adapted from Honoring the Medicine:
The Essential Guide to Native American Healing
© Kenneth Cohen (Random House, 2003)
From the Native American perspective, medicine
belongs more to the realm of healing than curing. These two
concepts are not identical. Physicians aim to cure disease,
to vanquish it, to make it go away. Traditional indigenous
healers emphasize healing, in the sense of "making whole"
by establishing, enhancing, or restoring well-being and harmony.
that you visit your physician because you have a painful cough
and low grade fever. He determines that it is bronchitis and
prescribes an antibiotic, which you must take for the next
ten days. The antibiotic works-- your fever disappears, and
the cough goes away. You are "cured." But you may
feel ill in other ways-- the antibiotic may have upset your
digestion or weakened your immune system, making you susceptible
to another infection. You certainly don't feel empowered by
medication. Some drugs, such as those used in chemotherapy,
have devastating side effects, such as exhaustion, depression,
nausea, and death. For the patient, recovery from illness
can be an impersonal and lonely battle.
Now, suppose you go to a Native American healer
with the same symptoms. The healer invites your family to
attend a healing ceremony. They pray with him as he holds
a cup of herbal tea in his hands and asks the Great Spirit
for help. You are surrounded by a community of caring human
beings. Healing emphasizes your connection to people, nature,
and spirit. It includes more than self-centered or personal
care. The goal of healing is both wellness and wisdom.
I am not saying that Native American healers
are unable to cure, only that curing is not always the exclusive,
or even sometimes, the primary goal. The efficacy of a cure
can be measured; it belongs to the realm of science. The effects
of healing are not as easy to quantify because healing touches
every aspect of person's life-- it belongs as much to spirit
as to science.
Finally, it must be said that from the Native
American viewpoint, healing, quality of life, and spiritual
development cannot be separated from politics and economics.
Native American healing emphasizes harmony with the earth
as an essential ingredient in personal health. But how can
we find harmony with the Earth if we continue to cut her hair
(the forests), steal her bones (minerals), and dump poison
into her bloodstream (rivers and oceans)? We cannot preserve
original healing traditions without recognizing the rights
of the original people of North America to autonomy and control
over their own lives and lands. The elders say that plants,
swimmers, crawlers, four-leggeds, and those who fly are also
"people," with God-given rights to the food, shelter,
and happiness that nature provides.
The technology and power of the West can be
tools of destruction if they are not balanced by earth-based,
holistic wisdom. The good medicine of America's original people
teaches us how to rediscover the path of beauty that was once
known to all of our ancestors, whether they were born on this
land or any other.
"Kenneth Cohen writes from a place of beauty,
truth, and integrity. He inspires us to reconnect with traditional
ways for healing the earth and ourselves. Honoring the Medicine
speaks to the passion that burns inside of us to connect with
ancestral knowledge. It is a brilliant work."
author of Soul Retrieval and Medicine for the Earth
"Honoring the Medicine takes you
on a vision quest level. Must reading for those ready to enter
--Ted C. Williams (Tuscarora Wolf Clan), author of The
"What a magical, comprehensive integration
of indigenous, western, and multi-cultural knowledge! Honoring
the Medicine's synthesis reminds us that we are all one.
It reminds us to respect and honor the earth and all of life.
And, surprisingly, it affirms that Native American healing
is not a thing of the past, but rather, a tradition with a
--U.S. Congresswoman Claudine Schneider
contributor to The Planetary Interest