Thursday, January 26, 2012

To Pay Money to a Medicine Man/Woman

There are groups of Native people out there that are working hard to protect the integrity of Native Culture. They watch out for and expose individuals that are misrepresenting Native identity/spirituality/arts and life. I wrote a little about this a while back.
But I am not going to cover that part today. I am going to talk about the commercial gain or aspect of being a Medicine Person. Remember a while back this "guru", James Arthur Ray got paid a lot of money to do some Medicine Man type stuff. He didn't claim to be Indian but he did appropriate stuff from Native culture (and other people as well). In the end what he did was sad; three people died because of him. There are people out there that will charge you money for some type of good feeling adventure. This was one of them. People paid huge, HUGE money, to this fellow. Had it not been for his greed, packing so much people into a big hot canvas and plastic covered structure, he most likely would be still doing his stuff today. He was a big name guru and no one questioned him. That is why there are people out there like:
The Plastic Medicine People Circle
. Native Religions and plastic medicine men.
Ward Churchill
I am not a mascot These people are out there watching for money gurus and other money hucksters.

However, what of the genuine Gurus?(I use this term jokingly and mean no offense to gifted people) I mean the Gifted Ones that are out there really helping people, the Elders, the Teachers, the Medicine people. Do we question them, their gifts, their integrity, if they are getting paid?

I know it is a slippery slope of contamination when the money factor is brought into the equation. People will turn it into another organized religious factory. That is the fear that people may have if money is brought into the mix. That the Traditions will be corrupted. Someone will ask if presenting tobacco is enough? Enough compensation? Tobacco is sacred medicine and that should be all the Gifted One needs to help. Right? People will tell you to stay away from someone who asks for a donation, a gift or money for their services. I get that. Commercialization of the Gift that the Creator gave someone (the one who can heal people). People don't want Traditional Medicine to become like a pharmacy/drugstore/Shoppers Drug Mart/Rexall.

For me that is not the thing I am talking about. I know that Tobacco is sacred and that presenting Tobacco is a time honoured act. The person who accepts the tobacco does his/her deed out of a tradition of honouring that tobacco gift. That is an awesome tradition and we should continue. But, lets put some context here. Way back when, there was no 7/11 or Macs store around the corner for you to walk in and drop your money and get tobacco. To acquire tobacco and other medicines, it took effort, real effort. So that tobacco had (along with it's Sacred worth) substance to it. Today, that effort is no longer there. Even some aspect of the sacredness is gone. I mean really, if you really respect tobacco would you be smoking a pack and day and just throwing the butts everywhere? It has become a commodity, like a pack of gum. Tobacco has always been a commodity for Native people, but it had more weight to it's worth. Its value was not measured by how much a pack of cigarettes cost. it was a valuable trade good. So if you really want to honour someone with tobacco, put some weight behind it.

Traditional people will always accept tobacco for working the Creators will, that is because they are not working for the money. They are working for the Creator. But if you have something to offer them, do that as well.

I think the weight of what they do, should be worth something. If it offends you to pay for a Traditional Medicines' gifts, than don't pay them. But don't make a mockery of the Traditions by just giving a cigarette from your open pack.

In the end it comes down to the individual, How much do you feel an Elder/Teacher/Medicine person's efforts are worth? And what it is you are seeking from that Elder/Teacher and Medicine person. Is it worth it for you to offer something?

You know that in Canada, that non-insured benefits that Indians claim, will pay for travel to see a Medicine person. But the insurance will not cover the cost of the Medicine man. You know his/her Pay for services. It is not because the Medicine man/woman is not as good as a western doctor, but it has to do with liability. If the non-insurance pays for the services and something goes wrong than the non-insurance agent might be liable as well. At least that is what I think. Maybe I am wrong and they are just following Native tradition (but I doubt that the government follows Native traditions).

That is the thing I think people have it wrong, even our own people. There is the belief that there was no commerce way back when. When in fact that is not true. Commerce existed, as well other aspects that you would find in any society. We were not without trade/laws/family/laws/education/roles/responsibilities and other social networks and norms.

So I hope that the next time you seek out a Helper/Teacher/Medicine person that you are able to offer them some meaningful gift. It is just right to do that.

There are people who will always tell you anyway if someone is not doing right or proper. The Native community talks to each other.


  1. Thank You for bringing this topic. Again-I agree with You.My grandmother told me that gifts from Creator are not human property and no human has right to sell the sacred. I do believe that these with genuine gifts won’t ever dare to turn their mission into a business. It doesn’t mean that they should be taken for granted or that Creator’s gifts should be taken without due respect .It is up to the community to take care of our wise Elders and to make sure they do not miss on anything. People from my family often say that in the past folks would fight for the honour of taking a lonely Elder home. It was regarded as a blessing and the gift of wisdom was regarded as more precious than gold.

  2. The creators law is to care for life--the natural law is to get healing and the tribal law is to pay for that healing---nothing is free--you have to pay to pick medicines

  3. Great article. Traditionally tobacco was given as a gift for the medicine man. However, additionally, the whole community collectively took care of ALL the needs of the medicine man in order than he can practice his medicine gifts and serve the his people. Today, Keepers of Knowledge / Medicine Men are expected to work for free by so many modern people. This does not reflect our tradition of supporting the medicine men/women. I know many medicine men, hereditary medicine people in families, who have the abiltity to cure late stage cancer, mental health issues, TB and many other things. However, they cannot afford to work for the people for free...and are expected to keep secret formula's... so they have other jobs which pay them. Hence, access to First Nations Medicine becomes thwarted. If If we were expected to always keep a mental map of all the hundreds of plants in a bio-region, find rare ones, harvest them all at the right times and treat everyone for free... would most people be able or willing to do this even if they wanted to? I think not. Your article is great. Energy must be acknowledged and fairly traded for the health and wellness of all. When the treaties were signed there was a clause that first nations could harvest but not sell... the intent was that it would protect us to ALL always be self-sustaining. However, combined with unjust social law, it had the opposite affect; marginalizing our people into dependance and poverty.

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