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Native Healing - The Cherokee Way
The scent of atsin (cedar) is rich in the air. A soft song accompanied by a small gourd rattle - a gantsedi is being sung by didanawisgi - a medicine man. He kneels over his patient, lays down his rattle and gives the patient a sip of a potion he has prepared from certain plants and herbs known to have a healing for this sickness.
You might think this is a scene from years ago but it isn’t. This scene with slight modifications due to tribal traditions and ceremonies is being performed for patients all over the country. Why? Simply because it works. Here the goal is to first help the patient recover - to cure the sickness - to help the patient find his or her balance - the harmony of our living. The ceremony is as important as the potion or salve made from the plants or herbs. This is what is now known as holistic healing - a healing of the complete person.
She was only 19 and the rare soft part sarcoma, which attacks soft tissue, had spread and formed 50 or 60 lesions in her lungs. The lump on her left thigh, which she first thought could be an injury from soccer or cheerleading, was diagnosed as an incurable form of cancer. She had her thigh tumor removed and underwent six weeks of radiation therapy on her leg. The doctors said it was likely too late to treat her lungs. They told her she could die within months and probably not live to 30.
Nothing conventional could treat her lung lesions. So she looked for alternatives. A co-worker at Chili’s told her about an all-night Native American healing ceremony near by in Coquille, Ore. She decided to give it a try. “Basically, we sat up for 12 hours singing with a drum and rattle,” she said. “It was the most incredible experience I have ever felt in my entire life.”
When she underwent hospital tests two months later, all but a few lung lesions had disappeared. Her condition had stabilized. She is now 21.
What happened to her? What happened to stop the cancerous growths? Her doctor doesn’t know. As he says, “only a few dozen people in the country develop the soft part sarcoma each year. Improving from an advanced stage of the disease in this way is nothing short of remarkable.” He says, “It is very, very, very, very unusual. Extremely unusual.”
And so the scientists and doctors retire to their laboratories and begin to search for a pill or chemical to cure the illness. Modern medicine seemingly is focused on the chemical elements that can be recreated in a laboratory and fed to the patient. Unfortunately, this approach usually results in many side effects and therefore the need for more pills or treatments. What’s wrong with this picture? Where is the concern for the patient’s balance or harmony? Where is the ceremony? Where is the understanding of the power of our immune system that is controlled by our minds, by what we think? Where is the complete healing?
The reason is simply in today’s practice of medicine there is more money to be made by not worrying about things like patient’s balance or harmony. In today’s world of medicine, there are, like everywhere else, good doctors and bad doctors, but both are being taught in the same schools. Schools that up until recently taught medical students to stay detached from their patients - not to get too personally involved. The focus here was on teaching a “cure-based system.” To get too involved meant that the doctor would be spending too much time with his or her patients and therefore couldn’t see as many patients per day or perform as many surgeries. After all, there is just so much time in a day and the doctor has to meet his or her financial obligations, have a good life-style for the family, and maintain status in the community. Doesn’t he or she? Seeing as many patients as possible in a day is good for business. It’s the only way it can be done. But, here again, where’s the healing for the patient? What is the goal? To make money or heal patients? What happened to the Hippocratic Oath?
But, as with many things of nature, there are changes in the wind - changes that are forcing the medical profession to take another look at how they practice medicine. In recent years there has been a surge of interest and demand for a better health regime. People have begun to ask why is it that therapies and treatments from traditional cultures for chronic medical conditions have responded favorably while conventional therapeutic treatments have resulted in failures and years of poor health? The success, if you want to look at it that way, has been the profits of the drug cartel - the people who make the pills and medicines.
The public demand we are now seeing for Native American and alternative medicines have resulted in the creations of Centers for the Evaluation and study of Alternative Medicine in such prestigious schools as Harvard University, the University of Arizona and many other higher science institutions. As these studies have proven, native healing works. These studies have helped a society so brain-washed as to accept only that that has been proven by science. With native healing, results are more important than why a treatment works. It seems that today’s pharmaceutical industry is more interested in “controlling” a disease than “curing” it.
Unknown to most of today’s society, medical publishers brought out a series of books on Indian medicine early in the nineteenth century. The first was The Indian Doctor’s Dispensatory in 1813, followed by The Indian Guide to Health in 1836 and The North American Indian Doctor or Nature’s Method of Curing and Preventing Disease According to the Indians in 1838. The United States Pharmacopoeia, which first appeared in 1820, listed over two hundred drugs originated by Indians.
Then as American medicine became established and regulated by universities, hospitals, and medical schools and institutions, the Indian healer was ignored, pushed aside. During this time, “Medicine Shows” were a popular form of entertainment since they combined humor, tricks of daring and touted elixirs containing alcohol, opium, or cocaine added to the original, but watered-down Indian medicines. Increasingly, Indian medicine became more associated with shams and quackery.
