The Tribe I Wouldn't Join
Not Again! "Please Be My Medicine Man"
The Importance of Birds
Praying With the Geese
Would the U.S. Navy Kill Lincoln?
How Will You Celebrate This Important Holiday?
The Path of the Native Healer
Witches in White Coats
The Random House Interview
THE TRIBE I WOULDN'T
©2009 Kenneth Cohen
Originally published in News from Indian Country XXIII:10,
May 18, 2009
I was recently invited to join a new North American "tribe."
No it was not the rainbow tribe, the eagle tribe, the bear
tribe, etc. (I mean the humans who call themselves "bear
tribe", not the more legitimate tribe of bears.) It was
unclear to me if any members had indigenous North American
ancestry. The tribe is offering spiritual adoption to as many
people as possible, apparently believing that greater numbers
may lend more legitimacy. Then, claiming legal protection
as a tribe, they may be free to practice their version of
Indian religion and healing without U.S. government interference.
Two Indian friends go out to eat in a fine restaurant. After
they order their appetizers, one asks the other, "Did
you hear about the new white wine?" "No," his
friend responds, "what is it?" "I want a tribe!
I want a tribe!"
But OMG, I found a photo of my Great Great Grandfather,
Chief Gefilte Fish, and he was Indian! (Attn Humorless
People: that's a joke)
The problem is I already have a tribe-the Jewish tribe. And
I suspect that most of the members of this group could also
trace their ancestry to a tribal group, perhaps in Europe
or Africa or the Middle East. Why would I trade my priestly
Cohen title to become a "medicine man" in a group
that has neither shared ethnicity, clan-system, history, landscape,
or language? Please take note of these latter five items,
as they are the very definition of a tribe. Additionally,
whereas "tribe" is an anthropological designation,
the more potent political term is "Nation." A tribe
is a sovereign nation that seeks to establish state- to-state
treaties with the reigning colonial power. I didn't have a
chance to ask the tribal representative if his group was planning
to secede from the Union.
I have nothing against adoption. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)
have procedures by which a person or nation may find protection
under the Great Tree of Peace. Similarly, the "Making
of Relatives" is one of the original ceremonies that
the White Buffalo Calf Woman taught the Lakota. I am proud
of my own adoption by the Naytowhow family from Sturgeon Lake
First Nation (Cree) in Saskatchewan. I will never forget that
beautiful Sacred Pipe Ceremony when, more than twenty years
ago, my Dad began to call me his son. Not having been born
Cree, one can only earn such recognition. This was an adoption
by a real family, with a history. And, by the way, it was
not an adoption into the Cree nation. I did not feel
it fair for me-- non-Cree by birth and living far from tribal
lands-- to claim treaty rights, scholarships, royalties, or
legal and monetary settlements (from abusive boarding schools
and churches, for example). I am indeed a member of a wonderful
Cree family. But tribal adoption was neither offered nor sought.
(I honor those of other ethnicities who have in fact been
adopted into tribes. People like Adolf Hungry Wolf and Reginald
and Gladys Laubin or the numerous Cherokee and Seminole of
mixed black heritage are a credit to the Nations that adopted
There are approximately 550 federally recognized Indian tribes/Nations
in the United States, with another 150 in the recognition
process (many were on their way to de-recognition during the
Bush administration). There is an interesting and, to my mind,
disturbing irony when predominantly white, non-Indian people
try to create their own new tribes. Let me explain
Columbus, lost white man discovered by the Indians
The colonizers of Turtle Island had not merely claimed ethnic
superiority-that would come later-but rather, as far as Europeans
were concerned, they were the first people in the Americas.
The other two-leggeds, though closely resembling humans, were
really animals. Hence, the Doctrine of Discovery allowed the
good Christian King to claim this uninhabited land.
It wasn't until the late 1800s, in the precedent-setting trial
of a Ponca Indian named Standing Bear, that United States
courts recognized Native people as people. Colonial powers
across the ocean were even slower to acknowledge the rights
of original peoples. At the time of the Standing Bear trial,
South African whites could still get hunting licenses to shoot
elephants, rhinos, and Bushmen.
Though now defined as people, indigenous Americans still had
few rights. The American Indian Freedom of Religion Act was
not passed until the 1970s, but it lacked adequate means for
enforcement. Even today, Native people are denied access to
many of their objects and places of worship, especially if
these objects or places have significant monetary value.
"My land is where my dead lie buried." This saying,
attributed to Crazy Horse, Lakota warrior and holy man, reflects
a general philosophy in Indian country. The very existence
of a tribe is a testament to courage, dedication, and perseverance.
The land is soaked with Indian blood: lives lost on forced
marches, the devastation of disease, blood shed in warfare
and massacre. Death itself was no proof against desecration.
If bodies were not laid on sacred platforms to be consumed
by the birds and the winds or protected in the very few Indian
cemeteries, they were covered over by asphalt and concrete.
The ancestral names might have been forgotten but for oral
histories or the inheritance of names by subsequent generations.
Real tribes have paid a dear price for their survival.
Now in an ironic twist, groups of "New Agers" (sorry
I just don't know what to call them) are seeking to disown
their people, disclaim any special connection to the land
stolen by their predecessors, and adopt spiritual ("medicine
man") and political ("chief") titles long prohibited
by their own laws. And to add insult to injury, they have
the gall to declare themselves a tribe. If the great Lakota
warrior Gall were alive, he would show them what their gall
had earned them-a quick journey to the happy hunting ground!
Lots of excuses for their narcissistic ignorance: "We
will restore dignity to the Red Man." (God protect me
from the do-gooders whose version of help and praise is the
worst of insults!) Probably the most common banter is "We
are all one." I've never heard a native person speak
that way: mono-culture, mono-agriculture, monopoly, monotony.
What a boring world it would be if we were all one. People,
like plants, survive best in the most diverse terrains.
So, what do I suggest? Disband your Anglo tribes; disclaim
rights earned by others' sacrifice. Be generous not with what
you think tribes need, but with what they say
they need: money for education, legal battles, health care,
housing, etc. Do some investigation, and you will find out
how to help. Offer Native tribes/Nations the most basic of
courtesies: respect and privacy. If aspects of culture are
open to the public, such as pow-wows, art shows, and museum
exhibits, enjoy and learn. If a door is opened and you are
invited in, no need for an apologetic mia culpa. Just
enjoy the hospitality, but don't assume that you are now entitled
"PLEASE BE MY MEDICINE MAN"
©2010 Kenneth Cohen
I often find myself in strange circumstances when non-Native
people perceive me as a potential ally in their quest to misrepresent,
appropriate, or step on Native American traditions. By the
time they realize that I am neither a practitioner of New
Age fantasies nor generic shamanism and that I am not even
really a white man (being racially Jewish, and often seen
as tribal by my Native relations), it is too late for an "Oops."
My political hackles have been raised, and I am on the warpath!
Last year, a white man called on the phone to ask me if I
would like to join his Native American organization/tribe.
The organization was certifying people as "medicine men"
and "medicine women" so that they could practice
natural medicine under whatever legal protections are offered
as part of American Indian Religious Freedom. Perhaps I would
like to join and also to offer an endorsement? I asked him
if the members of his tribe shared a common original language
other than English; a common, specific land base, verified
in a tribal origin story; and a shared history. He was obviously
shaken up and replied with an embarrassed, "No."
I also asked if his group was fighting for sovereignty and
if they had treaties with the foreign U.S. government. Again,
"Uh, no." I explained that these were part of the
definition of a tribe. I think he really meant "Oh no!"
because he then said warily, "I think I have opened a
can of worms." "Yes, you sure have," I rejoined.
Within a few weeks of this exchange, the same organization
made mainstream news when ABC, FOX, CNN, etc. covered a story
about a mother who refused to allow cancer treatment for her
son on the basis of "religious freedom." She belonged
to a "Native American church." It was the same church
that had contacted me. I wish reporters had been aware of
the background story. The media never knew that the church
was not Native American at all.
But the phone call last week takes the cake. The CEO of a
stem cell research company left a message on my answering
machine. His company was planning to open research facilities
on Indian reservations and wanted to speak with me about a
(probably high-paying) position as an expert consultant and
witness. I already suspected what was coming. I called back.
The man told me that he had heard about me through my writings
and my reputation among both Native and non-Native people.
This was nice to hear. His company, based in California, was
doing stem cell research with cells removed from rabbit embryos.
All of their facilities were, so far, in foreign countries.
They were hoping to open branches on reservations across the
United States and channel some of the benefits back to Indian
communities by focusing some research on Type 2 Diabetes.
"We have a team of attorneys, including some Native American,
who are ready to protect the sovereign rights of Native people
to host any business that they wish. This should prevent the
FDA (Food and Drug Administration) thugs from interference
and midnight raids." I was already translating his forked-tongue
double talk into plain English, thinking, "You mean you
would like Native people to host businesses that don't require
government or environmental oversight or regulation."
I explained gently (my strategy to draw him out) that stem
cell research is outside of my area of expertise. In what
way does he think I can be of help? "We want you to be
our medicine man and look at any issues involving traditional
medicine, culture, and sovereign rights. At the very least,
you could fact check legal documents and briefs to the Court."
Did he really just say that? I explained very clearly and
firmly, "It is completely inappropriate for you to ask
me to do this. You must go to the local elders from the land
and community where you are trying to establish this business
and ask their permission. The answer will probably be arrived
at by consensus after input from the community." The
businessman was not happy with my reply. He tried a few more
times and with various wording to solicit my help as, at the
very least, an advisor and editor for legal documents. I refused
and again insisted that he contact local elders and medicine
people. From his tone of voice, it was obvious that he had
not done so and hoped to avoid it. Not surprisingly, the last
thing he said before hanging up was, "Well, I may need
your healing services if I end up in a penitentiary."
