When discussing Native American healing, one must first get a basic understanding about the practitioners of its art and the understanding needed by patients.
Most tribal people have one or more types of healthcare specialists that frequently overlap. Some Native healers use herbs, some heal with songs, and some with spiritual rituals. A midwife or a medicine woman or man might focus on natural medicines such as herbs and hands-on techniques but also use prayer and ceremony. Shamans or holy people emphasize spiritual healing but are often also knowledgeable about natural medicines. Kahunas are people, usually of Hawaiian ancestry, who have developed a level of spirituality that joins them with many of the spirit powers allowing direct communication about the healing process.
To learn, people must be open to the ancient wisdom and understand it in the context of the entire Native American experience. It is not something to be trivialized by simply purchasing medicine objects and trying them out at home. As one Sioux leader said, “First they took our land, now they want our pipes … all the wannabees, these New Agers, come with their crystals and want to buy a medicine bag to carry them around in. If you want to learn our ways, come walk the red road with us, but be silent and listen.”
The Spiritual Foundation of Native American Medicine
Spirituality and medicine are inseparable in Native American tradition. Essentially no distinction is made between religious and medical practices. “Making medicine” is an important part of traditional life. It is how people give thanks to the Spirit who helps, guides, nourishes, and clothes them. Medicine is the constant pipeline to the Creator. In Native American tradition, making medicine is a process for achieving a variety of positive outcomes: a good hunt, plentiful crops, connecting with someone, healing someone, a successful birthing, and so on. Medicine is the way people keep their balance; it provides them with the opportunity to grow in new and healthier ways.
Native Americans believe in a singular living God, but also believe that same God may be contacted in many different ways. In Native languages, God is given such names as Great Spirit, Creator, Great Being, Great Mystery, Above Being, The One Who Oversees All Things, and He Who Gives Life. The missionaries mistakenly thought that Native American people worshiped trees, eagles, the Pipe, and many other things. What was misinterpreted was the use of these objects as gifts from the Creator, put here to help and to serve as conduits to greater understanding of the Creator’s ways. Using these gifts is one way to create an atmosphere conducive to addressing the Creator.
Gratitude is a central aspect of Native American culture. Every day is a spiritual, sacred day. One morning prayer, for example, is, “I thank You for another day. I ask that You give me the strength to walk worthily this day so that when I lie down at night I will not be ashamed.” Thanks are given to the Great Power who makes all things possible. People give thanks, not only for the good events but also for the bad things that happen throughout the day, because they believe that the more they show their appreciation, the more blessings they will receive.