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Real Shamans Deal in Physical Ills, Inner Peace


DENVER — American Indian medicine strives to treat a person's spirit as well as his physical problems to restore harmony.

"We have the belief that when you have an illness it is not only physical but also spiritual, and has a lot to do with your thinking," said Rick Two Dogs, a Lakota medicine man on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

"In Western medicine, if you have a pain in your stomach, they'll give you something for the pain but not go into what's behind causing the pain, the spiritual. If you dig deeper you will find the source.

"Our work is with the Great Spirit. I know in Western medicine a lot of times, if any, there is no prayer involved."

Thomas Banyacya Sr., 85, a spokesman for religious people on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, said most of his people's healers hold spiritual ceremonies.

"They have to know certain things and songs that go with this healing," Banyacya said. "There are herbs they use that could help people. Peyote is one of them. It's not a drug, but the white men call it that. Some of the herbs have the special gift to heal people."

Banyacya lives at Oraibi, which he said is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. It is near the Third Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona.

For the Navajo, "a lot of traditional medicine is creating a healthy mental acceptance of death," said Charles Cambridge, an anthropologist and a Navajo from the Folded Arms Clan.

"There are evil forces in the universe that go about wreaking havoc on the land and traditional people. A lot of what medicine people do is that they have to contend with the evilness out there.

"So the medicine man is extremely important for his community and tribe. He is a physician and, not unlike a priest, he represents the moral health of the community and tribe. He sets the standards of moral behavior" for his community.

Cambridge said the Navajos believe if a person is ill, there is disharmony.

"Traditional people always are concerned with harmony--the balance between good and evil, the relation of all parts of the universe, the relation of the gods and spirits, the animals and the rocks, how everything behaves in relationship to each other," Cambridge said.

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