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One Road, Many Branches

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One Road, Many Branches

This weeks' essay, in many ways, continues the thread I have been developing the last two weeks of relationships among Native North Americans and people from other ethnic groups. The topic was thrown at my feet when I found a strident protester for a benefit I was doing in a small town for the local Unitarian Church. He raised a hue and cry about my being a "New Age Indian, white shaman" and selling his culture for personal gain. We offered him an hour to present his point of view and invited him to come to the weekend workshop, but he didn't come. My last two essays were largely in response to his criticism.

Today, however, I want to raise a more affirmative topic that of unity. Perhaps because I'm sitting in the shade, in a moment of rest, on the second day of purification, for my first sundance of the season. I'm feeling more related to everything, including my critics, and am still hoping that they will read the book they are criticizing (just released, Healing the Mind through the Power of Story: the Promise of Narrative Psychiatry, Rochester, VT: Bear and Company).

In our evening discussions here at the sundance camp, we came to some conclusions about these inter-ethnic matters that are worthy of presenting. Prior to 1975, for instance, all Native American ceremony was illegal, so there was a necessary secrecy and exclusivity, lest one be arrested. I wrote in Coyote Medicine, about Father Stone, the local priest who attended my first sweat lodge ceremony (before 1975), who was ready to declare the ceremony a Roman Catholic rite if the police appeared. He actually brought his collar into the lodge to put on if required. After 1975 (1960 in Canada), with the passage of the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act, one can imagine that there remained a lot of anger. These were the heydey of the American Indian Movement and Indian political activism. Non-Indians weren't welcome, necessarily, at sun dance or other ceremonies. This led Manny Two Feathers, for example, to start his own "mixed-blood" sundance for non pure-bloods. Before he died, Manny wrote a wonderful book called The Road to the Sundance.

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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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