Elders, spiritual leaders and medicine men: I share their humble teachings
By Boye G. Ladd,
Editor's note: This article was first published in Windspeaker's Guide to Indian Country, June 1998.
On several occasions I have been asked and given tobacco to address and comment on issues related to Elders, spiritual leaders and medicine men. First of all, it is with the utmost respect for the true and sincere people that are indeed respected as Elders, spiritual leaders and medicine men, that I share their humble teachings.
Elders, traditionally, are held in high esteem for their knowledge and experience. As teachers to the young, they set an example of carrying on the traditions of respect, love, honesty and sharing. Their infinite wisdom is based upon a common sense approach to everyday life.
A dilemma that many young people encounter when searching out an Elder for guidance and direction is that they will base their choice on age rather than experience.
An individual living in the city or away from his people for most of his life may not be the best person to provide a young person with traditional knowledge. When a person looking for help gives tobacco and the person receiving the gift, rather than show ignorance, creates some made up story, then from that day forward the person or people looking for help will believe that story. Tradition has deep roots and can be based on rights or on years of service to the people.
Many times I have seen individuals "showing off" their Sundance scars, tobacco ties or amulets hanging around their necks—exposed. When a person carries protection and/or medicine, it should always be hidden and never be spoken about.
Spiritual leaders and medicine men should be considered in the same light. For the true and sincere, their reverence is based on humbleness, dedication and sacrifice. Anytime someone stands before you and claims to be a medicine man, do not believe him or anything he says, because he or she has desecrated their oath of humbleness. You will not find a true and sincere spiritual leader or medicine man teaching in a school or university, or seeking public attention.
It was said in the beginning that the Creator gave a certain uniqueness, power and protector of a certain medicine to each nation and tribe. Certain individuals, clans and societies were gifted with this special knowledge and, most importantly, given the right to use the medicine.
Be careful of false leaders and pseudo-medicine men that charge money for their services, especially of those that take money before the ceremony even starts. To all faiths throughout the world, including those that are Native, consider money as the 'root of all evil.'
Beware again of those that steal your women and daughters. Those that violate women in sweat lodges and during other sacred ceremonies should be prosecuted and ostracized. There are some that have even run off with their adopted daughters and have given them children. This violates and desecrates one of the most respected bonds of our people.
There have been times that I have been asked to help a family that got 'ripped off' for thousands of dollars from people declaring themselves as healers. Who do you blame? The so-called medicine man that cons the people or the people that were naive enough to believe in the lies?
Many people search the world for, or think they can buy, happiness, when it can be found in one word—acceptance. Acceptance of one's self spiritually, brings harmony and balance to one's everyday life. Balance is essential to life.
Learn from the teaching of our ancestors. The Elders, spiritual leaders and medicine men are human and charged with the responsibility of preserving those gifts that the Creator has given them.
It is difficult to try and answer many of questions concerning the Native way of life in one short article. The essence of Native spirituality comes from the heart and works for those that believe. One piece of advice my late uncle would repeat every time I left home, was: "Never try to be something you're not..."