If this man were honest, I imagine he would produce an advertisement
that reads "We have dozens of white cultural experts
and attorneys as well as Native descendants of the famous
'loafers around the forts' who are willing to help you turn
Indian sovereignty to your advantage. If your business is
illegal in the United States, why not open it in Indian country?"
THE IMPORTANCE OF BIRDS
© 2010 Kenneth Cohen
Recently one of my Native American colleagues was involved
in a court case to protect migration routes and habitat of
birds, threatened by cell towers. He planned to cite my book
Honoring the Medicine during testimony and asked me
if I had any other thoughts. I wrote and sent him the following
The observation of birds and natural bird migration patterns
are absolutely essential for the survival of Native American
healing, spirituality, and culture. Hunting, planting, and
ceremony are often coordinated with the appearance of particular
birds. Birds also remind storytellers that it is time to teach
children about the lessons learned from the eagle, the hawk,
the heron, the dove, and so on. A bird such as the eagle does
not simply represent flying close to Creator or seeing from
a higher perspective. Rather the eagle teaches and is this
value and power. This is very different from the perspective
of EuroAmerican culture in which birds and animals may symbolize
human values. There are numerous examples of bird symbolism
in the Bible. If Native Americans only valued birds for their
symbolic value, then they might be satisfied to read or think
about them or view them in an aviary. But they are not, because
birds must be observed in their natural state in order to
learn directly from them.
Bird behavior plays a central role in the origin/creation
stories of many tribes. The raven is linked with the sun among
the Tlingit of Alaska. The eagle teaches early humans how
to survive among tribes as diverse as the Hopi and the Ojibwe.
The Innu, an Algonquian people closely related to the Mikmaq,
Passamaquody, and Cree, revere the Canadian goose because,
in their creation story, he/she helped bring the warmth of
the South. Geese migrating south to north mean that the snows
are melting and it is time to hunt again. When they return
south, it is time to store goods for winter. And at the end
of a prayer, or in closing a ceremony, instead of "Amen,"
Innu will sometimes exclaim "Ho ho ho Eshqua."
Eshqua is Innu for the goose.
The presence of birds is essential for the protection of
nature's diversity. The great Mohawk elder Ray Fadden lamented
the loss of songbirds in New York forests. No more spreading
of seeds to nurture the once rich undergrowth, healthy trees,
and the insects and animals that depend on them. Mr. Fadden
told me that even the bear were ill as a result: far less
plants to eat, fewer roots to dig. The bear, ancestor of one
of the three Mohawk clans (turtle, bear, wolf) and first teacher
of herbal medicine, is threatened by the loss of birds.
Birds leave no tracks and follow no ruts. If we value freedom,
we had better ensure their freedom. Native American culture
depends on it.
PRAYING WITH THE GEESE
2010 Kenneth Cohen
While traveling in eastern Canada a few years ago I had the
opportunity to meet with my old teacher and friend, N’Tsukw.
Now in his mid-eighties, he is the last of my original indigenous
mentors who is still alive. N’Tsukw is an Innu (called
the Montagnais in French and Naskapi in early ethnographies),
a branch of the original peoples from Quebec, Labrador, and
Baffin Island. To honor the elder, I offered a sacred pipe/prayer
ceremony in his honor. We sat on a bench in his back yard,
amidst his garden of medicinal herbs, trees, and stones,
each of which had a story. I unrolled a multicolored cotton
altar cloth and placed my red stone pipe on it. After smudging
with sage and sweetgrass, I filled the pipe with the natural
smoking mixture, placed it back on the altar, and sang four
songs, including the “Chief’s Honoring Song.” (I
have been given about 300 sacred songs over the years, which
I keep in memory and honor, sharing only as needed.)
After the “song circle,” we each prayed. N’Tsukw
thanked Kitche Manitou (Great Spirit) and the Four Winds
and then expressed some kind thoughts about our 30+ years
of friendship. Then, Randall, a member of our spiritual family,
spoke words of gratitude and requested guidance. Finally,
I prayed with thanks for this beautiful day, our lives, and
wisdom shared. I also asked for health and help for N’Tsukw
and a lessening of physical pains. As prayers ended, each
of us said “All My Relations” in the Innu language,
meaning that our prayers were intended for the good of all,
including those people or subjects that, in the inspiration
of the moment, we may have overlooked. Thus, no one leaves
the ceremony thinking, “Oh I forgot to pray for my
aunt who has cancer” or “Why didn’t I thank
Creator for the safe journey here?” “All My Relations” also
balances our tendency to be pre-occupied with our own needs.
Prayers completed, I lit the pipe and passed it clockwise
through our small circle. As each person took four or seven
puffs, the smoke drifted up and out into nature, carrying
prayers and reminding us that Creator put the same breath
in us all.
That’s an outline of a pipe ceremony, not all the details,
as some information must be learned from doing, from experience,
and not by looking at a printed page. One of the unusual
aspects of that particular pipe ceremony was the exclamation
that N’Tsukw made after or in the midst of listening
to my or Randall’s prayers. When we said something
that he found moving, instead of the usual “Ho” common
among Plains Tribes or an Amen or Hallelujah heard in other
circles, N’tskukw gave an enthusiastic, “Ho,
ho, ho Eshqua.” I didn’t know what that meant,
but I knew enough about First Nations culture not to ask
the question. It’s not just that I didn’t want
to interrupt the ceremony, but I also knew that there was
a lesson, a teaching here that the elder would explain when
the time was right. Patience is a virtue in Indian country.
It is common to share food and celebrate life after a ceremony.
After the pipe ceremony, we went to Randall’s house
for dinner. Before the food was served, I was standing outside
on the front porch with N’Tsukw, watching a glorious
sunset. I seemed to hear a bird sound in the far distance.
N’Tsukw asked me, “Did you recognize that?” I
said, “Yes, I heard Canadian geese honking.” I
scanned the sky but they were not in sight, perhaps they
were flying low, below the distant tree-line. N’Tsukw
continued, “In my language, the goose is called “Eshqua.” We
honor the geese because they migrate with the seasons and
Creator put them in the world so hunters would know when
the South or North Wind is blowing, when it is time to hunt
and when it is time to dry and store food and prepare for
winter.” That evening, N’tsukw shared the Creation
Story of his people, a two-hour version of what could have
taken all night. We learned more about the importance of
These teachings were again in my mind when, in 2010, I learned
of the sad and tragic events that were taking place in New
York City. Noticing the lack of Canadian geese, so common
in other parts of the country, one of my students told me
that the city government had told New Yorkers that it was
their civic duty to kill geese. So far 150,000 had been killed,
including tens of thousands gassed in the parks. The preliminary
goal was to eliminate 170,000.
I understand the reasoning. Bird migration routes sometimes,
though rarely, cross LaGuardia and JFK airline flight paths.
The US Airline jet that made an emergency water landing shortly
after takeoff is fresh in everyone’s memory. Thanks
to an extraordinarily skilled pilot and a good measure of
luck, those passengers survived, but next time they might
not be so lucky. I fly in and out of New York City a few
times a year. Yet I do not agree with the measures being
taken. By this logic, many cities would follow similar policies
based on the remote chance of bird-airline collisions. If
our submarines find a new, underwater equivalent of jet propulsion,
will we kill the few remaining whales? Do human rights take
precedence over animal rights? Does might make right?
Bird migration paths and their natural sense of direction,
orientation, harmony or danger are disrupted by noise, light,
and electromagnetism (produced by cables, wires, cell phones,
television, radio, and radar). We already live in a world
where people need to look for birds, and bird watching is
a kind of treasure hunt. Only a hundred years ago, passenger
pigeons would darken the mid-day sky, a flock of whooping
cranes would completely hide a marshland until they landed,
and Canadian geese reminded people that they needed to observe
nature to keep a sense of purpose and direction.
There is a disturbing postscript to this story. In December
of 2010, my wife and I were having dinner in New York City
with a group of “spiritual leaders,” involved,
as we are, in interfaith dialogue and with ties to indigenous
rights groups at the United Nations. I brought up the tragedy
of the geese. The group was unanimous in its sighs of regret
and launched into a discussion of human-animal-spirit relations.
Yet no one in this group had actually objected or done anything
about it. They had found a new justification for human dominion
and colonization of the natural world. Fundamentalist interpretations
of the Bible were considered in poor taste, but “evolution
of consciousness” was very much in vogue. Though never
expressed directly, as I listened to the conversations, I
heard a subtext that read “We are superior; it’s
survival of the fittest.” Such reasoning (or, rather,
its lack) justifies clear-cutting the rain forest and trolling
Continuing, when my wife asked if they, the religious leaders,
had performed ceremony for forgiveness from the geese and
our common Creator or prayed for the release of their spirits,
one explained somberly, “We just don’t have time
for that.” My wife and I looked at each other, thinking
the same thing, but we kept our mouths shut. We wanted to
see where the conversation was heading and suspected that
it might be waste of time to again bring up a very different
view of reality.
(Note: Eshqua, here spelled phonetically, may be unique to
N’Tsukw’s dialect of the Innu-Montagnais language. “Goose” is
commonly Nishk, meaning Goose, or Uapishk, Snow Goose)
THE U.S. NAVY KILL LINCOLN?
