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Articles    H2'ed 6/16/10

More Indian Than Thou

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The U.S. Congress introduced the blood quantum system in an act of Congress in 1904. The goal was to eliminate the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The belief was that Indians would go to residential schools and inter-marry with other tribes and non-Indians. Eventually, their percentage in their particularly tribe would drop below the cut-off and they could be eliminated from the tribal rolls. Teresa O'Nell, in Disciplined Hearts, tells the story of the enrolment of the Flathead people in 1904. Anyone living with the tribe was enroled regardless of their percentage" and defined as 100%. Many of those people weren't 100% Flathead by European genetic standards.

Thus, the whole notion of defining Indian identity by parentage and percentages is a European notion. So why should I succumb to a European idea that's been adopted by those who see themselves as one-up in the MITT competition.

So, what is my point? The message is more important than the person delivering the message. My message is simple: mainstream medicine and psychology can learn from indigenous thought, wisdom, and practice. We need indigenous concepts to make us more effective and viable. We need to learn from the principles behind what the Native people of North America teach. I don't think my heritage matters to this message, though it was my Indian identity that led me to this message in the first place, and it is the teachings of Native people that I am attempting to inject into the mainstream, crediting them as my source. My goal is to see more clinics like the Aboriginal Health Unit of the University of Manitoba, where clients are asked by the receptionist whether they wish to see the conventional physician or the traditional healer. A similar possibility exists at an Anishnabe clinic in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

I'm still pondering the question of enrollment. Growing up, I had relatives on the Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina. Today, most of the reservation is Baptist and not at all interested in the original Cherokee message on spiriuality, health, and disease.

Nevetheless, it would be nice to feel more of a sense of belonging. I don't know if a piece of paper would provide that. Somehow I doubt it. Belonging is a state of mind and not a certification.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)
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