INDIANS, MEDICINE MEN AND THANKSGIVING
Carolyn Dean, MD, ND and
Carolyn is away at the moment in Canada getting ready for several presentations at a Toronto’s Whole Life Expo so she asked me to write our News With Views column solo this week. Since it is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d cover America’s oldest medical tradition as it relates to both Thanksgiving and us today - Indian Medicine Men.
My dad was a great storyteller. He told me that back in his family tree were a few Lenni Lenape Indians who sold Manhattan Island to the Dutch for $24 worth of beads. With a wink of his eye he made a big point of explaining that these ancestors of ours were just on a fishing trip from New Jersey and didn’t even own the place. My dad also told me I am related to the guy on the Indian Head Nickel. So, filled with the pride of my alleged ancestry, I grew up identifying with those nice Indians of the Wampanoag Tribe we all remember from our grammar school Thanksgiving plays who taught the Pilgrims how to grow native crops and taught them Indian medicine using local medicinal plants. I also read books on Indian folklore and did my fair share of leather and bead crafts often associated with summer camp projects.
It wasn’t until I moved to Oklahoma and was confronted with a place where some of my neighbors and friends were descendents of no fewer than 67 tribes and where the laws, regulations and policies established during the time when Oklahoma became a state, were basically crafted by Indians. In fact, just about everyone in Oklahoma claims some Indian ancestry even if they are not on the official federal government rolls that were taken during territorial days to establish tribal distinctions. Thanks to this unique and official head counting, we know that Indians are the second largest ethnic population in the state, not counting the descendents of those who refused to be listed.
Confronted with a living and thriving Indian culture, I quickly threw out all previous impressions about the quaintness of Indian folklore and dismissed any idea that Indian Medicine was nothing more than some colorful but basically useless method of healing. What I saw all around me were real healers, Indian or not, who incorporated the best of the Indian Medicine Men’s healing arts into the practice of natural medicine in Oklahoma.
My first academic foray into finding out what I had been missing all these years was by obtaining a copy of a book called “American Indian Medicine” by Virgil J. Vogel. It was published by the University of Oklahoma Press, a publishing outfit that has a major commitment to publishing important books on the culture of Indians from the North Pole to the tip of South America. Vogel’s work is such a fine book and so widely accepted that even the Journal of the American Medical Association endorses it.
Digging through the pages provided me with a treasure trove of facts and figures that showed how literally hundreds of medicinals from Indian medicine had worked their way into official recognition in both Europe and the US as well as hundreds more that have been used continuously over the centuries without the blessings of non-Indian medical “experts”.
Vogel was careful to point out that European arrivals on American shores did not look eagerly upon learning all the secrets of Indian healing arts due to the cultural, ethnic and intellectual biases they brought with them. And, these same biases have caused many an argument since, over the efficacy of various healing modalities. Gee, does that sound familiar?
In today’s fights over whether or not to license natural healing arts practitioners (a major fight in many states these days), how to decide the safe dosage level of nutritional products for international trade (even though such products have never been shown to be unsafe) and all the 101 other political fights about health care and health care reform, I found Vogel’s discussions about the various opinions of medical experts over the centuries regarding the efficacy of American Indian medicine interesting. It shows that for all the so-called “expertise” that abounds in the medical industry in all camps, it all boils down to individual opinion.
As I started to write this column, I realized that I wanted to tell you about one of my naturopathic practitioner friends who is currently helping me with a longstanding chronic health problem. For the sake of his privacy, let’s call him Bob.
What makes Bob interesting is that he is a shining example of why it is important to protect all forms of natural healing arts and not allow practitioners or the associated products and modalities to get caught up in the politically-charged and often phony “scientific” evaluation and over-regulation trap.
Bob’s grandmother was of Cherokee/Chickasaw decent but had decided not to sign up on the government Indian rolls so Bob is not officially an Indian. Six months after Bob was born, he was taken to the doctor because he didn’t move. It was then he was diagnosed as having Muscular Dystrophy (MD). The doctor told his parents that he would surely die by the time he was four or five years old and the only thing they could do for him is to massage him and try to give him some exercise to help make him more comfortable.
As Bob described it to me in a recent e-mail, Muscular Dystrophy is basically a lack of nutritional uptake by the muscles. While some forms of MD are genetically traceable others are not. Bob says that all the forms of MD he knows about result in death before the age of 25 preceded by years of slow deterioration.