ON GERONIMO AND THE PERSISTENCE OF STEREOTYPES
© 2011 Kenneth
I agree that justice has been served in killing
Osama bin Laden, an evil man responsible for planning
the deaths of thousands of innocent people. I was proud
of the precision and bravery of the Navy Seals team. However,
a cloud has been cast on their honor because of
- the shameful reaction of Americans to
the news. I believe that it is always a tragedy to take
and one should
never celebrate a death, even the death of one’s
enemy. How was the dancing and singing in the streets
D.C. and other cities different from the misguided
jubilation of militants in the Middle East after 9/11?
is to be commended for his straightforward and clear
presentation of the facts. But I wish he had suggested
restraint and perhaps
a national moment of silence to honor the victims of
terrorism, whether Christian, Muslim, or those of any
But, of course, then Obama’s speech would have
been twisted by Republicans into a sign of complicity.
like to cheer the winning team. But this is not a football
game. We don’t want “the loser” to
try harder next time.
- My wife and I could not believe our ears when we
heard the name “Geronimo” used as a code
for the mission and for bin Laden himself. Why not
call bin Laden “Lincoln” or “Washington?” It
would have been just as inappropriate. Native Americans
are the original American patriots, first defending
against European invaders and later against the common
enemies of the United States. Brigadier General Ely
S. Parker, military
secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant, was a Seneca
Wolf Clan sachem, traditional political and spiritual
He transcribed the surrender agreement signed by
Robert E. Lee at Appomattox at the end of the Civil
Chief Plenty Coups stood by President Woodrow Wilson
at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
D.C. to honor the Absarokee soldiers who fought in
the First World War. He laid his war bonnet and coup
stick on the casket.
A higher percentage of Native Americans volunteer
for military service than whites or people of any
ethnicity in the
U.S. 44,521 fought in World War II and approximately
50,000 in Vietnam. During the Second World War, “Navajo
Code Talkers” transmitted Allied messages in
an unbreakable code, their own Diné language.
In the spring of 2011, my wife and I had the great
honor of meeting
few Code Talkers still alive. These heroes, who risked
their lives at the front lines of attack or within
were proudly displaying their medals. Native Americans
contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief
9/11. It was a Hopi woman who was the first female
American soldier to lose her life in the Iraq war.
Have you ever
seen the way veterans and the U.S. flag are honored
at the opening
of intertribal events and pow-wows? And the U.S.
military has the gall to name a foreign enemy after
Geronimo (real name “Goyakola”) was an Apache
healer, spiritual leader, and warrior. On February 23, 2009,
one hundred years after his death (Feb. 17, 1909) the U.S.
Congress passed a resolution to honor his life and memory
(House Resolution 132). Does the U.S. government, especially
the military’s Commander-In-Chief, have Alzheimer’s?
Ironically, the day before bin Laden’s death, my wife
and I enjoyed a cultural presentation by Apache Crown Dancers
in New Mexico. When invited, we danced with them on the circumference
of their sacred circle and received healing blessings. I
was brought back to a time, nearly forty years ago, when
I camped and visited with Native people in mountains and
deserts (now called “Gila National Forest” and “Chiracahua
National Monument”) that were special to Geronimo.
The Crown Dancers seemed to embody the spirit of that
beautiful land. And the next day, their most famous
Please learn more about these issues by viewing videos
and reading statements by Indian Leaders at the United
Senate Commission on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing
Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous
People.” It took place on May 5, 2011. One of the statements
was submitted by a an Apache Veteran of the Vietnam War,
whose father had fought across Western Europe during the
Second World War, including on Omaha Beach during D Day.
This gentleman’s name is Harlyn Geronimo, the
great grandson of Geronimo.
HOW WILL YOU CELEBRATE THIS IMPORTANT HOLIDAY?
© 2011 Kenneth
How Will You Celebrate This
If the United States has a Columbus Day, shouldn’t Italy
have a day to commemorate the discovery of their country? On September
22, 1973, Ojibwe activist and artist Adam Fortunate Eagle landed
in Italy in full regalia, and planting his ceremonial spear in
the ground, took possession of that country by "right of discovery" (as
established in European law). To the credit of Native American
peoples (and contrary to the colonial history of Europeans in the
Americas), since the discovery of Italy, neither land nor people
have been pillaged. There has been no enslavement, and taxes and
other levies have not been imposed. From the beginning of its civilized
history, nearly 40 years ago, there has been no attempt to forcibly
educate or convert Italian people, although the Pope did have the
nerve to present his ring to Mr. Fortunate Eagle when they met.
It was a stand-off, as Mr. Fortunate Eagle presented his own turquoise
ring to the Pope. Neither graced the other with a bow or a kiss.
Indeed, Native American tribal courts have treated Italians fairly,
and never questioned their humanity (Native Americans were not
categorized as human beings in U.S. courts until the late 1800s).
Considering all of this, it is a travesty that there is no "Adam
Fortunate Eagle Day" celebrated in Italy or the rest
Postscript: Learn more about this great man, (perhaps best
known for inspiring and leading the occupation of Alcatraz
in the DVD Contrary Warrior: The Life and Times of Adam
Fortunate Eagle. My wife and I had the honor of enjoying
of Mr. Fortunate Eagle and his wife and the beauty of their
art gallery in the fall of 2011.
THE PATH OF THE NATIVE
©2003 Kenneth "Bear Hawk" Cohen
It was an honor to be invited to the home of the Cherokee
medicine man, Keetoowah, great grandson of Ned Christie, the
renowned nineteenth century warrior who defended the rights
of his people. Keetoowah was dressed in weathered overalls
and a turban-like cloth cap with a spotted eagle feather propped
up in the folds-- the traditional hat of the Cherokee. He
looked far older than his sixty years.
I moved aside the piles of old magazines and a box of jewelry
clasps and fasteners to make room to sit on the couch. Keetoowah
sat across from me on a comfortable chair. He squinted slightly
and said, matter-of-factly, "I hear you are interested
in Indian medicine. Let's see if Indian medicine is interested
in you." He placed a small quartz crystal in my palm
and suggested that I hold it between my two hands and close
my eyes. About twenty minutes later, Keetoowah asked me to
open my eyes. "Well, what did you learn?" I told
Keetoowah that I had felt something very peculiar. The crystal
had entered my body, and its essence seemed to flow through
me, as though carried by my blood. I felt that I had become
Keetoowah must have been satisfied with my answer
because we spent the next few hours discussing our mutual
interest in healing, continuing the conversation over lunch.
I became a weekly guest in his home and quickly realized that
I had found not only a great teacher but a new and very treasured
friend. I received my Indian name, Bear Hawk, and my sacred
ritual pipe from Keetoowah. For the next ten years, I became
his principle apprentice and learned how to "doctor"
people with my hands, my voice, and, most importantly, with
prayer. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that more than
twenty-five years have passed since that first meeting, and
that my friend has been gone since 1987. In another decade
I will be as old as Keetoowah was when I first met him. Time
is strange, isn't it?
The Challenge of Healing
Native American healing is not an academic discipline that
can be learned from books. Nor can it be grasped by participating
in rituals, visiting power places, or following in the footsteps
of other healers. The lessons are learned from nature, from
the original elders: stone, water, earth, fire, air, animal,
and plant. Their power enters into the soul through dreams
and vision- seeking and during times of sacrifice and fasting.
We fast from food, from water, from words and busy-mindedness.
In some traditions, a seeker also fasts from light, meditating
in a dark chamber or cave. Healing power comes as a grace
to those who are humble enough to listen and courageous enough
to express and act on their vision.
The Native American way is not for everyone. We each have
our unique talents, gifts, and life purpose. Health is enhanced
by discovering that gift and expressing it in a way that brings
harmony and happiness to our communities and world. "You
don't choose the medicine," said Keetoowah, "it
chooses you." This is especially true of spirituality,
the medicine path that leads people to the Divine. Don't pursue
God like an object that you can grasp; rather live in a good
way and you will receive what is needed. You may find that
your medicine is Jewish, Christian, Celtic, Norse, or African.
It is most likely the religion of your ancestors. However,
it is also possible that your path is unique and not easily
categorized. No spiritual gift or life purpose is better or
worse than any other. In fact, each facet of the human spirit
fits together like a puzzle-- like the continents that were
once joined. After all, even science must now admit that people
are more similar than different. There is greater genetic
diversity between two lowland gorillas living in the same
habitat than between an Alaskan Inuit, an Australian aborigine,
and an Italian. If we have a single genetic ancestor, then
perhaps we also share a common, though fragmented, spiritual
teaching. A phrase from the original instructions is written
in every soul.
The path of a Native American healer is not easy. An invitation
must be extended by an elder or a spirit, and/or one may be
compelled by a vision or deep intuition. And tests must be
passed. The healer may find him or herself wounded and challenged
as Spirit offers lessons in compassion and fortitude. I had
to symbolically face North, the direction of Winter and death,
during a seven year period of illness and personal hardship.
I was lucky and passed through my "dark night of the
soul" to stand in the East, the direction of Spring.
Some people are not so fortunate; they face North and die.
I am not trying to scare you away from Native American medicine
if that is your calling. However, it is important to understand
that although all paths are equal, they are not equally smooth
or easy. I remember sitting with Keetoowah and a group of
spiritual seekers one day. A young white man asked Keetoowah,
"What do I need to do to become a medicine man?"
Keetoowah scolded the man for his presumption, "I wouldn't
wish that curse on anyone. And you can't do anything to become
a medicine person!"
How to Learn About Native Culture
We do not have the right to trespass on Native American sacred
sites or ceremonies any more than we may enter a person's
home without permission. It is not that particular ethnicities
are excluded because of the color of their skin. The problem
is that many people have a romantic or stereotyped view of
Native Americans, and thus pursue teachings for the wrong
reasons. Rather than following an authentic inner voice, they
believe that Native ways are adventurous, fun, and exotic
and that it is their right to imitate and appropriate them.
