Native American Cultures
"Mike Spring, paralyzed from the waist... down and in constant pain, sailed to the Azores and back. On his return, he confounded his TV interviewer with the statement that the only way he was able to obtain relief from the pain that continually racked his body was to press his back to an oak tree. This simple and cost-free action would then afford him several hours of complete relief and helped him to carry on in life. When asked for a scientific explanation, Mr. Spring replied that he had none-- it simply worked! He had heard of the treatment from an American Indian source and had been using it successfully for years" (Psychology of Healing- Murry Hope 89).
How can that possibly be? A tree curing backaches? He must have been taking some aspirin, too, many of us assume. It is not uncommon for a person in Western culture to be thinking this way. We were raised with the belief that our medical society largely based on chemical concoctions is powerful because it has cures for everything from various cancers all the way down the list to the common cold. Don't get me wrong, the medical profession is quite effective, but for several generations, Native Americans have been using herbs to cure aches and pains, and various other illnesses. Many of the herbs used by Native Americans are the ones you can actually find in aspirin and other medications today. In fact, many ingredients used in various modern medications are actually derived from Native American cultures. (http://keller.clarke.edu/~english/honors/aaron/index.html#Native)
Herbal medicine is being reintroduced through various forms of alternative medicine. Out on the market we see aromatherapy, acupuncture, herbology, and many more forms of alternative medicine.
Herbology is a practice which seeks to heal people through a variety of herbal supplements. Howard Buckingham, a clinical herbalist that works with North American herbs, comments that he "sees clients with arthritis, skin problems, prostate, impotence and hormonal problems, menopause- a lot of different ailments that people have....Taken in the right dosage and often in the right combinations, herbs can help a person a great deal" (in Wolf 1). He further discusses how people use herbs to help relieve the side affects they experience through Western medical procedures.
Aromatherapy deals with various scents to change the mood of individuals. Melinda Wolf comments that "In addition to candles and oils, consumers can purchase soaps and shampoos that can be used to practice this alternative medicine. Those who use this method say the scent can alter moods and enhance the body, mind, and spirit" (1). Aromatherapy is very powerful according to Mary Emmons, a massage therapist in Wauwatosa, WI. "Different scents have different effects. Lavender helps bring peace and balance and has been known to help ease respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis; basil helps stimulate brain function; mandarin has a cheerful refreshing and inspiring effect in the individual" (in Wolf 7).
Acupuncture, considered a form of alternative medicine in Western culture, is considered mainstream in China. Acupuncture involves using needles to treat a variety of ailments. Dr. Lizhi Wei of an acupuncture practice in Shorewood, Wi reports it is used to treat "back and neck ailments, arthritis, anxiety, headaches/migraines, indigestion, and even infertility" (in Wolf 8).
Through these various forms of alternative medicine, Native American beliefs pertaining to nature and spirituality are being awakened in American culture.
Why is alternative medicine becoming so popular? Are people starting to doubt the effectiveness of Western medicine? Wolf notes that "In some instances, individuals suffering from chronic ailments become disenchanted with Western medicine's ability to help them cope with those ailments. In other instances, individuals have chosen alternative methods to take a more proactive stance on treating their ailments" (1). Americans looking for new ways to cure themselves from various illnesses may be finding that escaping from all the technology and stress of the Western medical society makes it easier to deal with their illness and to focus on getting better. Herbal remedies are not as stressful and depressing as some medical techniques because the main focus is on making peace with nature and the whole body, not just the place of illness. According to the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), "Pharmaceutical drugs are seen as over prescribed, expensive, and dangerous whereas herbal remedies are seen as less expensive and less toxic" (185).
How exactly are alternative medicine and Western medicine related? in Alfonso Ortiz and Richard Erdoes suggest that "Mysterious but real power dwells nature (http://keller.clarke.edu/~english/honors/rose/index.html#nature) -- in mountains, rivers, rocks, even pebbles. White people may consider them inanimate objects, but to the Indian, they are enmeshed in the web of the universe, pulsating with life and potent with medicine" (in Paula Gunn Allen 2). Nature is the most important aspect of the universe in which humans only play a part. That is why Native Americans spend a great deal of time restoring balance and harmony with nature. Native Americans believe that the reason why a person becomes ill is because the balance with nature has been disturbed. By performing shamanic healing practices through various rituals, the Navajo Native Americans believe they have solved their problems with the Gods and Goddesses.
The Office of Alternative Medicine comments on two Navajo healing chants. They cite that Holyway chants "are used to attract good, to cure, and to repair" (98). They went on further to say that "Lifeway chants are used to treat what westerners would call 'physical' injuries and accidents; such treatment includes both restoring cosmological harmony and repairing trauma- by setting broken bones, for example' (98). Beautyway is another Navajo healing chant not mentioned by OAM. Beautyway is sung for aching feet, legs, arms, waist and back, swollen ankles, mental confusion, and itching skin.
