Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Call to Action

Caleen Sisk Franco, who is Chief of the Winnemem Wintu, and her husband Mark Franco, Headman, just returned from Washington DC. They spent a week ore more meeting with Senators on the Hill advocating for restoration of the tribe. During August the California legislature had successfully pushed forward a state restoration of the tribe. Politicians and lawmakers have always dealt with the Winnemem as a tribe, but when in the ‘80’s the Winnemem were dropped from the “list of recognized tribe” without warning, (they were told it was a “clerical error”) government did not remedy the mistake.

The next step for federal recognition lies in the hands of the Senate. Senators Barb Boxer and Diane Feinstein are being asked to sponsor the Winnemem Wintu Restoration Bill. We need everyone’s help. If you are reading this blog, please help the Winnemem get justice and their due attention as a sovereign tribe.

The Winnemem have been told that although they are a small tribe, that if they tell their story, the good people of the world will listen and help them. Caleen Sisk Franco's young son,
Michael Preston, has issued a Call to Action for allies and tribal members of the Winnemem Wintu.

Please write your senators as well as the California Senators, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein or call them urging the California senators to sponsor the legislation (and other senators to co-sponsor or support the legislation):

We urge you (to sponsor) (to co-sponsor or support) the legislation for federal recognition of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe of Northern California. We ask for your leadership to bring justice to this traditional, non-gaming Tribe that has been subjected to more than 100 years of injustice.

The Winnemem were omitted from the list of federally recognized Tribes in the 1980's. The Winnemem received benefits from the federal government prior to this omission, such as housing and educational assistance. The abrupt cessation of benefits ended access to local Indian Health Service care, housing assistance, and the ability of tribal members to apply for Higher Education Grant funds they had only years before used to pursue college degrees. Please let them know that their assistance with this restoration effort will allow these benefits to come back to the Winnemem and right this egregious wrong.

We need everyone’s help. We especially need letters to come from tribes, so if you are tribal, please let that be known. Many tribal people may not know that in California, 90 percent of the tribes were not recognized. And of the 10 percent, only six percent are HISTORICAL recognized tribe. The Winnemem and all the other historical unrecognized tribes are not people who were torn from their way at a young age and are seeking their identity. The Winnemem have never stopped doing what they were put on this earth to do. They take care of their sacred sites, active sacred sites. They retain the ceremonies, songs, medicines and way of life. They stubbornly continue on despite non-recognition, and snubs by government agencies, Bureau of Reclamation, corporations. Many of their children are home schooled for much of their school age life, and they all take their part in ceremonies, training to carry on their sacred duty to care for the land. The Winnemem are not a gaming tribe. They carry a full load by keeping their way of life going. Please help the Winnemem Tribe, small as their numbers may be, they are a strong and tenacious people; help them to regain their tribal status by contacting your senators.

WW/ Praying for the World

If a natural disaster is averted there just might be a traditional Indian praying for the world. That is what I’ve learned.

Grandma called me once to say I needed to get down to the ranch to help pray. She told my husband to start up the Sacred Fire in back of our home and keep it going. I drove down as soon as I could. She had assembled a small group together. My friend from Oklahoma was there. We quickly went into the Prayer House around the Sacred Fire and prayed.

Grandma said that there was a beautiful plain under the ocean on the east side that the Ocean really loved, and it had finally died because of all the human being had put into the Ocean. The Oceans were sad. The Oceans were angry. And the anger reverberated from one Ocean to another around the world. Already lives had been lost. I remembered the ferryboat full of passengers that had recently sunk in the Atlantic. Grandma said that there was a big tidal wave headed to the coast up by where we lived in Oregon and she was going to pray to ask the Oceans to calm down and not to take anymore lives.

We prayed all night. Grandma would talk to the Great Mt. Shasta and the Creator. She listened. And so it went back and forth to the oceans, back and forth Grandma. Grandma prayed for the human being, prayed that no more lives would be lost, prayed to hold back that time of destruction.

Finally, Grandma said that everything was going to be all right. I don’t remember everything that was said. I don’t really need to. I know enough to realize that it is the prayers and ceremonies of the indigenous traditional people all over the world -- who know these lands from ancient times and keep the old ways going -- that is holding the Whole Thing together.

