Manataka American Indian Council








Honoring our Medicine People,

their Ancestors and Traditions

By Irma Nieves-West

Paiute Reservation, Bishop, CA



I would like share these words with you;


Integrity, what is the meaning of this word; in the dictionary the meaning of this word is as follows, the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standard.


Reciprocity, what is the meaning of this word; something done mutually or in return.


Honor, strong moral character or strength, and adherence to ethical principles

I state the words above because I have come across these words from many of my colleagues in the last few months.

This brings up the active conversation that our Medicine Men/Women, Healers and Spiritual Leaders within their community are not being respected or honor by their own or others outside their community. 


When we are on our spiritual path, we honor our beliefs and traditions and hold them with integrity.  The giving of our gifts, love, time and energy is called in some ways - giving of ourselves, for that is why we were chosen.


In the last 40 years that I have walked this path, I have seen many good spiritual leaders, healers, medicine men, priests, reverends, pastors, etc…come a long way through their path and have seen how greed, fame, power, and temptation have taken them off the path.  We are not perfect, we are only human and there are very few that hold their path steadfast.  When this happens, very few go back to the beginning and make their mistakes right and continue to have a fuller and much stronger spiritual life.


Greed is an overwhelming desire to have more of something such as money than is actually needed, and Fame, the condition of being very well known.


Well, one of the things that were constantly instilled and talked about during my training when I was a young child and still is talked about amongst our colleagues and our elders today is humility.


During my training as a child, the importance of humility was stressed and it continues to be of importance today among elders and colleagues.


I do not intend to offend anyone, but to share what my colleagues from South America, Canada and here in the United States are experiencing and what they are coming across when they are called to help others.


Society today wants to believe and many are looking for enlightenment, and to start their spiritual path, many have already and have spent numerous years and countless sacrifices to get where they are today. 


These people go through physical, mental, spiritual, and social sacrifices.  Many go through initiations, ceremonies, fasts, and alienation for a great period of time and ways to reach that humility, that stillness and wisdom that comes along with the teachings to be able to help others in their community or around the world.


So… when they are ask to help others, or join in a celebration or have them bless or do healings or pray for others, or come to give a talk on a specific subject or do a group session or share.  It is with integrity and honor that these individuals do this, and then there is the question of reciprocity.  Here lies the honor to the individual and the integrity to their teachings and their ancestors and sacrifices to make sure that this person(s) is well taken care of. 

There is the question of the accommodations, travel and the cost of this person’s time.  Many travel a long ways; many will be sharing their teachings of many years of learning and their wisdom to those that will be attending.  -These people share their energy that is so precious and that is so full of love and compassion, and that my friends is something to be honored.


Many will need monetary help in order for them to get back home, eat on the way and something left to take home to their families, church, temple, community, etc.


By reading this you may say, but this is part of what they should be doing, yes!  But in the old times and this is still practice by many of our Native people today.  If you wanted help in the old days, you went to these individuals and sought them out, or you went to the temple or to the church or to their homes or to their community.  You would never walk into their homes empty handed? Or would you?


So when you ask these individuals to come to you or to attend a conference, an event.  Honor the medicine, the beliefs, their teachings, their learning, their wisdom, their compassion, their person and with Integrity be honest with them and tell them what you can offer or what you cannot offer, but always have something to offer.  A place to rest, food, per diem, etc…..and if you have to give, then Reciprocity takes place. 


I spoke to a friend of mine here in the U.S.A and he had sent me a written message where someone had written another subject of a kind in that message it clearly stated that;  Healers of many disciplines including Reiki practitioners, Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, Ayurvedic Practitioners, Herbalists, Chiropractors, Nurses, Doctors, etc., all accept money for their services.  Is this wrong?  Absolutely not!  These and other healing methodologies rely on human knowledge and experience and are not necessarily spiritual in nature or include American Indian ways.  People who practice soul or power animal retrieval, divination or other forms of shamanic extraction often charge big fees for these services, but again they are not American Indian and it is none of our business if they charge money or not. 


I attended a gathering some months ago with some elders of different tribes and this was one of the subjects talked about. Again I heard from many in person, written, via email etc….” We do not sell our ceremonies, nor do we teach them, what we teach is a way to help others to start on the path of spirituality, of goodness, understanding and well-being.  We do not sell ourselves, but we teach when Creator/Spirit tells us to do so and in the process we see that society is hungry and that they want everything instantly”


One of the Elders said, to me, from South America, “In America, they have instant coffee, instant food, and people want to become instant Shamans, they go out for a week with a so-called medicine person, get a certificate and they truly believe they can do our Native and Indigenous ceremonies and learn a little bit and charge on our beliefs and traditions behalf.  They really don't understand that a child as young as 3 or 8 who was chosen by Spirit/Creator to do his work and that his/her life will never be like others and as this child grows she/he will have to make not only flesh, mental, emotional, society, but physical sacrifices in order to endure the teachings and strengthening of their work here on earth.


