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  • Writer's pictureKen Cohen

License to Heal? Hands-Off!

©Kenneth S. Cohen

First Peoples sovereignty includes spirituality and healing and no Euro-American licensing board has the right to define scope of practice, standardize traditional healing education, tell Native people who is qualified to practice, or to substitute the rules of US corporations (including the medical industry) for Native American ethics and protocols.

Why bring up a matter that may seem to be an obvious truth? Here is the problem: US courts are increasingly defining any and all methods of healing as “the practice of medicine” which must be regulated. As a result, state legislatures have been advocating licensure of spiritual and energy healing methods. This seems to terminate protections previously afforded by the first and fourteenth amendments of the US Constitution. Could the category of “spiritual healing” potentially be extended to include indigenous practitioners?

In the spring of 2018, I was invited to the initial meeting of a national energy healers certification organization. I expressed my concerns regarding Native American medicine, and they agreed to completely remove it from the list of modalities being considered for regulatory oversight, including testing and certification or licensing. However, to be blunt, some people are always seeking loopholes so they can do whatever the heck they want to do. The organization listed Totem Healing, Crystal Healing, and Shamanism among modalities needing regulation, though these were later reduced to the one category of “Shamanism.”

This is an odd gray area, as “shamanism" is a western New Age and anthropological construct— a de-contextualized amalgamation of spiritual practices and healing techniques noted and believed (by western "shamans") to be common among First Peoples. Because of my earlier protests, the organization’s director did include the following caveat on their site "Note: This division [Shamanism] is limited to non-indigenous practitioners as indigenous practitioners are covered under federal law.” Well, that doesn’t quite solve the problem, nor is the statement accurate.

The problem is the confusion between shamanism and actual indigenous healing. Western “shamans” borrow freely from traditional methods such as smudging, drumming, inviting spirit powers, and more. It makes me ask, “Is regulating and certifying these mostly white shamans a slippery slope that could extend to indigenous people?" I don’t know the answer. Personally, I wish federal and state legislatures would not attempt to exert power and control over ANY spiritual healing method.

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