Remember, also, that Native healing is only one aspect of
Native culture. There are many respectful ways to learn about
Native American culture, including:
- Reading. There are many excellent books about every facet
of culture. See the resources at the end of this article
for some that I especially recommend.
- Observing or participating in intertribal dance, music,
and cultural gatherings known as pow-wows. When the master
of ceremonies announces, "Intertribal. Everyone dance!"
that includes you! The location and dates of pow-wows can
be found in News from Indian Country and Native Peoples
Magazine, listed in resources below.
- Enjoying the arts, culture, and history presented at Native
American art shows, galleries, trading posts, and at museums
such as the National Museum of the American Indian, the
Gilcrease Museum, the Pequot Museum, the Heard Museum, the
Iroquois Museum, and the many fine museums of individual
Indian nations, often located on reservations.
- Listening to Native American music. Music is an important
key to culture. You can find Native music in trading posts
and most music and museum shops. Vendors at pow-wows have
the largest selection.
- Offering financial support to organizations that defend
the land and rights of Native peoples, such as the Native
American Rights Fund (1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302).
- Learning how to be a better protector and caretaker of
your local environment through peaceful political activism
(including voting) and ecologically responsible behavior
that reduces consumption and waste.
- Exploring "primitive," that is, primal survival
and living skills, such as building shelters, starting fires
with a wooden drill, tracking, and recognizing and using
local healing herbs.
- If an invitation is extended, observing or participating
in Native American ceremonies. Many of these, such as the
Sweat Lodge, are widely practiced and sometimes open to
non-Native people as a way of building cross-cultural bridges.
Learn the proper etiquette and protocol for the ceremony
by asking more experienced participants or your host. Beware,
however, of individuals who charge money for sacred ceremony.
Educational seminars may require tuition; but according
to Native tradition, it is immoral to equate healing or
ceremony with a specific bundle of "frog skins"
(green currency, or any other color of money).
Sharing the Wisdom
Certain aspects of Native American culture can and must
be shared if humanity is to survive. Native traditions can
teach us how to live in harmony with the land and each other
and to prevent the widely prophesied "Earth Changes."
The foundation of Native American culture and healing is traditional
values. When Seneca elder Twylah Nitsch was a young girl,
her grandfather placed twelve stones on the ground in a circle
and described how each symbolized a gift along the Pathway
of Peace, a road to balanced living. I use a similar wheel
to teach my students, derived primarily from Grandma Twylah,
but also from the teachings of other elders. The gifts are:
- Learning. Learn from all our relations, from mountain,
plant, animal, human, from dreams, from elders and children,
from stories and life experiences. Good learning creates
connection and caring; poor learning is intellectual baggage.
- Respect. Honor all forms of life; do not be careless
in your thoughts, words, and actions. Respect yourself;
low self-esteem insults Creator's precious gift of life.
- Acceptance. We cannot grow unless we accept who
we are and have the courage to face and learn from our weaknesses
- Spiritual Sight. Sight and insight are equally
important. Spiritual sight means ridding the mind of mental
screens, so that we perceive the world without preconception,
stereotype, and prejudice.
- Listening. The spiritual person is a good listener.
Native American elders sometimes test prospective students
by observing how comfortable they are with silence. The
narcissistic person is always thinking and speaking and
thus has nothing to express but his or her own opinions.
There is no silent space in which to simply listen and experience.
- Speaking. If we can hear the truth but are afraid
to express and live it, even when it goes against the crowd,
then we can never find inner peace. Walk your talk, and
talk your walk.
- Love. Keetoowah once said to me that he used to
fight his enemies, but later decided he was going to love
them to death! Love is for warriors, not whimps. Indian
healers like to remind Christians that Jesus' love did not
prevent him from throwing greedy merchants out of the temple.
Actions that increase love are good; actions that decrease
love are evil.
- Service. Service is more than "helping."
Some people help from a position of superiority and expect
something in return. True service is selfless and without
- Relationship. Native American prayers frequently include
the expression "All my relations." We are all
related, like plants growing from the same soil. The action
of any member of a community affects all members. We are
accountable to each other and to all of nature. A feeling
of connectedness is the source of responsible action.
- Creativity. Nature never repeats herself. Although
we are all related, we must each find our own path to Creator.
An Innu elder once told me, "If you sing someone else's
song, you are called a liar in my language." Creativity
means allowing the mind to soar like the eagle. The eagle
does not follow any one else's ruts and leaves no track
in the sky.
- Dynamic Spirituality. The spiritual person does
not sit in a cave and wait for "enlightenment"
before doing good in the world. A medicine person is in
the front lines. A warrior like Geronimo would lead his
warriors, not watch from the hill top. Spiritual warriors
stand up for what they believe in and fight against injustice.
- Gratitude. Gratitude is more than saying "thank
you." We can express gratitude through music, song,
prayer, dance, and art. When we are grateful to Creator
for our gifts and blessings, we strengthen those blessings.
If you receive a meaningful dream, thank Creator for the
dream, and it is more likely to come true. If a deer crosses
your path or an eagle flies overhead, thank these "creature
teachers," as Twylah Nitsch calls them. Spiritual powers
that appear in vision are more likely to hang around when
they see concrete expressions of gratitude. They don't like
to be taken for granted.
Like other spiritual paths, Native American tradition emphasizes
ridding the mind of selfishness and egotism. "Ego means
Edging God Out" -- ego blocks the voice of spirit. Even
if you are not invited to a Sweat Lodge or Sacred Pipe Ceremony,
you can still learn the wisdom of Native American healing.
Have the courage to meet life face to face, nakedly, as in
the Sweat Lodge. Become a hollow reed or pipe through which
the Creator can send His/Her sacred breath and guidance.
Cohen, Kenneth. Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide
to Native American Healing. NY: Ballantine Books, June,
Beck, Peggy V. and Anna L. Walters. The Sacred. Tsaile
(Navajo Nation), AZ: Navajo Community College Press, 1977.
Four Worlds Development Project. The Sacred Tree.
University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, 1988.
Information about Native American culture, issues, and events
can be found in:
News from Indian Country
8558N County Road K
Hayward, WI 54843
Native Peoples Magazine
P.O. Box 18449
Anaheim, CA 92817-9913
WITCHES IN WHITE COATS:
NATIVE AMERICAN AND WESTERN MEDICAL ETHICS
©2003 Kenneth "Bear Hawk"
An early version of this essay appeared
News From Indian Country XII:5, Mid-March 1998
I use the word witchcraft as a synonym for what Mexican
Indians call brujeria, sorcery, meaning the abuse of spiritual
power: attempting to disempower, coerce, harm, or control
others or to influence events using means that are unethical
or socially disapproved. (Readers should note, however, that
in European culture, the term witchcraft may have a positive
connotation, referring to ancient forms of pagan spirituality
such as wicca. Practitioners of wicca, like Native Americans,
recognize that Power is not inherently moral, but may be used
ethically by an ethical practitioner.) Even without malicious
intent, a Native community may label a person a witch if he
or she repeatedly harms others. The key here is "repeatedly."
All healers have failures, but one who continues to practice
interventions that harm is probably under the spell of an
evil power including perhaps his or her own ego.
At first glance, the power exercised by white-coated physicians
has little relation to the subtle forces used by Native American
healers. Yet, upon deeper inspection and reflection, we realize
that both types of practitioners ultimately help the patient
to heal him or herself. The surgeon's knife and the shaman's
feather are mere tools towards this same end. The power of
the shaman and the doctor are also equally subject to misuse.
In fact, there may be more witchcraft practiced among white
physicians than among Indian doctors.
Dangerous Procedures and Dismal Prognoses
Recipients of western medical intervention often suffer
more from the treatment than the disease. Iatrogenic disease--
diseases caused by incorrect, excessive, or unnecessary medical
interventions--are epidemic in Western medicine. These include
psychological or physical side-effects from medication such
as depression, digestive problems, liver disease, or kidney
failure; "complications" after surgery or invasive
diagnostic procedures, including the prevalence of blood clots,
heart attacks, and strokes after orthopedic surgery; rejection
of transplanted organs or artificial body parts; weakened
immunity after antibiotics, chemotherapy, and steroids; and
the mutation of microbes into drug resistant strains because
of excessive or incorrect medication. In the United States
each year there are more than 100,000 deaths from hospital-originated
infections. According to the Journal of the American Medical
Association, drug reactions account for up to 140,000
deaths annually, more than 10,000 from anesthesia administration
alone. The JAMA article states that adverse drug reactions
cost an estimated $136 billion per year, "higher than
the total cost of cardiovascular care or diabetes care in
the United States." (Classen, David C., M.D., M.S., Stanley
L. Pestotnik, M.S., R.Ph., et al. "Adverse Drug Events
in Hospitalized Patients: Excess Length of Stay, Extra Costs,
and Attributable Mortality," Journal of the American
Medical Association 277:4, January 22, 1997, p. 301).
Negligence is also rampant-- in New York State hospitals,
approximately 30,000 cases of negligent or dangerous care
per year. We might be apt to excuse these figures as an unavoidable
by-product of increasing patient-to-doctor ratios and the
impersonal nature of technomedicine: doctors often seem more
interested in test results than in the patient. I and my Native
colleagues tend to view these statistics as proof of the prevalence
of "bad medicine" in both senses of the phrase.
Sometimes diseases can be traced to grim prognoses that act
like hexes. Unkind words instill in the patient a sense of
uncertainty, dread, and vulnerability to further suggestive
influence, including the influence of his or her own thoughts.
