Manataka® American Indian Council


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Medicine for the People

By Harvey Walks With Hawks Doyle




Native American Healer


Civilization and society has taught us to build empires for companies that fold, banks, life insurances, numerous research, welfare, old age organizations, etc. Something we know at first hand now.  In comparison, the Native Americans protection came from Mother Nature and her bountiful plants and herbs.  Mother Earth being the most important person in a native’s life except for the Creator.  They learned to treat lives with plant life, the medicine of Mother Earth.


After the white man came they were suddenly introduced to a new way of life which brought them the many diseases for which they had built no immunity, and thousand of our brothers and sisters died.


Self-sufficiency was destroyed as small forts, general stores, whiskey stills and white ways was introduced; the Native American became dependent on civilized ways.  This was prevalent in all walks of life and a destructive way by all means. 


If we think back and how we talked to the old Native Americans; they will say that the years have gradually touched them into submission.  They will remember a few words of their language; they will remember a few of the family and tribal herbs that we think of as nothing but troublesome, insignificant weeds or shrub. A statement like this can touch our hearts; it can make tears come to your eyes if you understand this naturally and also spiritually.  How did we give up so much for what we have now? It is a mystery to the old Natives. 


To most of us, trees are for shade and beauty alone, but they bring out medical uses from my own experience with herbs; if we can identify them, (Maple, Poplar, Sumac, Oak, Sassafras, Dogwood, Tree of Life, Beech, Sycamore, Locust, and many that I cannot identify).


The Native Americans were never at a loss to know which plant was the best, or the time it should be gathered to heal them of their diseases.  We were hunters and gatherers. Gathering plants for food and also plants for medicinal purposes.  They knew how to treat the complaints of physical, surgical, and midwifery with a skill that surpasses medical teachings in their own time.  For internal they used many herbs as teas and local treatment s as potions and salves.  They were experienced with a keen sense of knowledge of Mother Earth’s plants. They were taught most of this by their animal brother and sisters and by trial and error.  Local parts were treated by placing parts affected over the roasting pit after being packed in rye grass and earth and subject to almost unbearable heat as long as possible. Heat and herbs were a healing of the inflammation and infection.  They used vapor baths for many aliments and also sweat lodges were used for natural and spiritual healing ( Sage, Tobacco, Valerian and at least use of 150 herbs).  Patients were put into sweat lodges of almost stifling amounts of moist heat to eliminate toxic conditions (Bayberry Bark & Wild Ginger).  Fractured bones were held in splints made of a number of rods tied together at the ends, and covered with leaves of medical values; and bound with deer skins (Arnica, Burdock, St Johns Wort, and Lobelia).  Herb roots pounded fine and used as a poultice for bad cuts and sprains (Aloe Vera, Arnica, Corn Silk, and Burdock).  Sore eyes were treated with a wash consisting of an infusion of a certain root, (Chicory Root, Maple). 


Our cocaine and Novocain came from ingredients found in the coca plant, the nature healer used to alleviate pain.  In this way the original Native Americans were their own physicians.  Sicknesses of civilization like the plague, tuberculosis, typhoid, cancer, ulcers, heart, and mental diseases were uncommon among their earlier communities. 


Do you know we spend millions of dollars for weed controls with booklets describing the various plants and how to destroy them?  If we were educated as how to use them medically, we could help ourselves physically as well as money wise.  We can thoughtlessly ignore our heritage but we should not deny Mother Earth’s life giving truths.  We should be thinking of seeds not evil deeds, we should be thinking of how our ancestors would think of us now and how we are living a dream that will never come true. If we don’t wake up and smell the roses then we will not enjoy a long life because we will succumb to some terrible disease that may have been healed by a plant that most of us call a weed.


The Native American or Medicine Men or Medicine Women looked at the art of healing as ceremonial in nature.  In the present time their rituals seem strange and without meaning. I suppose they seem that way unless you are spiritual or practice Native American Spirituality.  They knew that physical health often failed without the aid of spiritual health.  Dancing, chanting and other ways were brought forth according to the severity of the condition of the patient.  We should be able to relate to this because today our get well cards, entertainment, flowers, and prayers are physical but are given in respect toward the spiritual arena and native spirituality and physical as being closely intertwined. If we really think of this; it is a wonder how intelligent they were in their time of existence.


Despite all the hardship in their memory and legend, sickness and disaster as was associated with European history and of the status of the Bible did not exist.  The old world was entangled with feeling of inferiority, guilt and sin.  The new world legend is not about punishment and sickness, but heroic actions of everyday life. It was a struggle to live then and we are experiencing a struggle now in our own way.  We can read about the ancient interpretations on the art of healing.  Praising the temples and the ancient cult of Hippocrates and Gallen, establishers of European medicine as science; Susruta; surgeon of old India; phases and Arabia medicine.  And others including Egypt, Palestine, Persia, and Greece and ancient Asiatic continents, India, Russia, China and Japan.  If you imagine you are standing on a mountain and looking at all the countries named then you can see how important it was for them to study and try to bring forth the art of healing.  Healing didn’t just come from the Native Americans but from many nations. It took all of them to bring forth the balance of herbal medicines.


We admit without our old ways and new predecessors of healers the present and future would be uncertain and fearful to us now.  We would have to be the one that was practicing on trial and error; but the pharmaceutical area is doing just that.  We are subjected to drugs that have more side effects than the healing part of the drug.  We now hope and pray that we can have divine guidance when we are using or practicing herbal medicines.  We have to depend on the Healer, he or she, Medicine Man or Medicine Woman to help us understand herbs and their effect on our bodies and spirit.  There are no temples and prayers; or songs of legend about the wise Indian medicine man, only a few words of “quack”, “Medicine Man” or “Witch Doctor” in prospect to modern medicines. 


Training as an Indian Healer began very early.  Selection was from the family or from signs of devotion, wisdom and honesty.  It was more than a career, as is of our time, he or she was elected by his ability to learn and heal.  Trusted with all secrets, rituals, habits and legends of their people the young brave or woman had to attend all ceremonial celebrations and critical meetings of the people he or she was at the side of the leader or healer.  The trainee must know and remember the many herb species, their medicinal properties and uses. Usually nothing was written down but remembered in their minds.  They knew their limitations and those flowers of the garden are not always for healing but also flowers of sickness and death; and also flowers to prolong life.  All medicinal plants in the area were used.  The flowers and herbs differed in each location.  Each one knew their immediate supply and area.  Sometimes they moved to have access to the healing plants.


Modern medicine and natural healing still practice their theory.  Both used strong steam to create perspiration such as the sweat lodge.  They knew to isolate communicable diseases, fasting for health, physiological moments, special diet as to heal, and of course herbs.  As a healer to all people he or she was above tribal restriction, he cared for the wounded or needy.  The Native American Healer was an artist in the best tradition of principles so much treasured by most of us today.


We need to take a step backwards and thank the Creator for what Mother Nature has given us.  We need to use her and her plants or maybe just one of these days she will take away her gifts of healing and then we would be in a terrible situation.  When you see a weed you should investigate closely; just maybe it might be a plant that could save someone’s life.