A couple of days ago northierthanthou wrote a lengthy post about an experience he had while teaching on the Navajo reservation. On a snowy winter’s night he found himself with an unexpected house guest, a Caucasian man with untreatable prostate cancer who was seeking a Medicine Man to perform a sing for him. Remembering that experience set off a riff of thoughts about healing, spiritual questing, and cultural appropriation. The post is well worthy of a thorough read, and I originally reblogged it. Then I realized I need to provide some CONTEXT for doing so on this blog.
The author, Dan Wall, wrote, in small part:
But Spiritual appropriation isn’t just limited to Native American traditions. I recall with great pleasure reading Karma Cola long before I headed out to the rez. Gita Mehta’s brutal observations on the antics of spiritual tourists in India touch upon issues quite familiar to those observing how Native traditions fare in New Age circles. Many of the characters she describes in Karma Cola appear quite as hapless as my guest sitting there reading tarot cards on his way to find a Medicine Man. Few seem quite so innocent or nearly as sympathetic.
Reading the post, I found myself resonating with the ill man, and with the author. I’ve had times of desperation and terror. I’ve participated in Native healing ceremonies for folks with possibly terminal illnesses. I’ve also been asked, and performed healings and ceremonies for people with cancer and other major illnesses. When doing so, I look to explaining the work in terms that do as little harm as possible to both Native and Non-native culture. Frequently though, the responsibilities that accompany ceremony are difficult to translate. Often, too, I find myself trying to strip away layers of misinformation and appropriation that inhibit understanding in the person requesting aid, and, all too often, myself. Those colonial misreadings and appropriations run deep! Working with feet in multiple cultures adds to the complexity, if not the confusion.
During my training I was often (and remain) more concerned about appropriation than were my teachers. Appropriation may strip ritual and ceremony of context, but not necessarily efficacy. There are many healers in the America who work from the Mestizo frame of reference, with feet in multiple cultural worlds. They follow the Mixed Blood tradition of making meaning from diverse teachings. Many are effective healers. Yet there are many charlatans as well. Dan’s thoughtful post is a very insightful look into this complex realm. I encourage you to take the time to read it in its entirety.
Do you have thoughts or experiences about the complex ground of healing and appropriation? Please share them with us!