A doctor who tells his patient, "The condition is terminal"
or "You may die of a heart attack any minute" may
create a self-fulfilling prophecy. In The Lost Art of Healing,
cardiologist Bernard Lown recounts the story of a patient
who was recovering from a heart attack. He suddenly took a
turn for the worse. His pulse was racing, and he had signs
of cardiac congestion. Dr. Lown traced the likely source of
his reversal to the morbid fear the patient experienced when
he overheard residents and physicians indicate on various
occasions that he had "coronary thrombosis, myocardial
infarction, and an acute ischemic episode." When he asked
the nurse about his condition, she said, "You'd better
not ask." He knew that he had had a heart attack, but
what about these other conditions? How could he possibly survive?
You can imagine his relief to learn that all of these disease
labels were various terms for the same condition! Imagine
if he had been told, instead, "You have a beautiful heart,
and it is mending."
Expectant trust can be a force for helping or harming. If
the patient believes in the power and authority of the doctor,
then words of hope and support can encourage healing. Conversely,
if the doctor's words, tone of voice, or use of images (including
disease labels) communicate discouragement, despair, or condescension,
the patient may feel compelled to oblige the doctor's expectation.
Patients whose privacy and sense of integrity are invaded
by highly personal questions and the probing of body parts
are especially vulnerable and susceptible to such effects.
It seems odd to me that it is nevertheless considered ethical
for the physician to avoid ordinary physical touch. An orthopedic
surgeon will saw through the patient's femur, but dare not
administer a healing hug.
The saying, "The operation was a success, but the patient
died," is a sad commentary on modern medical practice.
How many doctors are willing to admit, "This disease
may or may not kill you. The same can be said of my treatment."
Unfortunately, futile, unnecessary, or dangerous interventions
are sometimes more a result of fear of malpractice than prudent
care. "Better safe than sueable" betrays the escalating
lack of trust between patients and their providers, fueled
by the astronomical costs of health care and health and malpractice
insurance, a litigious society, and human greed.
Unnecessary and heroic procedures are also a direct result
of the West's compartmentalized view of the body-- it becomes
more important to save a disconnected body part than to preserve
quality of life and soul. As Lawrence J. Schneiderman, M.D.
and Nancy S. Jecker, Ph.D. remind us in their insightful work,
Wrong Medicine: Doctors, Patients, and Futile Treatment,
"Keeping a heart beating or lungs breathing does not
accomplish medicine's goals when a person will never again
regain consciousness, or never leave the intensive care unit,
or never be free from intense and unremitting pain.."
(p. 129) The subject of medical care, they tell us, should
be "the suffering person, not the biological organism
or failing body part."
By contrast, Native American medicine is generally helpful
and empowering to the patient. The patient receives a treatment
designed to improve quality of life and enhance relationships
with the community and the Creator. The patient is encouraged
to maintain the healing benefits and prevent future recurrence
by taking greater responsibility for his or her own physical,
psychological, and spiritual health. The Indian doctor does
not fix the patient, but rather facilitates help and
guidance from the realm of Spirit. Therapeutic interventions,
including herbal medicine, very rarely have harmful side-effects.
People die routinely from western medicine; I doubt if many
die from indigenous medicine. Native treatments are non-invasive
and respectful of the privacy and dignity of the individual.
The goal is healing, making whole, rather than curing. Curing
is, of course, the most desirable outcome, but Native healers
realize that this is ultimately in the hands of the Great
Hospitals Are For Sick People
Native healers create a sacred, supportive, and healing atmosphere
to affect the patient at both conscious and unconscious levels.
Their office or operating room is the tipi, hogan, wikiup,
kiva, longhouse, or other sanctified place, filled with a
community of praying people and ceremonial helpers. No one
would think of breaking the reverent silence with any words
or actions that do not contribute to or augment the healing
Compare this with the surgeon who knocks out the patient
to both humanely anesthetize the pain and ensure the patient's
unawareness and inability to protest the loud music, lewd
jokes, and disrespectful behavior that sometimes accompany
surgery. Physicians place patients in institutions filled
with sick people who confirm the patients' fears and insecurity.
Positive expectations are quickly dashed in the grim, almost
morbid setting of the hospital. Contrast this with the Indian
doctor who surrounds the patient with an empowering milieu
of healthy, concerned people and symbols of well-being. Sick
people have a greater need than healthy people to be surrounded
by healthy people and healing environments. Native healers
realize that a healing place encourages hopefulness and a
positive state of mind, factors that are essential for healing.
First Do No Harm
Doctors are taught the admirable rule, primum non nocere
"first do no harm". This saying dates from a time
before the advent of technomedicine. It refers to far more
than denying a patient the appropriate technological intervention.
Harm can be inflicted by attitude, tone of voice, and body
language. Perhaps western doctors can learn something from
one of the rules of Indian medicine, "First, do good."
Focus on health rather than pathology, on a patient's strengths
rather than his or her weaknesses. Inspire the confidence
to overcome challenges.
Ironically, the rule of "do no harm" is not a requirement
of medical school education. The long, grueling hours of work
and study and the rigid hierarchy of the hospital disempower
the sincere student. It is no surprise that doctors feel most
comfortable with patients who are "compliant." The
doctor's fragile or shattered ego is compensated by a false
projection of power and confidence, backed up by a society
for whom the doctor is a priest in service of the god Science.
A patient who wishes to take responsibility for his or her
own health pushes the doctor dangerously close to his own
Technical jargon and dismissive or condescending replies
to questions further disempower the patient because it creates
an impression that only the physician understands or is capable
of healing the patient. Yet, isn't it obvious that no matter
what help the patient receives from external sources, it is
ultimately the patient who must heal him or herself? Sadly,
some physicians attempt to disempower the patient in order
to hide from personal feelings of inadequacy. Human beings
reinforce delusions of superiority by making others look inferior.
Rather than using difficult medical terminology, a far better
model for physician-patient communication would be medical
humor. Humor is a powerful way of coping with, managing, and
surviving personal suffering, and doctors should model it
for their patients. Why not make Therapeutic Humor a required
course in medical school? Doctors would not graduate residency
without demonstrating clinical humor competency. If a patient
has lost her hair after chemotherapy, why not suggest that
she is having "a no hair day"? Perhaps an obese
man visiting your office with his spouse would feel less embarrassed
about his problem if you asked the couple to reveal their
"combined average weight." Instead of putting herself
above the patient, the physician could put herself at a lower
level. "You may lose some brain cells in the operation,
but being over age 50, I have already lost most of mine!"
Humor, including self-deprecating humor, is common in Native
American healing. Humor is empowering for the patient. It
creates empathy between the patient and healer. The healer
never laughs at the patient, but should be willing to laugh
The Price of Healing
Western medicine is a profit making business. Patients' options
are limited by their ability to pay or by their insurance
companies' willingness to cover expenses that they
deem necessary. Quality medical care of both the living and
dying is often a matter of what the patient can afford. Let
me share with you two anecdotes that highlight the dismal
and immoral nature of a medical system driven by economics.
A surgeon was about to perform an emergency bypass operation
on a twenty year old patient that had been brought in by ambulance.
As he looked over the patient's medical records, he exclaimed,
"Wait a second. She has no insurance! Who is going to
pay me?" The assistant surgeon looked at his colleague
with disgust and said, "Put it on my master card."
A few years ago I was wading in a pool on a hot summer afternoon.
A distinguished looking man in his sixties struck up a conversation.
When he asked me what I did for a living, I replied with what
I thought was a politically correct statement, "I teach
alternative medicine, specializing in indigenous healing systems."
This was evidently tantamount to making a declaration of war.
The man informed me that he was a medical school professor
who also sat on advisory panels for various medical societies
and government organizations. He said, "If you people
have your way, in ten years we will be treating cancer by
sticking a lettuce leaf on the patient's big toe." After
several other equally misinformed statements, I proceeded
to calmly cite experimental and peer- reviewed journal evidence
for alternative medicine's efficacy. I also reminded him of
his own profession's reliance on placebo and untested procedures.
After my half-hour long sermon, the man, whom I had previously
mistaken for a gentleman, rejoined, "I must admit that
I cannot refute this kind of evidence. It makes sense. I see
that you are well-educated and well-informed, and I believe
you. However, I also believe that people like you should be
shot." "That's not a very Christian thing to say,"
I said in amazement, not sure if he was being maliciously
contrary, dangerously threatening, or just ornery-- the latter
being a characteristic I sometimes admire. He continued, "I
mean it, you should be shot. You are threatening the wonderful
salaries we doctors make." This statement was made with
utmost seriousness. I felt like countering with some inane
statement about the importance of the patient, but
realized that it is useless to argue with someone who has
different or perhaps no values. Instead, I said with a profundity
equal to his own, "It seems that we have very different
points of view." I waded over to a different section
of the pool. When I saw him in the changing room, he stated
again, as though calmly citing a fact of life to his medical
students, "You really should be shot!" Not wishing
to tempt fate, I made no reply.
According to Native tradition, healing is a grace from God
that may or may not occur in spite of all our best efforts.
It is given as a gift; patients also pay the healer with gifts.
The healer never charges a set fee for his/her help. A high
fee would tax the limited resources of a patient during the
time when he is most in need of help. Money and healing gifts
should flow to the patient, not from him.
Native witches, by contrast, work for a high or inflexible
fee. They are tempted to enter their craft because of a desire
to demonstrate power over others by wantonly harming, or because
of envy, greed, and a desire for wealth. The prohibition against
fee setting is so strong among some Native people, that a
person attempting to heal may be accused of witchcraft if
he tries to take economic advantage of the patient. Witches,
like some unscrupulous doctors, prefer to victimize the most
wealthy. According to Clyde Kluckhohn's classic Navaho
Witchcraft, after a witch inflicts disease, the witch's
partner offers a costly cure; the two split the fee.