Here are some of things that my colleagues have come across :

I was called to do be a key speaker at a gathering, they wanted me to be there two days or three, I was to pay my way and make my own hotel accommodations, I then asked if they will be providing me with some kind of payment, since I had to travel eight hours to get there?  All I was asking was for gas money.  They said No!  I was to have the privilege to be amongst the best and that I was to make my connections there. I told them I was busy with some other things!  I felt insulted and asked myself where is integrity?


I was asked if I could be part of a women’s retreat and they asked if I could do some healings, maybe some 7 or so a day, and that they wanted me give a workshop on these two days.  I was to provide my own accommodations and travel arrangements and they would probably give me a donation of $150 for the entire retreat.   They couldn’t pay me since they were out of budget.  I couldn’t believe this!  I felt disrespected and wondered what people think these days?


I was asked to come for a healing and in the process one of the participants asked if I would put on a workshop.  I spent months preparing for the event, brought all the materials, and spent a great deal of my time preparing all the written material.  I was promised accommodations and travel, plus a workshop fee for each individual, not much to today's standards, because I have seen and know that some of our colleagues start their workshops at $200 & up.  I travel 8 hours to the event and only one person showed up.  I was not paid any gas money, no food was given and I had to turn back that same day, because since there was no one there, but one, they said it was not worth it?  Where is the honoring of the medicine person here and their sacrifices?

I got an email from a friend wanting me to attend an event and for me to set up a booth for two days and maybe do some healings – I was to pay $100 a day for this booth.  I felt greed, used and disrespect!  Where is the honoring of my ancestors?


I went to help an old medicine man and he needed his yard cleaned, myself and another person showed up and no one else in his community showed up.  I remember  there were lots of young men everywhere from the community.  What has happened to the respect, taking care and honoring our medicine people?? I felt ashamed and wondered where was the respect & integrity?


City folk and sometimes others within our community forget what a Medicine Man/Woman is and what they have had to go through to get to where they are today.  Some are born with beautiful gifts and these gifts are to help others, but along with that comes travel, the rest of the body, the food to nourish and make them strong, the donation that really should be considered what the healing is worth to you and your life or situation.


I have been privy to some of our Medicine people charging their own and other Natives a tremendous amount for a healing and when the person has said, I don’t have that kind of money, I have also seen the medicine person say, “Then I can’t help you.”


I myself have gone through many of these things and seen many of my Elders, healers and medicine people taken advantage of.


Know that when a medicine person is teaching, he/she is teaching from their spirit and many times they have been asked to teach, in order to share, with the public and help them understand what this path is like. 


Know that when they give up their time - it is precious energy that is being shared and many blessings come with it. 

I read something most recently and wholeheartedly agree with what it said.  “Our ceremonies are sacred, are teachings are sacred.  We do not own them.  The messages, visions, healings, insights, teachings and miracles given during ceremonies do not originate from the human psychic or even the human soul they come only by the grace of God/Spirit -- the Creator of All Things.  


One Elder from Arkansas said

“There is much to learn and much to teach about the Spiritual Way,   The depth and breadth of its wisdom has long been ignored and misunderstood by dominant society.  People hunger to connect with the simple, yet profound concepts of this way - which we believe will help humankind to ascend to a higher plain of knowing and survive as a species on Mother Earth.” 


One of the other Medicine people from New Mexico said;

"I honor the Elders that have taught me for over 35 years, starting from my grandmother from Boriquen, to my Nana from Lima, Peru, to my mentors from South America and my adoptive father of ten years, who was Chief of a Navajo Band, Santa Fe, New Mexico, my brothers and grandmothers for Central Mexico, and my numerous teachers of over 25 years, but mostly and foremost Spirit for being there at an very early age and holding in me in light, even when I went astray for a few years, because now of us are perfect, only Spirit, and making me aware and giving me all the blessings, for protecting me and giving me all the lessons that I have received over the years.  I honor my lineage, the lineage that has been past down to me, my teachings, my teachers, my mentors, God/Spirit/ and the Creators."


I wanted to share this with you, because if you are seriously on your path, and are looking to ascend/grow in a good way to be a  part of the collective realm of spiritually that Spirit/God/Creator holds ,  remember to always respect and honor The Spiritual Leaders, The Medicine Man/Woman, The Healers, The Facilitators that will teach you and guide you with Integrity and know that not all spiritual and medicine people are there for greed, fame or notoriety, but to help you with compassion, love and honor. 


~ Irma Nieves-West, Bishop, CA