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Exposing The Fake Medicine Men And Women

 

Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji 11/7/2005
© 2005, Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc

In the early 1990's I asked my staff writer at Indian Country Today, Avis Little Eagle, to write an investigative series on fake medicine men and women. She tackled what turned out to be a 10-part series with trepidation.

It seemed that everywhere we turned in those days, there was another catalog or news story featuring medicine men and women of dubious distinction. An eerie similarity arose in the backgrounds of many of these would be healers and spiritualists.

So many of these new age shaman made similar claims. They had been adopted by a medicine man (it was always a man and he was usually Lakota or Cherokee). They had learned all of the centuries old methods of healing and ministering by these traditional teachers and when they felt they were ready, they set out on their own to spread the good news of Indian medicine and healing.

In the many catalogs where their ads were placed most had assumed names they presumed to be Native American (Blue Dove, Swift Deer, etc.) and set up shop. They developed a system of monetary charges for sweat lodge ceremonies, vision quests and so on. Of course, every true Lakota and Cherokee knows that there are no charges for the services of the medicine people.

Most of the new age shaman were not Indian at all. When questioned about their roots by Little Eagle they became angry and defensive. Many proclaimed their rights to practice Indian medicine by virtue of their adoption by Lakota holy men. Many would not, or could not, reveal the names of their so-called mentors.

Others said, usually quite vehemently, that they never enrolled with an Indian tribe and never would because it was the government's way of keeping them down. They would say, I don't need a Bureau of Indian Affairs number to know who I am. Most didn 't understand or realize that it was an Indian tribe that considered who or who is not a tribal member not the BIA.

Little Eagle, who last month was elected vice president of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and who is the editor and publisher of the McLaughlin, SD, based Teton Times, a weekly newspaper that serves her tribe, began to grow more apprehensive as her weekly series progressed because she was now receiving outright threats.

One fake shaman, Harley Swift Deer Regan, became very vocal in his threats. He had just been featured in an HBO Special called Real Sex in which he allegedly revealed the sex secrets of the Cherokee people. Then Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, protested the lack of authenticity of this show to HBO executives demanding a retraction of the shows contents. Of course, that never happened.

Regan's phone calls to Little Eagle became more ominous. But he wasn't the only one. Some of the women shaman exposed in the investigative series by Little Eagle also went from a defensive position to an extremely offensive stance. They also threatened Avis with lawsuits and worse. Of course, as the editor of Indian Country Today, Avis came to me with all of the threats and I had to really encourage her not to give up on the series but instead to let me handle the threatened lawsuits.

You have to understand that some of the false shaman professed to have extraordinary powers. They attacked Avis with threats of a curse or they told her that they would put bad medicine on her and her family. A series of personal bad happenings to Avis totally unrelated to the series or to the shaman only served to increase the fear that was developing in her mind.

At last Avis started to write Part 10, the final issue of the series. It was a summation of all the nine other parts of the series and her conclusions. As I walked by to pat her on the back as she labored at that last part she had a look of great relief on her face. Her lunch hour came right in the middle of it so she cheerfully headed home to eat.

Not five minutes had passed since her departure when her computer monitor suddenly exploded in smoke and flames. Wow! All of the staff still in the office reacted in horror. I immediately told the crew to get her monitor out of there and replace it with an exact duplicate. Of course all of the memory was in the hard drive so nothing was lost and her computer was just sitting there ready for her to resume the article when she returned from lunch.

I swore my staff to secrecy and no one ever told Avis about the mysterious fire that erupted in her monitor. In fact, this is the first time I am revealing this because Avis did finish the 10-part series that day and breathed a sigh of relief. I'm afraid she would have reacted quite differently if she knew what had happened while she was at lunch.

A coincidence? One would suppose so, but no doubt those who delve into the dark regions of illicit shamanism do so for a reason. Evil can be manifested in many ways and in this day and age of modern technology; many of us do not understand the depths of spiritualism, real and imagined.

The series by Avis exposed many false shamans and she believes to this day that the new owners of Indian Country Today should retrieve her series from the dustbins of the newspaper morgue and re-publish them because there are still many false shamans out there.

(Tim Giago is the president of the Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc., and the publisher of Indian Education Today Magazine. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">Tim Giago or by writing him at 2050 W. Main St., Suite 5, Rapid City, SD)


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