More Indian Than Thou
By Lewis Mehl-Madrona
I told him I didn't know if I was enrolled and had never looked into the issue. It wasn't important to me. I didn't want any casino money. I didn't want healthcare through the Indian Health Service. I didn't want government handouts. My grandfather (who was enrolled and was 100% Cherokee, though not genetically related to me) insisted that we never take government handouts. He raised me to follow in his footsteps. He married my grandmother, who at least thought she was Cherokee, had always been told that, and had a mother, my great-grandmother, who knew she was Cherokee, spoke the language and was a healer.
I had to think through my responses to my critic and they seemed worthy of this week's column. First I thought, since I describe myself as one-quarter Cherokee, one-quarter Lakota, one-quarter Scottish, and one-quarter French Canadian, which is as accurate as I can state it, do I need government approval to say that? I don't know anyone who requests government approval and sanctions before they say they are part French, or part Spanish, or part English. If I wanted casino money, that would seem appropriate, but I don't.
I thought this over with a friend, who said, "Why in the world would anyone tell a young person in the 1950s that he was Cherokee if he wasn't, especially in Kentucky." She had a point. It wasn't romantic to be an "Indian" until the 1970s. I grew up in the 1950s being told that I was and believing I was Cherokee, practicing Cherokee ways with my grandfather and grandmother (who raised me), and sometimes present in the background for the healings my great-grandmother practiced in our home.
I appreciate someone who's willing to describe his heritage in detail. It gives the impression of honesty and openness.
Healing for dollars
But not everyone agrees. Some comments on this column posted on Facebook:
For a man who owes his livelihood to the NA culture and faith and who so freely and proudly announces his Native lineage, to then not even have it occur to him to 'look into the issue' of its own validity is a bit strange!
In his response to the man confronting him he adds more insult to injury by implying that Native Americans' sole purpose for needing their heritage officially recognised is to scrounge off the government and live through handouts. In effect he is raising himself above the average Native and attempting to pander to 'white' preconceptions and prejudice in order to appease his paying audience. 'I'm a Native American!', he cries...just NOT one the THEM!!!
We are what we are! The hell with these people!
Exactly if you need a paper to tell u who u are then there are a few other problems that need addressing first.
To be proud of your Native American Ancestry is one thing, to use it as part of a business promotional packet is something else-that's called EXPLOITATION.
To use it as part of your business promotional packet and then be setting yourself up as a "Native Healer" with traditional ceremonies, whether you charge or not, you need to be trained by a legit Medicine person, and even those medicine people do not allow our ceremonies to be EXPLOITED--you can not read a book, talk to a couple of elders and think now you can do ceremonies. This is a lifetime of learning. It is a humble way of life.
I have article and in the article he said he does not know if his an enrolled member of the eastern band of the Cherokee tribe. Well I can help him with that because I have a list of all the enrolled members, and his name is not on it!
But for Mehl-Madrona to say he doesn't know or care if he's an enrolled Cherokee seems a bit disingenuous. His answer should be "I'm not and it doesn't matter," not "I don't know but I'd like you to think I am."
As for his healing...if Mehl-Madrona is using and passing along legitimate ceremonies he learned from legitimate Cherokees, that's one thing. If he's peddling sweat lodges, vision quests, and other things that aren't part of the traditional Cherokee culture, that's something else.
For more on New Agers, see Indian Religion Isn't Shamanism and New Age Mystics, Healers, and Ceremonies.