Kenneth Cohen, MA ᒪᐢᑲᐧ ᓴᑲᐧᐦᑕᒧᐤ is a traditional healer and health and cultural educator who has lived and practiced indigenous ways for most of his 60+ years. Though respecting the Judaism of his Russian and North African ancestors, Ken was not brought up with knowledge of this tradition. Ken was the only apprentice to Cherokee spiritual teacher Keetoowah Christie (great grandson of Ned Christie) from the 1970s until his passing in 1987 and was one of two people comprehensively trained by the esteemed medicine man, Rolling Thunder. He also worked with elders from the Northeast, Northwest, and Northern Plains. In 1987, Ken was ceremonially adopted by Andrew Naytowhow, Nehiyaw (Cree) leader and healer from Sturgeon Lake First Nation (Saskatchewan, Canada), highly respected for sharing his understanding of miyo-pimatisiwin, “the good life” based physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Ken maintains close ties with his adoptive family.
In his learning journey, Ken has been blessed to receive teachings from First Peoples of many lands. Ken speaks the Chinese language and is a noted teacher of Taoist Qigong (healing practices) and martial arts -- his "day job" and maintains a separate website (www.qigonghealing.com) for this work. How did he accomplish this without being either 150 years old or a dilettante? The secret is dedication, hard work, personal sacrifice, and not being distracted or restricted by a conventional university and its “headucational” requirements. (Ken’s M.A. in Psychology was awarded honorarily when, after several years teaching university graduate school courses, the Dean realized that one of their professors only had a high school diploma!)
Ken was one of the first to lecture about Native American healing in U.S. medical schools and has been sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, Health Canada, the Iskotew and Kumik Elders Lodges, All Nations Hope, the Menninger Institute, and numerous First Nations communities and conferences. At the forefront of the dialogue between ancient wisdom and modern science, Ken is the winner of the leading international award in energy medicine, the Alyce and Elmer Green Award for Innovation and Lifetime Achievement.
Ken is the author of Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (Random House), winner of the U.S. Books for A Better Life National Book Award. Ken has written about Native American medicine in U.S. medical school textbooks and journals, such as Wilderness Medicine, Essentials of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, and Explore: The Journal of Science and Health. He has also written about Native American social justice issues for News from Indian Country and various indigenous media. Believing that health, culture, and protection of rights go hand in hand, Ken is a social justice and Native rights activist.
Ken lived most of his life in a log cabin at 9,000 feet elevation at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. He now spends much of the year in San Diego county, California, a short drive from the Pacific Crest Trail and the ocean. He is a parent, a grandparent, and husband of Curandera Grace Alvarez Sesma.
Diversity and Identity
"Native American/ First Nations medicine, like other indigenous healing traditions, is based on widely held beliefs about healthy living, the repercussions of disease-causing activity or behavior, and the spiritual principles that restore balance. These beliefs cross tribal boundaries. However, the particular methods of diagnosis and treatment are as diverse as the languages, landscapes, and customs of the more than 700 Nations that comprise the indigenous people of Turtle Island, one of the original names of North America." (from "Native American Medicine" by Kenneth Cohen, in Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 4:6, Nov. 1998), Ken seeks to communicate the richness of these original ways, informed by his life experiences, connection to Nature, and, most importantly, the wisdom shared by his beloved elders.
A Personal Note from Ken Cohen: Although ceremonially adopted by a Cree family, this does not mean that I am a member of a Cree First Nation—an ethnic and political designation that has important connotations in today’s world. I will try to clarify this important distinction. My adoptive family and Cree friends always remind me, “We are your people; this is your land.” I know this is true. A person’s soul (acahk) comes from the stars (acahkosak), and only after learning all of the lessons that Creator intends for us does our spark of light return to the greater light of Kci Manitou. For some acahk, this means being reborn as a man, a woman, a saint, a criminal, or of different races and lands. Yet, on a practical, this world, this life level, I know that my ancestors did not sign Treaty 6, which includes Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and my adoptive family’s traditional lands. This means that I cannot and would not claim treaty rights. Adoption by a family does not confer membership in a sovereign First Nation nor does it magically change a person’s ancestry. Unfortunately, although I have written numerous letters of protest, several websites continue to report that I was adopted by the Cree Nation. I object to this misinformation.