Much research on the healing rituals and herbal medicines of Native Americans has not been performed because the technology to test whether or not the procedures work is not yet available. Tests for Western medicinal procedures are the only kinds of tests available. Those testing procedures cannot examine alternative healing methods because of the differences between the two styles. Testing alternative methods require different types of tests. Although alternative healing methods are not yet testable, Native Americans still claim that they can cure ailments and diseases. Some of those ailments and diseases that they claim to have healed are thyroid conditions, asthma, heart disease, and cancer (OAM 99). (http://keller.clarke.edu/~english/honors/jach/index.html#alternate)
According to Dr. Zimmerman, Director of anthropology at the University of South Dakota, Native Americans use poplar or bark to cure headaches. These plants (http://keller.clarke.edu/~english/honors/pam/index.html#plants) contain the ingredient salicin, which is found in aspirin (http://keller.clarke.edu/~english/honors/joe/index.html#headache) (149). In addition, white willow bark can be used to treat tumors, warts, cancers, calluses, and corns. It can also be used to fight fever and to treat sore eyes (OAM 196). Zimmerman also points out that Native American Indians believe that "chewing certain roots helped to relieve sore throats and headaches, while teas made from various plants eased indigestion" (111).
Several over- the - counter and prescription drugs contain ingredients such as taxol, ergot, and vincristine, which were derived from Native American medicinal herbs. The OAM reported that "cough drops that contain menthol, mint, horehound, or lemons are herbal preparations; chamomile and mint teas taken for digestion or a nervous stomach are time- honored herbal remedies; and many simple but effective OTC ache-and pain- relieving preparations on every druggist's or grocer's shelf contain oils of camphor, menthol, or eucalyptus. Millions of Americans greet the morning with their favorite herbal stimulant-- coffee" (185).
The Office of Alternative Medicine also listed a variety of Native American medicinal herbs that can be found to treat many of the sameillnesses that the medical profession treats with pharmaceuticals. I am only going to list a few. Rabbit tobacco is used by Native Americans to treat colds, flu, asthma, coughs, and pneumonia. To treat menstrual bleeding, diarrhea, sores, sprains, swelling, and kidney problems including Bright's disease, Native Americans use oak. Bloodroot has been used to heal uterine and other cancers, sore throats, and chronic bronchitis. It has also been used as a pain reliever (196).
To treat stomach cramps, sores and wounds, tuberculosis, and colds and coughs, Native American cultures use Wild Cherry. Cherry is a common ingredient found in cough drops- a synthetic pharmaceutical. All pharmaceuticals contain ingredients that are derived from nature, and many of the ingredients were originated in Native American cultures. The OAM supported this viewpoint when they commented that "Well into the 20th century much of the pharmacopoeia of scientific medicine was derived from the herbal lore of the native peoples" (183).
If so many ingredients in pharmaceuticals contain herbs originated in Native American culture, then why does the medical society denounce the Native American healing methods?
Most Americans have forgotten or have never learned that our medical society originated from Native American cultures. Our society has neglected the fact that over- the- counter drugs and prescription drugs are derived from Native American herbs. In the past doctors used to rely on Native American herbal resources such as leaves, berries, trees, roots, twigs, barks, and flowers to treat many illnesses (OAM 185). It was not until medical technology was advancing and becoming popular that people began to lose touch with their herbal heritage.
Before medical technology was available, doctors relied on Native American knowledge of nature to heal illnesses. When medical technology became available, people started to depend heavily on the technology and seemed to have forgotten about their roots (http://keller.clarke.edu/~english/honors/jen/index.html#roots) in Native American cultures. People began to focus more on advancing technology and to try improving the ways that medicine works, that they forgot to thank the people who gave them their beginning knowledge: the Native American Indians.
When discussing the differences in medical values between the Western medical society and the Native American Indians, Candance Croft, a Psychology professor at Clarke College, pointed out that Native Americans feel that if you believe a certain remedy will work, then you will see it working. Western medicine say that in order to believe a certain remedy works, they must first see it working (personal interview). Croft went on further to note that the medical society's focus is on "curing" people while the Native American's focus on "healing" people. When Native American medicine men and women are healing people, they are not only treating the illness such as a sore throat, for example, but they are also healing the whole body. Native Americans believe that the only way a person can be healed is if they can rid the body of the evil that has fallen upon it. Paula Gunn Allen states that "Healers...must know the spiritual causes of diseases, the spiritual condition of patients, and the spirit that informs each plant and animal entity they use in treatment" (12). Healers must also know the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental state of the patients as well (12). Gunn went on further to point out that "Native healers don't apply the same medication or process to the same physical symptoms in different patients because they treat entire entities, whole persons, not symptoms" (12). At the other extreme, the medical society uses identical treatment techniques and medications on patients who share similar symptoms. Furthermore, the medical society has far more advanced technology and medications to help them treat patients. Native American healers use knowledge, nature, and prayer to heal their patients.
Both Native American Indians and the medical society have similar types of medicine, the two just use them in contrasting ways. The medical profession uses strong manufactured pharmaceuticals while Native healers present their herbs in the form of food to be eaten, teas, and poultices. Having specifically calculated pharmaceuticals makes it easy for the medical society to scientifically explain their medicine. Native healers, on the other hand, use their own knowledge and their spiritual visions to formulate their mixtures. While the commercially manufactured pharmaceuticals are sometimes more powerful, the vast majority of herbal content is similar to the mixtures of Native healers. In addition, native healers rely on their spirtual beliefs as well as their own physical procedures to heal their patients. The medical society, on the other hand, holds an objective belief in medicine. Western medicine relies completely on physical methods when curing their patients.
Submitted by Andre Cramblit, IndigenousNewsNetwork@topica.com
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