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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.

Imagine 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."
--Sandra Ingerman
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 higher consciousness."
--Ted C. Williams (Tuscarora Wolf Clan), author of The Reservation



"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 brilliant future!"
--U.S. Congresswoman Claudine Schneider
contributor to The Planetary Interest

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