In her blog Daily Yonder, Mary Annette Pember, Ojibwe, describes the conversations between nine revered medicine men and the “embodiment of Western medicine,” Dr. Donald Lindberg, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, located in Bethesda, Maryland.
Her post “Two Healing Traditions Meet on the Plains” captures the American Indian vision concerning traditional healing and magnifies the tension between the Western and Native worldviews of medicine.
Pember writes, “Lindberg’s questions revealed the conviction and implied superiority of Western medicine. He asked how the men treated specific diseases and wondered if they went into trances when they conducted healings. The healers demurred at this direct line of questioning and instead spoke of the central role of prayer and humility in their work. They alluded to a power beyond words, the spiritual connection between humans and the earth. ‘We first ask permission from the Creator to heal people,’ said Albert Red Bear.”
The videotaped conversations between Lindberg and Red Bear, as well as eight other Indian medicine men, are part of the Library’s presentation of traditional Indian healing practices in a first-of-its-kind exhibition called “Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness.” The exhibit premiered with a blessing ceremony on October 5.
Through the meeting, Lindquist intended to bridge the understanding between mainstream medicine and Native healing. Lindberg admired the amount of time the medicine men spend with their patients and the close relationship they develop, unlike most mainstream physicians with their patients. “As long as it takes, maybe hours, maybe days. We share in their lives and really get to know them,” explained Laidman Fox Jr., Mni Wakan Dakota, medicine man and spiritual leader, of how long he will remain by a patient’s side.
“Our healing ways are not based on monetary gain. When people approach us for help, we have to go,” Rick Two Dogs, Oglala Lakota Wakan Iyeska (Interpreter of the Sacred), told the Library director.