One of the strategies used by witches to exert power and
control over others is by fostering dependency. Although "bad
medicine" may sometimes be practiced without the victim's
knowledge or belief, it is much more effective if the victim
is made fearful of the witch's curse or presumed power, and
thus vulnerable to suggestion.
The goal of an ethical healer should be to make his or her
own work obsolete. This does not seem to be the goal of western
medicine; it encourages relationships in which patients become
emotionally and financially dependent on the information and
technology of expert doctors. Since many of the interventions
are themselves causes of disease that require technological
cures, the patient soon feels trapped in a system from which
there seems to be no escape. Ultimately, the patient becomes
dependent on institutions that profit from biotechnology:
government, industry, banks, and educational institutions.
Among Native American populations, there are further ethical
issues. Western physicians undermine Indian cultural values
and self-esteem if they portray themselves as representing
the only official or legitimate healing system. I have spoken
to Indian Health Service physicians who, in spite of long
tenures among Indian Nations, were completely unaware of Indian
methods of healing or counseling and never attempted to consult
with the traditional health-care providers. (Sometimes the
doctors are disillusioned by the degree of social and psychological
problems that they witness-- contrasting sharply with previously
held, unrealistic stereotypes. Yet it is as unfair to judge
Indian healing by the patients in an IHS clinic as it would
be for an Indian doctor to judge white people based solely
on experiences working in an inner city drug rehab center.)
How many needless suicides, abuses, or diseases could have
been prevented by consulting with a wise clan-mother or traditional
healer? Although I recognize and commend the fine collaboration
that is occurring between allopathic and Native medicine (e.g.
the work of the Four Worlds Development Project and the Swinomish
Tribal Mental Health Project), it is still far too infrequent.
WESTERN AND NATIVE AMERICAN MEDICAL ETHICS
adapted from Kenneth Cohen's Honoring the Medicine: The
Essential Guide to Native American Healing (New York:
Ballantine Books, 2003)
NATIVE AMERICAN MEDICINE
|"Sick-care," focus on pathology.
||Health-care, focus on healing person and community.
|Adversarial Medicine, Divide and Conquer Attitude: "How
can I destroy the disease and cure or manage each individual
sign and symptom?
||Teleological Medicine, Emphasis on Wholism: "What
can the disease teach the patient? Is there a message
or story in the disease? Is there a greater meaning, beyond
|Physician is an authority who may attempt to coerce
patient into compliance.
||Healer is a health counselor and advisor.
|Fosters dependence on medication, technology, and other
aspects of the medical system.
||Empowers patients with confidence, awareness, and tools
to help them take charge of their own health.
|Subject to review, regulation, and sanctions by licensing
boards and the State.
||Based on patient's right of access to healing; healers
accountable to Native American communities.
|High medical costs.
||Healer achieves status throughgenerosity, no fixed fee
|Dangerous and invasive medicine, adverse effects common.
||Safe, promotes harmony and balance, adverse effects
|Malpractice defined and litigated in a system of hierarchical
justice that punishes offenders.
||Healers accountable to Native communities and their
consensual justice systems, designed to restore harmony
rather than to punish.
|Physician's lifestyle not considered a significant factor
in his or her efficacy. Legitimacy based on credentials
(academic degrees and license).
||Healer is expected to model healthy behavior; efficacy
depends on healer's insight, spiritual power, and grace
of the Creator. Legitimacy based on behavior and reputation.
Healing The Healers
Is there a cure for western medical witchcraft? The cure
consists of three principles that are easy to name but, unfortunately,
because of the inertia of both people and institutions, will
be challenging to put into practice. First, self-healing is
the foundation for healing others. Doctors need to cultivate
inner acceptance by facing personal shadows-- places of insecurity,
avoidance, and fear. Medical school education should incorporate
self-empowering practices such as meditation, relaxation techniques,
nature-awareness, and humor. Secondly, physicians need to
learn how to empower patients by teaching preventive medicine
and health education, by practicing lifestyle counseling,
and by conscious and skillful use of placebo effect (trust
and positive expectation). Thirdly, medicine needs to be run
as a charity rather than as a business. I honestly believe
that doctors, being in a profession of service, should accept
salaries on par with or lower than the people they are treating.
And we can add another principle for non-Indian physicians
who treat Indian people: make your interactions as culturally
congruent as possible by learning the languages and customs
of the people and community you are treating and by seeking
the guidance of the elders. Remember the cardinal rules of
Indian country: respect, humility, gratitude, and generosity.
I am certainly not denying the miraculous, life-saving power
of allopathic medicine. I recommend western medicine as necessary
and primary therapy for acute conditions that can be traced
to specific causal agents such as bacterial infections, drug
reactions, concussion, hemorrhage, broken bones, biologic
depression, appendicitis, and emergency room trauma. Even
in these circumstances, Native American medicine can act as
a support and complementary therapy before, during, and after
Today most Indian people would rather go to a doctor than
an herbalist for bacterial pneumonia. A patient with severe
chest pain would be ill advised to substitute hawthorn berries
for a nitroglycerine pill recommended by his cardiologist.
It is unfair, however, to judge a profession only by its most
dramatic successes. According to Native American tradition,
the more powerful a medicine, the greater the responsibility
because the greater the potential for harm. Power and the
wisdom that encourages proper use of power must be kept in
balance. The ethical concerns of Native American healing offer
a fresh cultural perspective and, like an elder teaching a
child, may have much to teach its younger sister, Western
THE RANDOM HOUSE INTERVIEW WITH
KENNETH "BEAR HAWK" COHEN
Ken Cohen praying at the sacred Little Manitou Lake, Cree
By "Native American" I mean the indigenous
people of North America, as defined by Native American nations.
Only these sovereign nations have the right to define tribal
identity. And I use the term "healing" to distinguish
it from curing. Curing is the domain of licensed health-care
providers, such as physicians. It means applying a therapy
with the purpose of eradicating disease. Curing can be measured
and replicated. Healing, on the other hand, means to make
whole and holy, to establish a greater connection between
self and nature, self and community. It focuses on qualitative
change more than quantitative, on spiritual well-being more
than cure. Of course curing disease is a desirable outcome
or side effect, but it is not the primary purpose. In fact,
only the Great Spirit knows the ultimate purpose or outcome
of a Native healing ceremony. Native American healing is part
of Native spirituality. It goes way beyond science and medicine.
- In other words, we should not attempt to license medicine
The very idea is absurd and I would even say
insulting. Neither licensing boards nor government agencies,
whether state or federal, should interfere with Native American
spiritual practices and religious freedom. You can't test
or expect uniform answers from healers who are given unique
instructions by the Great Spirit! Also, each of the more than
500 tribes in North America have their own culture, language,
and healing traditions.
In my view, the term "medicine man"
is an honorific, a title conferred by a Native elder or community
because of a person's healing knowledge, wisdom, courage,
and selfless attitude. It is not proper for a person to call
him or herself a medicine person.
- How old is Native American healing? Do you believe that
it was already in existence when Native Americans crossed
the Bering Straits on their way to the New World?
No one knows the age or origin of Native American
healing. It has been practiced in North America for at least
40,000 years, and possibly for much longer. Anthropologists
are now forced to admit that they seriously underestimated
the antiquity of the occupation of North America. Some tribes'
oral traditions describe volcanoes that have been extinct
for one million years. How do you explain that?
Well, here's my version of the Bering Straits legend. Native
Americans started in North America. They traveled from North
America across the Bering Straits many years ago, when North
America and the Russian Far East were connected by a land
bridge. They didn't like what they found there, so they came
back. And that's why you find evidence of cultural diffusion
going both directions.
Honestly, I think the Bering Straits nonsense was created
by Europeans to prove that, since Native peoples were not
originally in North America, the colonizers had as much right
to the land as they. With this kind of logic, it is more correct
to say that both Europe and North America belong to Africa.
After all, geneticists are certain that homo sapiens originated
- You call your book Honoring the Medicine? Does
this title have a special meaning?
Yes, the medicine is that which inspires a sense of the
sacred. It is a power in people and in nature. It is the breath
of the Great Spirit. The purpose of my book and the dedication
of my life is to honor the medicine. Honoring the medicine
is also a principle in Native American healing practice. Healers
teach their patients to discover and honor their unique medicine--
their life purpose. Honor the medicine by living it, by having
the courage to express it and use it for the good of others.
To honor the medicine is to live a satisfying life.
- What, from a Native American viewpoint, are the primary
causes of disease?
People become sick because they do not follow the Creator's
instructions. They bend to the conditioning influences and
pressures of educational and religious institutions. They
fill their lives with things and their minds with noise rather
than silence. They forget how to listen to the deepest voice,
a voice that is both inside and outside. I would say that
this is the primary cause of disease.
Yet Native people, like modern physicians, recognize that
there are many causes of disease. It is never simple. According
to Native teachings, there may be physical reasons for disease,
such as exposure to viruses or bacteria; emotional factors
like depression or anxiety; and spiritual factors such as
living without gratitude, breaking taboos, or vulnerability
to negative or even evil forces.
- How do Native healers treat disease?
There is no universal method. It depends on the culture
of the healer and his or her training, sensitivity, vision,
and connection to spirit. However, if we look at Native cultures
generally, we can say that certain methods are extremely common--
and these are explored in detail in my book. For example,
all healers pray; most sing and use sacred instruments such
as the drum. And many Native healers practice, counseling,
ritual, massage or laying on of hands, and herbal medicine.
And, by the way, most healers use therapeutic humor. I've
learned most of my jokes from Indian people.
- Have Native healing methods changed over time, or are
the methods today the same as those practiced in the past?
