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Articles    H4'ed 6/30/10

More on the Politics of Indian Identity

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If I wanted to make money, I'd have kept quiet about where I learned what I learned and called it Coyote Bodywork and claimed that it came to me in a vision. I'd have trademarked it and would have established a certirficate program similar to what is offered for Rolfing, Alexander technique, Feldenkrais technique, Tragering, etc. So can one such as myself claim to teach Cherokee bodywork? I think so, with the proviso, that I state that I am teaching what I learned, and that it might not generalize to all forms of touch healing done by all Cherokee. I am welcoming anyone with any familiarty with any indigenous bodywork to contact us through Coyote Institute and to record what they know so that we can preserve and study it. Hands on healing was prominent throughout North America, and now, so little persists. I suspect that Christianity played a strong role in this, for many Christian sects do not allow hand-on, manipulative therapies.

I did note that at least one other First Nations person (Cree from Canada) is teaching "Native American bodywork", though with her name attached as the XXXXXx method.

My other reflection of the week is to ponder the desire for isolationism that I encountered among some of my critics. They wanted Indian things to remain with Indians and not be shared with the larger population. They wanted to control who could access things Indian. This is one perspective. His Crazy Horse, the Lakota prophet and seer, had a different perspective. He predicted that the children of the conquerers, in seven generations, would come to learn about healing and sustainability from the Lakota. In his vision, huge birds flew across the sky bringing young people to learn. He saw people inside many holes along the sides of these birds. He also saw huge bugs on wheels traveling at great speeds across gray ribbons stretching across the prairie. These bugs also had windows through which he could see many young people. Seven generations is now, and, to the discomfort of some Native people, the prophecy of His Crazy Horse is coming true. People of all ethnicities, and not just Native, are asking to learn the teachings and participate in the ceremonies. Some see this as the fulfillment of prophecy and think it's good. Others disagree.

My own belief is that human survival requires everyone's cooperation in the present time. Indigenous cultures hold wisdom about sustainability, healing, and survival, which everyone needs. My belief is that the "real Indians", however they define themselves, should step up to the plate and teach all who want to learn. I know this is a controversial stance, but I believe that the best way to prevent the "wannabees" and those who would take advantage of Native culture for personal profit, from doing so, is for those who consider themselves authentic and genuine, to teach and to take a prominent position of authority. People are not stupid and can recognize the wheat amidst the chaff. The role for those who are unauthentic and ungenuine would disappear if the authentic and genuine took the call to teach everyone. Quality would be noticed and appreciated.

My own desire is to bring indigenous wisdom into health care. I want to re-invent psychology and psychiatry into what indigenous people would have created had there been no European influence. Of course, this is an impossible project, since we have all been influenced by all the stories we have heard about mind and mental health. What appeals to me, and what I will write about in coming weeks, are the concepts of relational mind, the importance of community, and the larger group as being the essential element in reducing suffering moreso than the indvidual. We can run with these concepts and revolutionize the practice of psychology and psychiatry. I credit indigenous elders for teaching me these ideas, though I note that similar ideas emerged in Russia after the fall of the Czar, with Mikhael Bakhtin, Volosinov, and Lev Vygotsky. The Russians, however, have often had a transcendental, almost indigenous perspective.

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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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