June 16, 2010

Mehl-Madrona vs. Facebook critics

Lewis Mehl-Madrona came under fire recently for being a New Ager rather than a genuine Indian. Here's the story on him:

Lewis Mehl-MadronaLewis E. Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD, (born January 26, 1954, Berea Kentucky, USA) is the author of the "Coyote" Trilogy. His work discusses healing practices from Lakota, Cherokee and Cree traditions, and how they intersect with conventional medicine (via a social constructionist model). Mehl-Madrona has been writing about the use of imagery and narrative in healing since the 1980s. Mehl-Madrona is certified in psychiatry, geriatrics and family medicine.On Facebook several people were asking, "Who is this guy? Is he really an Indian?" Mehl-Madrona wrote the following in response:

More Indian Than Thou

By Lewis Mehl-MadronaThis weekend I was confronted by a man through facebook demanding that I prove my Native American heritage. He said I shouldn't say I have Native American heritage unless I am enrolled in a tribe.

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.
This is a good answer as far as it goes. It's a lot better than all the "Native" actors who refuse to talk about their background.

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:I'm going to be honest here, claiming that someone's not Native if you don't have papers is wrong. A lot of names were changed, a lot of people left the trails, and a lot of people weren't on DAWES rolls, so whoever messaged him really did a disservice to the rest of us who really are trying to correct his problems.

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!
Comment:  I don't know who's right here. And I'm not sure anyone else does either.

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.


Anonymous said...

The guy who who originally wrote the MITT article, shares the exact same misconceptions about Natives that the average White nudniks have of Natives.

First, its all hyperbole to claim that all members of the federally enrolled tribe recieves any "government handouts" or recieve "casino money". So the "Mehl-Madrona" guy is woefully ignorant about this as the next typical tea pottier. Albeit, I respect that he learned his Cherokee ways, and that is good for him I supposed. But his logical beliefs about Natives in general is quite laughable. Probably another David Yeagley in the making.


m. said...

He's not "half Native", he's a white and it shows in both his face and answer. How could one "not know" if they're enrolled and speak of "handouts" unless they're a wannabe? Holy cow what a liar...

m. said...

Also, hahaha, one need not be enrolled and collect "handouts" (still waiting for mine!) to still have proof that they're an Indian. If he was really Cherokee (LOL and "1/4 Lakota"), he would be able to point to his relatives as proof. But oh, wait, he's not Indian because neither are they. 'Cept for his "100% Cherokee" grandfather who isn't even "gentically related". LOL, too much. The wannabes - they all talk the same!

Casting No Stones said...

There is plenty of blame and disingenuity to go around. There are full blooded natives around the country that are enrolled but disenfranchised from said tribe, but there are also full bloods that control the enrollment offices across the country and do not allow new and legitimate tribal members into their own tribe.

I also do not believe that an enrollment card makes one native. There are elders that restrict and discriminate against their own grandchildren simply because they are not enrolled into that elders tribe.

Madrona was raised with misconceptions about being native, but who isn't? There is enough ignorance to go around from all sides.

Cherokees should not be singled out as being mixed bloods or half white. Almost every tribe in America has either mixed races into that tribe or, an intertribal marriage that produces 4 tribes in one grandchild.

I am also very reluctant to believe there are medicine persons that can be trusted or legit to begin with since medicine can be used for both good and bad intentions.

Anonymous said...

People are who and what they say they are, no one has a right to say otherwise. Racism is not Tradition...it was taught by European settlers.