Some methods have remained relatively unchanged, but many
have evolved because of innovations and visions of influential
healers and because of cultural exchange between healers from
various tribes. Also, Native healers do not live in a vacuum.
They are part of both the modern world and the ancient world.
Today, it is not uncommon for a healer to pray over a prescription
drug to increase its efficacy or to refer a patient to a physician
to treat the medical side of a problem.
- Have you performed any miracle cures?
Well they may seem like miracles because the Great Spirit
is beyond our knowledge. For example, after one brief ceremony,
a man with advanced multiple sclerosis was able to walk normally.
A Vietnam vet overcame many years of post traumatic stress
disorder after a ceremony in which he asked forgiveness of
one of his victims. A drug addict stopped using drugs and
got off the streets after an exorcistic ritual. I recount
some of these stories in my book, but please remember that
I did not perform the cures. The Great Spirit is the doctor.
I just helped to make a connection with His/Her miraculous
- What do you charge for a consultation or a ceremony?
Yes. Now, I can only speak for myself. I am not saying that
other healers shouldn't charge for their services. But as
I have been taught by my elders and instructed by Spirit,
it is wrong to charge money for a traditional healing. When
a person is sick we should not take advantage of him or her.
A doctor should be generous and thus must be willing to be
the poorest of the poor. I have never charged a fee for Native
American medicine. Yet, this does not mean that healing is
free. Some sacrifice, some offering must be made by the patient.
Perhaps a pilgrimage or a fast, perhaps a donation to a Native
charity-- something to demonstrate dedication, resolve, and
good will. The patient may also need to pay travel expenses
for a healer and his or her helpers and host a feast. In the
old days, a patient might give horses and blankets; today
a patient might offer personal gifts as well as money. But
I personally feel that it is wrong to set a fixed fee for
- Does Native American medicine include practices that people
can do for their own healing?
Of course. For example the Lakota holy man, Fools Crow would
doctor himself by sitting in the sunlight and using his hands
to energetically remove unneeded or toxic forces. But the
most important self-healing practices are 1. learning how
to maintain inner silence and 2. spending as much time as
possible in the wilderness. Herbal medicine and diet are also
important components of a Native American self-healing program.
I am a proponent of natural foods; we should eat fresh, seasonal,
local, and organic. And stay away from the three whites: sugar,
salt, and white flour.
- What about "bad medicine" or sorcery. Do you
believe that it really exists?
The human mind has the power to influence its own physiology
in a positive or negative way. We also have the power to influence
others. The greater the power, the greater the responsibility
to use it correctly. I know people who have been the victims
of curses. It is real, and curses work whether the victim
believes in them or not. I tell several stores of curses and
cures in my book.
- Are there any dangers? For example, do Native American
therapies produce side effects?
Before I answer this question, let's look at the record
of western medicine. More than 200,000 people die each year
in hospitals because of unforeseen effects of medication.
Many people also die from surgical complications. And if we
look at subjective reactions to western medicine, it is even
more grim. Patients generally feel worse after seeing a physician.
Taking penicillin or having blood drawn or one's anatomy probed
is not fun.
By contrast, Native American medicine is generally safe and
free of unpleasant side-effects. Of course there are some
commonsense precautions, such as not advising an anorexic
to fast and not feasting a diabetic on donuts. Significantly,
patients generally feel better after visiting a Native healer
than they did before seeing him or her.
- Is Native American healing used as a stand-alone therapy?
What do Native people think of Western medicine?
No person or culture has a monopoly on healing wisdom or
technique. Is Western medicine a stand alone therapy? Or does
the patient need the loving support of his or her family to
truly overcome disease? Does the patient require counseling
or lifestyle changes? Perhaps the patient must take herbs
or yogurt to heal his intestines after a course of antibiotics.
What therapy on earth is a stand alone therapy? Native American
philosophy is pragmatic. If it works, use it. Native medicine
men do not hesitate to personally visit doctors for bacterial
infections, trauma, diabetes management, and many other conditions.
They go to the optometrist and the dentist, just like you
- What illnesses can Native American healing cure? Is there
I have personally facilitated healings from cancer, arthritis,
chronic pain, encephalitis, migraine, Crohn's Disease, fibromyalgia,
diabetes, chronic fatigue, asthma, multiple sclerosis, bipolar
disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions. Not all aspects
of Native healing are subject to measurement. For example,
we can measure distinct changes in brainwaves, blood chemistry,
and skin conductivity in both the healer and patient, but
we cannot measure the Great Spirit or his power directly.
We can determine the biochemically active agent in a healing
herb, but cannot measure how the prayers of the healer empower
Some of the best healing research was conducted at the Menninger
Institute during the 1980s and early 1990s. Compared to untrained
people, exceptional healers were able to produce unusual electrical
currents on the skin and electric fields around their bodies.
The results were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
- How many healers were tested?
- You were one of those healers, weren't you?
The Personal Side
- Your last book was about qigong, Chinese healing therapies,
and you are well known as master of qigong. I understand
that you even speak the Chinese language. Is qigong related
to Native American healing, and how do you manage to teach
or write about these two different subjects?
There are two major similarities between qigong and Native
American healing. First, both qigong and Native American medicine
are ancient and indigenous healing systems. Second, people
who pay close attention to their bodies and to nature discover
similar things. Thus, both cultures recognize the existence
of subtle, invisible life currents, connected with the breath.
And they independently created similar methods of balancing
these life currents with acupuncture and massage. The Native
American and Chinese healing systems are complementary. There
are, however, some important differences.
I feel that Native American healing is more truly holistic.
It examines not only the energetic components of disease--
the specialty of qigong and acupuncture-- but also the emotional,
mental, spiritual, and environmental. It also places a strong
emphasis on the intuition, visions, and dreams of the healer.
Why should it be difficult to write about or teach both Chinese
and Native American traditions? If I told you that I was teaching
French and Tibetan, you would say I was "talented."
If I had graduate degrees in psychology and theology and taught
courses in both, you would not assume discord-- provided that
I didn't speak French while teaching Tibetan or confuse the
psychology of Freud with theology of Hassidism! I teach and
write about two different but related subjects. As an educator
I keep them distinct. I see no need to fit myself into a box.
Specialization is a European, colonial concept.
- How do Native people feel about you writing about Native
Elders have encouraged me to share what I know. A Cree medicine
man did a ceremony over the title page of my book. The spirits
blessed it and told me to publish. I had the same positive
reaction from the many elders I visited or asked to review
my work. They know that I am aware of traditional protocol--there
are many things that I will not write about or allow to be
recorded. Some teachings must be earned or only given at certain
- How did you become interested in Native American medicine?
The medicine chose me. It is not a matter of interest or
choice. I do what I have to do. To live any other way is to
be disrespectful to the powers. If you are asking about the
particular circumstances that clarified my life path-- that
is easier to answer. When I was in my twenties I went on a
pilgrimage, a search for life purpose that led me to a very
special place-- a lake at the top of the continental divide,
the home of Thunderbird, spirit of the West. Here I was given
direction and purpose.
- How does a person become a medicine man or woman?
Some people are born with the gift; it is in their blood
and family line. Some receive it ceremonially, in a kind of
initiation or transmission. But, to me, the most important
way to become a medicine person is through personal training
I have been initiated into various Native American medicine
societies. Elders have also transmitted the power of sacred
stones and plants into my body and spirit. And, my formal
adoption by a Cree elder was certainly a kind of initiation.
I carry songs and teachings from my adoptive family. But,
as I said above, the most powerful way to become a healer
is through personal training. I have apprenticed with elders,
participated in ceremonies, fasted, and prayed for a vision
of my life purpose.
- Are there any teachers that had a particularly strong
influence on your life, and could you tell us something
I tell stories about my teachers in a lengthy chapter at
the back of my book. One of my most influential mentors was
the Cherokee healer Keetoowah, who gave me my Indian name
"Bear Hawk" and first taught me doctoring. He was
a powerful and kind person and full of humor. He once told
me that he'd done everything in his life except scalp a white
man. He used to be quite a warrior, but in his old age, he
said, "I've decided to love my enemies to death!"
- Any closing words or advice?
Very few people are called by spirit to become medicine
people, and even fewer survive the tests and tribulations
of this path. But everyone can benefit by learning the values
and ancient wisdom of Native peoples. My book emphasizes these
values and teachings. My ultimate goal in writing Honoring
the Medicine was to inspire people to live with greater
honor and to respect themselves, each other, and the earth.
POEMS BY KENNETH COHEN
©1989 Kenneth Cohen
From a great distance you are coming
Great White Bear, from the silence, from
the stillness, from the solitude of the North.
From a great distance, with slow ambling gait
Shifting side to side, stepping drum beat
Feet upon our earth mother,
walking with respect
walking with prayer.
From a great distance you are coming
Bringing new life, bringing spring medicine.
You will heal our wounds with your touch.
You appear! bringing blessings down from
Kitche Manitou--The Great Spirit-- to All Relations
You are a Sacred Pipe
Your smoke, your breath touches Creation.
From a great distance you are coming,
Great White Bear,
Yet you are always close by!
A WINTER PRAYER
© 2003 Kenneth Cohen, from Honoring the Medicine:
The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (NY: Ballantine
I am grateful to you Snowy Owl
Take me from the West, where the sun sets,
Where my mind sinks into its depths,
To your home in the North,
Cold northern winds that test and strengthen.
And on to the East, place of new light.
May I have the courage to make this journey
To face my tests with dignity and grace,
To see through my places of darkness
And release what is old and unneeded.
Snowy Owl, you are beautiful!
Fly by me with still, silent wings,
I know that you bring, not death,
But spiritual rebirth--
May I be renewed, as a child,
From moment to moment.