At the same time, the Wild West Shows helped create a new image of the Indian as a daring and savage fighter. This was especially true of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1883 in which the Indians were presented not as healers, but as expert horsemen and fierce fighters to excite and please the audience. The Indian as warrior replaced the Indian as healer.
It didn’t take long for the Indian cures and medicines to encircle the world and become fully integrated into cultures on every continent. The medicines became so taken for granted that it was easy to forget they had not always been there and that they had not been discovered or invented by Old World doctors, pharmacists, and chemists. Many became “old wife’s tales” and were discounted.
Health and healing are two of the most important concerns of most of society, especially among American Indians. Common traditions may vary from tribe to tribe, but the use of herbal medicines remains more or less uniform among Indian healers. The use of herbal medicine requires an intricate knowledge of the different herbs and their uses for treatment for such simple matters as the common cold to the killer diseases and emergencies. Years of “trial and error” have proven these treatments as effective. A treatment consisting of only a few herbs, a plant or any combination, but also including a ceremony - a healing song perhaps and the use of sage or cedar smoke. Belief in the ceremony - that the healing will take place is as important as the plants or herbs.
A common thread woven through all Native American remedies is the idea of “wellness” a term recently picked up by some in the medical profession. A state of “wellness” is described as “harmony between the mind, body and spirit.” The Cherokee word “tohi” - health - is the same as the word for peace. You’re in good health when your body is a peace. The “medicine circle” has no beginning and no end and therefore represents a concept of “harmonious unity.”
Cherokee medicine is a prevention-based system that incorporates the whole person quite opposite the cure-based system, which focuses on the disease. It is the belief among American Indian “doctors” that to achieve wellness we must have a strong connection to all things natural and both create and receive harmony not only within ourselves, but also in all our relationships. Once harmony is restored, illness and other health distortions simply disappear. To some, this would be a “cure.” In the Cherokee tradition, this is good health - the way it should be.
In the Cherokee tradition, as with other Indian tribes, other medicine people teach medicine people. They traditionally pass down their “medicine” to the person or persons chosen by them to continue the healing practices. Medicinal formulae, written in aged journals or told in old stories, are given in this way as it has been for generations. Chief Charles Layton Rogers is such a “medicine person.” He is also the Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico and the great great grandson of a Cherokee medicine man. That grandfather handed down his knowledge, ideologies and procedures to his daughter, who passed it onto her son, Dr. Rogers grandfather, who then bestowed this storehouse of knowledge to Dr. Rogers.
Dr. Rogers is a licensed Medical Doctor specializing in oncology (cancer) and psychiatry. He continued his healing education with herbs and plants by studying their usage in North American, Belize, Mexico, the Middle East, and Europe, all the way to China with its ancient and modern medical systems. He reads voraciously, devouring everything he can find on a subject. He is a Cherokee Didanawisgi (medicine man) in the truest sense. He adheres to the belief that Indian medicine is a practice that refers to the historical collection of information and treatment modalities of many different Indian tribes collected over the past 1000 years.
There is a legend among the Cherokee that tell of the origin of medicine. It tells how the animals and birds met in council to decide what to do about the encroachment of man upon their world and how carelessly he was treating them. One by one they listed ailments and maladies that would afflict the humans. Had they succeeded, humans would surely have disappeared by now. But nearby, listening to the council were the plants and herbs and, not being troubled by the humans, they agreed to supply a remedy for each and every one of the diseases the animals wanted to thrust upon humankind.
Indians have known for a long time that all the cures were in the plants and herbs. The Indians who met the Europeans shared their healing knowledge and would have shared more, had the people only asked. But these newcomers to America thought they knew more and didn’t ask.
Much of the existing Cherokee knowledge of medicine was in use when Europeans first visited this land more than 500 years ago and it is believed by many historians to have been in actual use for several thousand years.
There is no book of standardization for the practice of American Indian medicine. This doesn’t indicate a weakness; rather it demonstrates its great strength in its respect for each individual need. Each patient is treated separately and required formulae are designed based on a particular situation which is always different, however subtle, with each person.
Today American Indian medicine is used effectively by an ever-growing native and non-native population. Through decades of hard work, Dr. Rogers has made his clinic the vanguard for treating and curing patients who the medical profession has given up on. Dr. Rogers and his healing staff and facility are available to native and non-native people alike. His clinic serves those who are searching for ancient health knowledge and those who facing threatening illnesses.
Below you will find more information about Dr. Rogers, Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico. Dr. Rogers has become a Doctor of Hope to many people over the years and is known affectionately as Dr. Cherokee - a warrior fighting disease and health related adversities.
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