People ask me if I'm a medicine man. Well, I'm not. Some of our Indian people were blessed with that power in the past. They're all gone now.
Today our people know only a little medicine. It's a special knowledge. You can't read it in books. You can't inherit it. It can't be bought or sold. This knowledge can come to you only through the Great Spirit.
We had great medicine men. I'll tell you about one I knew when I was a boy. This was in 1908 or 1910, and my family was traveling from Pine Ridge to a summer get-together in Santee, Nebraska. There were no cars in those days. We traveled in covered wagons, and it took twelve days to get to Santee. On the way it was so hot my little sister — she was about five — got sick. Sunstroke or something. By the time we reached Santee she was unconscious, almost dead. We set up a tipi and put her in there, out of the sun.
My mother saw our cousin Vine Deloria, and he took one look at my sister and said, "Let's go get Dr. Queen — he's here!"
So they ran and brought a man back to the tipi. He wore a suit and a necktie, not Indian dress. But he had black hair flowing down to his waist. He was a medicine man — one of the greatest.
He put his hand on my sister's body. "There's a cold spot inside her," he said. "It's cold and it's spreading. If we don't stop it, she'll die. We've got to heat her up from the inside. There's only one thing that will work."
He went out, and a little while later he came back with some roots, each about the size of my little finger. He scraped off the skin and then sliced them up.
"I need a wooden bowl," he said. "We got to boil these."
In those days, when you wanted to offer a spiritual thing you used a wooden bowl, you didn't use the White Man's bowl.
"How you going to boil them in a wooden bowl?" my mother asked him.
Dr. Queen said, "You'll see."
So she gave him a wooden bowl with water in it. Dr. Queen put the roots in the bowl. Then he put it on a table and he held his hands over the bowl like you hold your hands over a hot stove. A whole crowd of people gathered around, watching him, wondering how he was going to make that water boil.
"Watch!" he said.
They watched. Pretty soon, someone said, "Look! Look!"
The roots started moving in the water, just a little at first, then more and more, until it seemed as if they were alive, wriggling around in the water like snakes.
And then they started to smoke!
There was no fire, mind you, just the wooden bowl sitting on the table. But the roots began to smoke. Pretty soon the water started boiling and steaming like water boils on a stove. But there was no stove.
"That's God's power," Dr. Queen told us.
Then he gave the bowl to my mother. "Strain it," he said, "then give it to her. Put it to her mouth with a wooden spoon."
So my mother gave the hot broth to my sister, who was still asleep. She put it to her lips with a wooden spoon and then let her sleep some more.
That night they held prayers for my sister at seven o'clock. They sang spirit-songs. I went back and forth from the prayer meeting to the tipi to see how my sister was doing. I thought she was going to die. So did everybody.
An hour later we were all standing around her. We were all crying. And then she opened her eyes. She sat up like she was waking from a nap. She yawned. She rubbed her eyes.
She looked at all of us.
"Why is everyone crying?" she asked.
Dr. Queen said, "Give her some more broth to drink." So my mother gave her some more broth and she drank it.
"Now let her rest," Dr. Queen said.
So after that we went back to the meeting and sang more spirit-songs. That happened about nine o'clock.
And all of a sudden, here she comes! My little sister, she came right up and stood beside me where we were singing. She was smiling. I asked her it she was all right.
"There's nothing wrong with me," she said. And there wasn't. She didn't even remember being sick.
So that's the power of God's medicine.
FINDING YOUR POWER
Every person has to find their own power, because each of us possesses a certain power. Search yourself for that power, know how to reach it inside yourself, and then use that power in harmony with God — for good and not for evil.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing Inc. ©1994.
This article was excerpted from:
Noble Red Man
compiled and edited by Harvey Arden.
The grandson of both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, Mathew King was a respected Elder of the Lakota (Sioux) Nation. His personal history, vision, and insights are compiled in this volume, structured to read like a conversation between trusted friends. King speaks about Native American spirituality, personal responsibility to one's land and people, and the struggles of the Lakota people to coexist with white people.
About the Authors
Noble Red Man (Mathew King), longtime spokesman for the traditional chiefs of the Lakota (Sioux) nation, was one of the preeminent leaders of the great Indian Reawakening that began in the late 1960s. He gave political and spiritual counsel to the American Indian Movement (AIM) during and after the 1973 "Occupation" of Wounded Knee. He passed on to "the Great Reality" on March 18, 1989.
Harvey Arden, former National Geographic senior writer, compiled and edited Noble Red Man: Lakota Wisdomkeeper Mathew King. He was also co-author of Wisdomkeepers: Meetings with Native American Spiritual Elders where he first presented the words of Mathew King.