In traditional Native culture, Medicine refers to anything that will help a person feel more connected to and in harmony with the Creator, nature, and all life-forms. Specific practices varied among the many tribes that flourished on the North American continent before European arrival. One crucial theme or philosophy that was common among the tribes is that Medicine is based on the deep understanding that man is part of nature and health is a matter of balance.
Since then, scientists have concurred that the natural world thrives when its complex web of interrelationships is honored, nurtured and kept in harmony. Ancient Native wisdom recognized aspects of the natural world that cannot be detected by the human senses or by modern technology. Our ancestors were able to do this through direct experience and intuition by realizing that each human has an immeasurable inner life which powerfully influences well-being.
Rooted in this knowledge, our ancestors were able to discern that nature also includes unseen but compelling forces which must be respected and integrated in order to achieve true balance. This view was not a simple acceptance of what is, but rather a sophisticated and enlightened perspective of life.
The Medicine of our ancestors was holistic health care at its best. Western medicine is slow to conceptualize that imbalance on every level of life affects the whole. Thousands of years ago our People realized that disease is not defined by physical pathology, but viewed from an expanded context that includes body, mind, spirit, emotions, social group, and lifestyle.
Our ancestors’ original view of Medicine may seem ancient and inapplicable today, but we can treasure and uphold the teachings to assist us nonetheless. One key point to acknowledge is that Native Medicine must be embodied in a lifestyle that honors all creation. Health does not generally flourish in a body and mind filled with hate.
As a result of a culture lost, Native Medicine never developed as a formal body of knowledge with standard practices. Many sacred ways vanished and the People’s spirits have yet to recover. To establish harmony is the objective of Native healing.
Our ancestors practiced various forms of holistic health care such as body work, bone setting, midwifery, naturopathy, hydrotherapy, and botanical and nutritional medicine. We had no use for written language in ancient times and an undocumented living tradition can only survive through living practitioners. As entire tribes were exterminated during colonization, vast traditional knowledge was lost. Centuries later, in the aftermath of death and destruction, the dust has settled upon a People who rank at the bottom end of all demographic statistics within the borders of the mightiest nation in the world.
Let us take comfort and inspire motivation in one another by honoring the integrity and the teachings of our sacred heritage. Thankfully, our People are strong and there have been those who survived to protect our culture, our ancient Native wisdom traditions. Let us rediscover our Grandfathers’ understanding that there are endless ways to achieve personal balance, and that effective treatment is a blend of a skilled, compassionate healer and a patient with an open mind and heart.
“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” - Sun Bear, Chippewa Tribe