialist, may also be called a “healer” or an “Indian doctor,” and I will sometimes also use these terms. Their practice is naturally called “healing” or “doctoring.” Among Native American people, it is common to speak of a healer’s “doctoring” someone—that is, performing a healing intervention. A healer can also “doctor” or “doctor up” an object—that is, imbue it with spiritual power. The title “medicine man” or “holy person” is an honorific conferred by a comHONORING THE MEDICINE 30
munity in recognition of a person’s wisdom and service. It is not generally used by a healer in reference to himself or herself. Many healers refer to themselves as “spiritual interpreters.” Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand, Lakota full-blooded grandson of Chief Red Cloud, writes, “I have been told that there are no holy men on this earth, only gifted men. They are called spiritual interpreters.”13 If someone says, “I am a holy person” or “I am a medicine man,” I take this as equivalent to saying, “I just typed up a Ph.D. degree, signed it, and hung it on my wall.” CEREMONIES I will devote an entire chapter to ceremonies later in this book. However, because I use the term ceremony frequently, it is important to give a brief definition here in order to prevent misunderstanding. A ceremony is a prescribed sequence of actions that enables one to experience and communicate with a spiritual realm or to influence events—for example, a rain-making or planting ceremony. Ceremonies may be personal, inspired by visions and dreams, or they may be tribal traditions, passed down from generation to generation. They may be performed individually or, more commonly, by the tribe or community. Ceremonies are conducted by a “ceremonial leader,” a medicine man or woman trained in the protocol. To attend a ceremony is to participate in it, even if you are not assigned a role to play. Native American ceremonies may occur in a variety of settings, including ceremonial lodges, ordinary homes, outdoor arbors, or in the wilderness. Healing interventions are generally considered ceremonies, as are “teachings,” traditional Native American lectures about sacred subjects. Speaking about sacred subjects invokes the attention and presence of spirits, requiring the speaker to perform ceremonial actions that demonstrate respect. SHAMANS AND SANGOMAS Many books use the word shaman instead of medicine man, especially when referring to spiritual practitioners among the Inuit and northwestern peoples. The term shaman properly refers only to indigenous people from Siberia, Manchuria, and central Asia. It is derived from a Manchurian or Siberian Tungusic word that means a person who contacts spiritual forces while in an ecstatic, aroused, or altered state of consciousness. The shaman retrieves information and power that are useful to her community—for example, divining the location of a herd or learning how to heal a mental or physical disease. Shamans in many Asian traditions, including China, were primarily female. There are certainly important similarities in belief and practice between Asian shamans and Native American medicine people. We can also find similar parallels Kenneth Cohen 31