March 15, 2013

Running Bear the medicine man

Medicine man Running Bear puts down his roots near Edinboro

By John DudleyThe Lakota medicine man Running Bear lives in a neatly kept home near the intersection of two country roads about five miles outside Edinboro.

An American-made car is parked in the driveway. Around back is the workshop where Running Bear crafts primitive, handmade recurve bows, baskets made of tree bark woven together with animal ligaments, and the dream catchers he sometimes sells at powwows.

Next to the home is a large, nearly finished storage building with a high false front he made to look like a saloon from an old Western film.

In his living room is a sofa built from hickory branches he cut from trees on the property surrounding his home. He made the kitchen cabinets out of pine.

On top of the refrigerator is an assortment of breakfast cereals, from Frosted Flakes to Cheerios. And at a table next to the refrigerator, Running Bear sits and tells a visitor about the time, growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in his native South Dakota, that an elderly Native American woman served him stew made with dog meat.

It is by choice that Running Bear--a 52-year-old self-employed carpenter, a member of the Lakota Nation and, by extension, not technically a full-fledged U.S. citizen--chooses to live in two worlds.

When he was young, an elder Lakota medicine man named Henry Crow Dog taught him that he would eventually need to make a decision about whether to pursue the life of a white man or a red man. Or he could learn to navigate both. As Henry Crow Dog put it, he could, upon reaching that fork in the river, "put one foot in each canoe, and bring them together."

And that's what Running Bear has done.

His wife, Lynn, is not Native American, nor are her sons, Anthony, 11, and Scott, 16. They attend public schools, and Scott is interested in computers and graphic design.

But they've also been taught to hunt in the primitive fashion Running Bear learned on the reservation, and he built them traditional Lakota teepees. And he has passed on to them the Lakota values of community and sharing.

That's why both boys join Running Bear in volunteering each week at the Edinboro Food Pantry. And they listen to him, dressed in one of the buckskin suits he stitched together and hand-tanned, talk about the importance of living in harmony with neighbors and nature.

"I was taught at a very young age that if you don't learn to embrace your past, you will have no future," said Running Bear, who sometimes wears T-shirts and bluejeans but prefers his native clothing.
Comment:  Several problems with this article:

1) The name "Running Bear" sounds stereotypical. It's the kind of name chosen by New Agers who want to emphasize their connection with "noble" nature.

If it is his real name, it probably should be Tom, Dick, or Harry Running Bear. Almost no one has one of these colorful "Indian names" without a first or "Christian" name.

2) Being a "medicine man" is a typical claim made by a New Ager or wannabe. If Running Bear is performing medicine rites, there's no evidence of it in the article. Making bows, baskets, and dreamcatchers isn't what a medicine man does.

3) Native clothing is t-shirts and jeans and other mainstream apparel. No one except a wannabe hobbyist wears buckskins in his daily life.

4) Dreamcatchers aren't a standard part of Lakota culture. They're mostly made for tourists who want a touchy-feely Indian experience. In other words, they're the kind of kitsch favored by New Agers and wannabes, again.

5) The "living in two worlds" concept is something that every Native person in the last 100 years has dealt with. There's nothing remarkable about it.

The article makes it sound as if Running Bear is doing something unusual or extraordinary. Not so. It's so commonplace that the article shouldn't have bothered mentioning it.

The "gee whiz" tone suggests that author Dudley has never met Indians and knows nothing about them. He should've researched the subject before writing about it. Or the newspaper should've assigned someone else to write it--someone who knows that "living in two worlds" is a tired old concept.

6) Technically, being an American Indian means Running Bear is a full-fledged U.S. citizen. The article is flat-out wrong on that point.

There's no evidence that Running Bear is fibbing about being an enrolled Lakota member, growing up on Pine Ridge, or being a medicine man. But there are a lot of red flags. If I were Dudley, I would've verified or at least questioned these claims. I wouldn't have swallowed them uncritically.

For more on the subject, see Wannabes Obscure Real Indians and New Agers Should Help Indians.

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