Bob’s parents knew nothing about physical therapy, massage or anything else, but as loving parents, they did the best they could, letting Bob guide them by his reactions to their help. Due to their diligence, by the time Bob was two and a half years old he could finally roll over. At three he was walking a few steps before needing to rest and by the time he was five he was looking forward to going to school. He had many respiratory health problems so he was too ill to have his tonsils removed. He still had trouble walking normally as his legs dragged behind him and when he was eight he learned how to swim by sheer force of his arm power as his legs were still quite frail.
By the time he was 12, he finally had full bladder control so he could stay over night with his buddies without wetting his bed and by the time he was 15, the Oklahoma wind could no longer blow him over if he stood up unaided. That same year at Thanksgiving, his granny let it slip that he had Muscular Dystrophy and, for the first time, he realized the seriousness of the health problem he had. He used crutches at his high school graduation as he had been injured when his legs had collapsed under him, a common problem, and on this occasion he’d severely damaged his knee requiring surgery to repair.
While in college, Bob looked like an old man, his hair was starting to grow gray, he was obese and other than when he was in class, he was in bed asleep so tired he couldn’t function like a normal person.
It was shortly after that, he had an epiphany which prompted him to make some life changing decisions which included going back to his Indian roots to see if he could find true healing. As time went on, he reached out to other ethnic healing traditions and even went as far away as China and the Philippines to seek wisdom resulting in his developing a cornucopia of natural healing modalities which help keep him up and running.
Along the way, as his own health improved, he also started treating and teaching others and for many years he owned and ran the oldest and one of the largest natural healing arts schools in Oklahoma. These days, along with hundreds of his former students, he provides services to countless grateful Oklahomans, who, like Bob, have unique health needs modern medicine knows nothing about.
Today, Bob looks like a healthy 35-40 year old man, though he is in his mid fifties. To his knowledge he is the oldest and healthiest survivor of Muscular Dystrophy.
While he still has muscular problems, he maximizes his health by keeping to a proper diet carefully designed to suit his specific health needs. He makes sure he gets plenty of rest, receives regular massages to help his body utilize the nutrients he carefully supplies it, and he does regular exercise. As he puts it, with a genetic weakness, you have no room to skate on the edge.
Bob’s story, while remarkable in its own right, is not unique. The health freedom movement is full of people with similar stories of success against the odds and what we all have in common is an absolute need to keep our options open when it comes to dietary supplements, various natural medicinals, natural healers of all sorts and other modalities which modern medicine can’t provide.
It has been 384 years since America’s first Thanksgiving. As I sit down this year with my family to give thanks for all the bounty in my life, I will give special thanks for my ability to obtain natural health products and services to help me work toward better health. My friendship with Bob and the many other natural healers who have helped me over the years have taught me the value of Indian and non-Indian healers who are committed to help people under what is sometimes a heavy burden of political pressure.
I will also give special thanks for my friendship with Carolyn Dean, MD ND, who embodies all the best in both worlds of medicine – modern and natural. Her generosity of spirit and her wisdom are a great source of inspiration for me, particularly when the politics of working toward real health freedom gets especially difficult.
For you, our readers, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope you have some time to check out the websites below so you can learn more about America’s first people, so you can see why I am glad to have so many Indian neighbors and friends.
ACT FOR HEALTH FREEDOM NOW: Go to www.friendsoffreedominternational.org and purchase "Death by Modern Medicine" and view and purchase the new movie on Codex and Free Trade called "We Become Silent" by Kevin Miller. Proceeds from the sale of these products are crucial to help fund our health freedom action. For state action go to: www.nationalhealthfreedom.org. To support HR 4282, the new Health Freedom Protection Act bill that we talked about in our November 7, 2005 article in News With Views “A Call to Action to Protect Free Speech” go to: www.stopfdacensorship.org and send a letter to Congress.
AMERICAN INDIAN TRIBAL RESOURCES
Wampanoag - People of the First Light - Those
Who Shared The First Thanksgiving With the Pilgrims
© 2005 Carolyn Dean -
All Rights Reserved
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Dr. Carolyn Dean is a medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, herbalist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, as well as a powerful health activist fighting for health freedom as president of Friends of Freedom International. Dr. Dean is the author of over a dozen health books, the latest of which is "Death By Modern Medicine".
Elissa Meininger, is Vice President of Friends of Freedom International and co-founder of the Health Freedom Action Network, a grassroots citizens' political action group. She is also a health freedom political analyst and can be heard on the natural health radio show SuperHealth, broadcast weekly on station WKY (SuperTalk AM 930) in Oklahoma City.
Confronted with a living and thriving Indian culture, I quickly threw out all previous impressions about the quaintness of Indian folklore and dismissed any idea that Indian Medicine was nothing more than some colorful but basically useless method of healing.