In my kinship network, I have three women friends whose children are in the military. All the mothers are heartbroken. Each young person recognized that they had no other way to make a living, each one believes(d) they are protecting our country and all “good” people. All these mothers are of Native American descent.
At the end of September 2010, several of us introduced ReVisioning Medicine to Minnesota. The local man who offered himself as the subject of “Indigenous Grand Rounds” – where all present, medical people and medicine people, search out the story of the illness and the path of recovery for the individual and all beings – had been a soldier in Viet Nam. Within days of entering active service, he saw a huge Shell oil tank upriver when he was delivering arms and realized he had been betrayed by the US and the military. Thirty-five years later he is experiencing symptoms of Agent Orange poisoning, but he can’t get the medical help he needs. When he returned from Viet Nam, he learned the family secret – he is of Mohawk descent. At Indigenous Grand Rounds, the man’s stories of three trees became one Story: the dark corpses of trees in the defoliated jungles, the Sundance tree he slept under before he pierced, and a recent dream of a new relationship to a Tree of Life that described, or perhaps mandates, particular healing paths. It was as if the War was asking him to devote himself even further to the Red Path in order to heal War itself and also as a way of making amends for his participation in the war, though had been innocent, and had also been betrayed.
When flying back to Los Angeles, our airplane had been locked down for take-off, when a water leak was discovered in one of the bathrooms. Repair took just enough time for my seatmate to make his connection. Settling in, he looked at me hard and said, “You’re Native American. I can always tell. Me too,” he turned and smiled. “Look at my cheek bones.”
(I also smiled, but internally, marveling that spiritual connections and dream ancestry can appear to manifest in features and bone structure.)
“Supposedly all the Susquehanna Indians were murdered in the Lancaster massacre, but they were taken in by the Amish and the Mennonites as farm hands and their identity suppressed. So my history was a secret until recently. But all our family portraits show our true identity,” he said. “When I was in the marines in Vietnam, I could smell every being in the jungle. I had that extreme sensitivity to the land.” He paused, searched my face and took a chance, “The wars are entirely wrong,” he asserted. “Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.” For the duration of the plane ride, lamented DU and Agent Orange together.
“I stayed in the military to work from the inside,” he confided. “If you want to make a difference, you have to respect everyone’s culture and bring all the tribes together to work collaboratively.” We entered that rare and precious exchange that sometimes happens between strangers, though I believe I will see this man again at Daré or Fire/Water Circles to Heal War, in time.
On our return from Minnesota, we learned that another friend had been arrested for being ‘indigent’ by which the police officer really meant ‘indigenous’.
ReVisioning Medicine is collaborative medicine that takes the Hippocratic oath very seriously, so that healing does no harm to the patient, the community or the environment. Story expands the boundaries of what must be considered when offering medicine. It takes a while to be able to give a Story the same respect as a medical chart, or to consider a dream with the seriousness that symptoms and protocols demand. The Story that develops of and around the illness can direct us to the healing paths that will serve us and all our relations. Working together as peers, doctors, healers, physicians and shamans can develop a medicine practice that is simultaneously healing for the individual, the community, all beings and the earth.
Healing Stories ask us to seek out and make the connections. The medical doctors at ReVisioning Medicine did preliminary research on Agent Orange. It seems that an accidental and prohibited component of Agent Orange attacks the mitochondria that, in turn, becomes cancer-causing agents. The mitochondria provide energy for the cell. But though they are in every one of our cells, they are not of us. They are distinct. We might say they are old ancestors. Healing from Agent Orange, healing the effects of Agent Orange, call us to heal the ancestors, to engage in parallel healing processes to undo the damage that occurs when the ancestors are attacked. Medical people and medicine people have to partner for such a healing event to manifest fully.
We are being called to a non-linear healing standard – one that is inclusive, round, circular and global – a medicine wheel: Add to the criterion of “cause and effect” the axis of “All my relations” and “Unto the seventh generation.” Then true healing becomes possible.