The effects of our changing Earth and the climate changes that are happening worldwide has placed all indigenous people; the world over, among those most at risk of losing their traditional ways of life, and Medicine men and Women are particularly vulnerable to extinction. Climate change like melting permafrost and rising sea levels is threatening most Native Peoples’ access to traditional foods and adequate water which threatens their traditional ways of life, as well as detrimentally affects the health of Native Americans as a people. Most peoples’ immediate reaction to such threats would be to migrate or resettle in a new location or better climate, but leaving traditional land is not a choice for many Native Americans due to their deep connection with their land and environment; one that makes even simple hunting and gathering activities more about religion and worship of the Earth as ways of life than simply methods of survival.
The climate change effect on the Native American Medicine People has multiple facets to consider as threats to their cultural practice and way of life. The most obvious role climate change plays in these threats is the limited access to traditional medicines due to reservation boundaries. The loss of culture and tradition due to relocation is also a consideration in the decline of traditional healers who know where to get the herbs, roots and flowers needed to heal different ailments of their people, but are reluctant to share their knowledge to keep the plants from being over-harvested and their practices corrupted by modern practices, progress and science that has displaced the need for traditional knowledge.
The knowledge, traditions and practices of the Native American Medicine Men and Women are facing obliteration largely due to the combined assaults of climate change, cultural suppression, and modern scientific medicine. Native medicine not only requires knowledge of the roots and plants that make medicine, but also a spiritual formula of songs, sayings, and chants performed over the patient. A healthy person has a healthy body, healthy spirit, healthy mind, and a positive relationship with community and nature. The holistic concept of today’s medicine is rooted in the hundreds of years that Alikchi and other Native Medicine people have considered the whole person in their treatment and combined psychological, physical, and spiritual methods that often involved their patients’ family and community in healing ceremonies which created positive health outcomes for the tribe.
Chickasaw people believe Ababinili, their primary deity; gave animals, trees, rocks and water a spirit and it is man’s responsibility to keep himself in balance and harmony with the environment. If all is in balance and harmony the creator provides good health and if man’s actions are not in harmony with nature, he needs to make things right. The Alikchi are medicine people who provide counseling, prayer, and medicinal remedies as good medicine to cultivate a return to that harmony. Early chemical medicines were thought to be harsh compared to the herbal and plant cures and medical practices of the Alikchi Medicine people which filled needs that today’s medicine still struggles to accommodate.
Modern chemical medicine may have developed drugs and treatments that are more efficient than traditional native medicine, but it is important to understand that these modern treatments are based on the compounds found in those traditional herbs and plants; yet much of the knowledge and practices of traditional medicine and spiritual chants is lost due to the suppression of Indian culture caused by the removal of Native Americans from their homes and reservations to separate schools where they were taught to be “white” and their culture was taken from them. The elder medicine men and women are also reluctant to share their knowledge of healing and feel it should only be passed to those with a special interest and a talent for healing with a profound respect for the land and natural environment that provides the plants, roots and flowers needed to make the medicine.
The recent loss of my mother has set me on a quest to rediscover certain talents and abilities my family is said to have. Because my grandmother remembered being shot at by the white people trying to keep the Indians out of school, she moved her large family of 12 children away from the “reservation” down in Bayou Du Large and would use sending them back as a threat when the youngest brothers and sisters acted out. To keep her children safe from the persecution perpetrated by whites on Indians and other minorities in the era during which she raised her children she caused a whole generation of her descendants to suffer the consequences of losing their culture, traditions, and the special gifts they were said to have. I hope this article and my personal quest to return to the roots and power of my ancestors allows me to move beyond my own spiritual practices to a place where I might be proud to call myself Alikchi.