Winter is, after all, only a point
On the Great Circle of Life.
And whether it be difficult or easy
I know that it is good.
© 2003 Kenneth Cohen, from Honoring the Medicine:
The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (NY: Ballantine
For the sake of the future and unborn generations
To provide a spirit trail for them to follow
The old man dances.
In a candle lit cedar planked room
Wooden benches along the walls
Filled with the community of prayer helpers.
The old man dances.
He is beyond age.
He breathes calmly as his feet stomp
to the strong drum beat.
His eyes are penetrating, already looking
through this reality to the next.
The old man dances.
Though dressed in poor work clothes,
I see him in what he has earned--
Red and black flowing cape, with shell-button totems:
They are dancing with him.
The old man dances
To honor the Creator's gift.
He knows that a gift not honored
a gift not given
Is quickly lost.
IN THE NAME
© 1991 Kenneth Cohen
Swinomish Nation., Winter Season
Warrior Jesus would be proud of the People
Finally honoring his teachings.
Fighting greed and selfishness
Fighting lies and abuse
with songs of gratitude,
Fighting apathy and uncaring
with prayer and community.
"I am the Way"--this is our trail
through the woods, brushed by the cedar trees;
this is our path through the wilderness--
the black unknown.
"I am the Truth"--this is our vows,
our commitment and dedication,
our love for the Creator.
"I am the Light"--this is the Red Road,
the blood of Mother Earth, smoke we send out
for seven generations.
Dances the round dance with the People.
His kingdom is already on Earth
For those who have eyes to see it.
© 2003 Kenneth Cohen, from Honoring the Medicine:
The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (NY: Ballantine
The cry is an obsidian blade
That pierces this reality.
It cuts open a window
Into the dream time.
My suffering is unavoidable;
I must release the pain of separation--
of speaking instead of singing.
I must release the pain of culture and language;
I must release even my self.
I cry, and the Creator pities me.
I have shed my human form
I have entered the Bear Robe
I look at you but cannot see you
Unless you have prayed yourself into existence.
for Hawk Littlejohn
© 2003 Kenneth Cohen, from Honoring the Medicine:
The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (NY: Ballantine
Long Person, I come to pray with you
Where life begins at the edge of earth and water
You have been flowing since before I was born;
You will sing long after I am gone.
Hear now my voice and stretch it back
And onwards so it moves, like you, beyond time.
Wado! I am thankful for this old friend returned
Brother Tawodi, who stood with me on similar banks
In our Beloved Mountains, long ago,
We were brothers, not only in spirit.
Our friendship is sacred.
These words are True.
A NEW SONGLINE
An Honoring/Eulogy Poem for Tom Laughing Bear Heidlebaugh
Offered at the Honoring Ceremony, Suquamish Nation
©1997 Kenneth Cohen
You may be unpublished,
But your work is more widely read than my own,
Your pages will never weather or age--
They are "timeless classics."
In the Dreaming, ancient spirits sung the land
Into sacred story and history, heard and rechanted
Today by their descendants on Walk-about.
Very few in any generation have the power, wisdom, or love
To add a new songline, to be walked and read
By the future generations.
The first notes were sung to you
On the knee of great-grandfather Yellow Lark.
Later, you found your own rhythm and melody
Your breath became the flute, your song: the wind.
You chanted to the deserts, jungles, mountains, and ocean
--Kenya, Ethiopia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Turtle Island.
Laughing Bear danced with brothers and sisters
Among the Diné, Quileute, Makah, with Goat and Salmon
Your work is widely read, my poet-friend,
And your songs, unlike my own, never need translation.
WHERE EAGLES NEST
© 2003 Kenneth Cohen, from Honoring the Medicine:
The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (NY: Ballantine
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 upwards. 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.
from SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES ON WAR AND
Alberta Native News 20:4, April 13, 2003
In 2001 I had a dream and a vision that I realize, in retrospect,
predicted the 9/11 attacks and the continuing crisis. Early
that summer I had a disturbing dream several nights in a row.
There was a volcano in New York City. Thick clouds of black
smoke were pouring from the volcano. I saw hundreds of people
trapped in a subway underneath the volcano, unable to exit
because explosions had destroyed the stairs to the street
level. When I saw the horrid pictures of the collapsing towers
and learned about the people who had been burned and crushed
in the subway under the World Trade Center, I realized the
accuracy of my dream.
In October of 2001, I took my sacred pipe into the mountains
to pray for guidance and a message. I heard the voice of the
Earth: "The wars will not cease until human beings
learn the lesson of simplicity. Two-leggeds are removing the
bones of their ancestors, the plant people whose ancient bodies
are coal, oil, and gas ["fossil fuels" created when
carbon in vegetation is compressed underground for millions
of years]. These bones are sacred. When you mine coal, oil,
or gas, you rob the graves of your ancestors.
"When you stand on the ground, you stand on your
plant elders. They support you, and their energy is the source
of feeling centered, rooted, and in touch with nature. As
two leggeds pull up their own roots, they become incapable
of making wise decisions, whether in the Middle East, the
United States, or elsewhere. If they hoard resources or continue
to disrespectfully excavate, burn, and consume my body, conflict
will continue or get worse."
"Ken is one of those few individuals who has denied
in himself neither intuition nor intellect, but has achieved
a balanced synthesis. This balance, plus his many talents,
have made him a cultural bridge between East and West, and
between ancient and modern...I am not reluctant to recommend
Ken Cohen as a "healer" and teacher of ancient and
modern forms of "energy medicine" forms of healing
and spirituality. On the contrary, I am pleased to recommend
him to you."
--Elmer Green, Ph.D., Menninger Foundation
"Ken Cohen is a teacher of people beyond
being a teacher of holistic subjects. He is a healer who knows
how to help the body heal itself and he works with his clients
to ready them to participate and take charge of their healing."
--Zalman M. Schachter
Professor of Religion, Naropa University
"I want to acknowledge the fine presentation that you
made to our fourth year psychiatrists in training. We are
all sorry that the time was limited to two hours. Your breadth
of knowledge in anthropology and your ability to relate it
to issues in psychiatry was most appreciated."
-- The University of Kansas Medical Center
"Words cannot begin to express our appreciation
for your involvement in the dedication of the Native American
site and tipi at our Elementary School. Your expertise and
the warm and caring manner of working with the children was
outstanding. The storytelling and sharing of dances was a
highlight for all present. I personally thank you for all
your insight and help in making the day a success and one
to be remembered. We look forward to working with you again
in the future."
-- Elementary School Teacher
"Dear Bear Hawk, Thank you for singing
the Indian songs and for letting me play the rattle. I loved
the stories. You are nice."
-- Second Grade Student
"Dear Bear Hawk, Thank you for coming on
the back packing trip with our class. The Indian presentation
was very fun, and I love how you play the drum. I am glad
-- Fourth Grade Student
"Dear Bear Hawk, Thanks for teaching us
how to dance the Indian way. It was fun. My favorite dance
was the wolf dance. I hope that nobody forgets the way of
the Indians. And I think that having this tipi dedication
will help us remember."
-- Sixth Grade Student
"Ken Bear Hawk's message is recognized,
respected, and needed. Many elders throughout North America
have welcomed him into their homes. At ceremonies on the reservation
I have seen people moved by the power of his words. Ken's
calm, grace, and wisdom shine through the pages of this book.
It is a rare opportunity to listen to a man who has gone so
far and who 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
"I have been involved in traditional healing
all of my life and have studied extensively in this field.
I have never found a work as complete in its research and
actual application of the principles as Honoring the Medicine.
It's hard to find any work to compare with it. Honoring
the Medicine is the most comprehensive."
--Gladys T. McGarey, M.D.
past president of the American Holistic Medical Association,
author of The Physician Within You: Medicine for the Millennium
"If you were to search for a living core
among the diversity of Native American healing practices,
you could not find a better guide than this thorough, thoughtful
book by Kenneth Cohen. The very method of inquiry and discourse
is part of the teaching
This is a book you could carry
into the wilderness if you had to choose just one. In it,
you can hear the voice of the Earth itself, whispering in
the great silence."
--Stephen Larsen, Ph.D.
author of The Shaman's Doorway
"Anyone wanting insight into the world
of Native American healing will be wise to read this remarkable,
penetrating work. Kenneth Cohen has been gifted with wisdom
and blessings from many Native American elders. As a result,
he has emerged as one of the great explicators of the Native
American worldview. It is refreshing to see the dignity and
honor he has toward his subject, when so much of contemporary
writing on this subject is trivialized. This is a valuable
addition to the canon of healing."
--Larry Dossey, M.D.
author of Healing Beyond the Body and Reinventing
"Honoring the Medicine is both a
medicine and an honoring of the Native American ways of healing.
Kenneth Cohen has created a timeless classic that is essential
reading for all who are interested in indigenous medicine.
Blessed by elders and rooted to the old ways, this work arrives
at a time when we need it most."
--Bradford P. Keeney, Ph.D.
editor of Profiles of Healing
"Honoring the Medicine is a remarkable
book. In it, Kenneth Cohen presents the panorama of Native
American healing practices in a format that is both fascinating
and applicable. Cohen is a gifted storyteller, and he spins
narratives that instruct as well as entertain."
--Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., past president of The American
Psychological Association, author of Spiritual Dimensions
"Kenneth Cohen captures the feeling and
essence of Native American healing in another masterpiece
of exploration in healing traditions. His breadth and depth
of understanding are presented in explanations of traditions
and rituals, clear discussions, examples and stories. Reading
this book is a healing experience on many levels."
--Daniel J. Benor, M.D.
author of Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a