Honoring the Medicine
Native American & First Nations Health and Cultural Education
Teachings & Offerings by Ken Cohen
This beautiful logo, a gift from Erik Mattila (Cherokee) expresses the balance at the heart of First Peoples healing traditions. A balance of earth symbolized by the mountain, and sky, represented by the hawk; a circle that includes visible and invisible realms, distinct shapes and empty space. In this circle, there is no beginning or end, no high or low, we are all equally children of Creator and related to each other. The snake is the energy of life, a power that flows in water, rises in mountains, flies above us as Thunderbird and which is felt in our own bodies when we are most alive.
Spiritual power used in a good way is medicine. It is not only an herb that you take in but a kind word, a healing gift that you give to others. Medicine, from a Native American perspective, is a way of life in harmony with Nature and Creator’s instructions.
I honor this medicine by offering cultural teachings and traditional healing, by keeping in memory and service the ceremonies, practices, and hundreds of songs that my elders blessed me to caretake. I was trained strictly by old time medicine men and women, and I require similar protocols and signs of respect when I offer my medicine—some things are shared only with certain people at certain times, and sacred knowledge and practices are never sold or recorded. I don’t mind being old fashioned; this knowledge and the rules regarding proper ways to share originate from long before I was born.
Yet the medicine exists in the time and context of the world we live it. Hence, I feel it is important to honor the medicine by creating bridges of respectful dialogue between diverse healing and spiritual traditions, including indigenous and western science. This is why I also offer lectures and conference presentations. And it is essential to educate about the past and continued threats to the medicine—the land and life of Native peoples because of colonialism, misrepresentation, and appropriation. Education alone will not change racist, abusive and genocidal policies. The medicine is also honored by our votes, through activism, and continued vigilance and willingness to speak out against injustice.
Ken Cohen, M.A. is a traditional healer and health and culture educator who has been devoted to indigenous values and ways for most of his 70+ years. He maintains close ties with his adoptive Nehiyaw (Cree) family.
Ken was mentored, tested, and strictly trained since his youth by noted medicine men and women and through the lessons of dreams and life experiences. There is nothing exotic or special about this; it is not a path he sought, but one that sought him, and which, in spite of the hardships and responsibilities, he decided to accept.
Ken was one of the first to lecture about traditional healing in U.S. medical schools and has been sponsored by the Mayo Clinic (Grand Rounds Lectures), Health Canada, All Nations Hope, Iskotew and Kumik Elders Lodges (Elder in Residence), and numerous indigenous communities and conferences. He is the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award in energy medicine and author of "Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing" (2003, Random House).
I acknowledge that I live on the unceded land of the First Peoples of North America. For much of the year I live at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, traditional territory of the Hinono'ei (Arapaho) and Ute, but also connected to the Tsistsitas (Cheyenne), Lakota, and other indigenous peoples who either lived or passed through the region. I also spend part of the year on the unceded territory of the Kumeyaay of San Diego County, California, whose current and ancestral lands stretch from ocean, to mountains, to desert and extend south into Baja California, a sovereign Kumeyaay homeland that has never had borders or walls.
First Peoples are still here, alive and strong in spite of land theft, forced removal of people and property, and the near genocide perpetrated by colonialism. First Peoples continue to make important contributions to all fields—science, art, music, literature, medicine, and more. Native Americans/First Peoples serve in the U.S. military in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnicity. It is up to all of us to learn and acknowledge historical truth, to behave with honor and respect, and to not only talk about justice but to be examples of it.