All over the world, traditional people all pray for the earth, for all beings and for all human beings. The spiritual people sacrifice, they suffer to make prayers strong, interceding over and over again for all of us. The prayers are not just for themselves, their lands or their people only. It is a mistake to trivialize the Worldwide significance of indigenous sacred ways of life because theirs is not a world religion spreading outward but a earth based way of life with a personal tie to one place. These traditional ways may be the very ways which personally benefit each of us. I often think, if the old ways die, who will pray for the world in the earth’s language?

The next day, I traveled back home. A few days later I read in the Register Guard, our local newspaper, that the Japanese meteorologists had warned us of a tidal wave hitting the Oregon coast. A lot of curiosity seekers had shown up to see it. I am mind boggled why tidal waves are a tourist attraction. The short article, as I remember it, took it lightly and reported it was a big mistake of the Japanese scientists and the disappointed onlookers just went home. The tidal wave did not happen.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

WW/ The Sacred Spring on Mt. Shasta

Luisa told me that our precious Sacred Spring on Mt. Shasta is beginning to dry up again this year as it did last year. Last year when we got the news, we were devastated, and we all drove up to meet at the Mountain. As prepared as we were, it was still shocking to view the devastation. The meadow was dead, everything brown, and the small hollow where the spring has always bubbled up from the earth was cracked and dry. The sacred spring of Mt. Shasta has been here from the very beginning of time. That is where the Winnemem came from, and when they die, that is the way they pass through. Joining us was filmmaker Toby McLeod and his guests from Alti by Mongolia. The Altians included a holy man, a throat singer, also said prayers and sang for the spring. Each of us prayed tearfully, and tried not to grieve, tried to have faith our precious spring would come back.

When Luisa told me that it was happening again, I am just as devastated but I admit feeling numb when she told me. We were at a funeral of a precious tribal elder. Our leaders had stayed up days and nights ministering to her through her last illness and then during the wake. Everyone was very worn out. Mark Miyoshi and Luisa intimately know the spring. They live near the Mountain, and tirelessly keep watch over the mountain and the sacred spring. It’s interesting that years before when I first met Grandma and she doctored me, I had that brief glimpse of Mark’s face smiling over Mt. Shasta. It is interesting because he and his wife Luisa’s responsibility today is to “watch over” the Sacred Mountain. Luisa felt sorry for me that I was not able to visit the spring one more time when I had driven up and back the week before to take my shift with our elder. And now, it was too late.

On our long trip back to Oregon, I began to think about the spring again.

I remembered that when I first started going to Grandma’s ceremonies at Mt. Shasta, we would always visit the sacred spring and pray there. The spring bubbled up out of the ground in a quiet meadow on Mt. Shasta. The meadow was filled with bright wild flowers, and from there we could see the purple mountain range on one side, and on the other, the peak of our sacred mountain with its snow packs jutting up into the sky.

On one of our visits, Grandma Florence looked up and down the line of us standing along the spring, her eyes sharp. “Someone here has seen something.” she said. Grandma said they were to tell her what they saw. A young Potowatami woman who had traveled from Kansas to the ceremony started crying and saying that she saw something. She saw the spring as it was once. The meadow was full of flowers, flowers she hadn’t seen before. There were so many spirits of the spring and the spring was happy. The animals would come to the spring. The deer would dip their noses into the spring to take a drink, just barely touching it. The spring said that is how it is supposed to be treated. Everyone is supposed to be like the deer and not interfere with the sand, just dip into the water if they need the water.

Then the woman said she saw other things. She saw people coming to the spring, putting their dogs in the spring right where the water was coming up, damming it up and putting their children in it to splash around, digging into the sand. People were putting all kinds of things into the spring. People dying with diseases were put in the spring to soak. As all of this was happening the spirits were going back farther and farther into the rocks. And when the spirits finally all left, the meadow turned brown and everything died, and the earth died too. That story stayed with me. That far off day described by the woman is here now. What have we done to this precious Mother.

As my husband and I drove farther north past Weed, with one more look at our Mountain, I felt anger at those who had physical authority over our sacred spring. This civilization still acted like brutish encroachers, detached from the earth. They have never found their "way home" on this land, forever rootless. I was reminded of Columbus with his sword and banner stuck into the Arawak shores laying claim before the destruction. The visitors to the Winnemem’s sacred spring on Mt. Shasta, the ones who leave their debris in the spring, their crystals, their plastic tiki gods, even those who dump the cremated remains of their own into the spring are just as arrogant and confused.

Again, it had been Luisa a couple of years ago who scooped a handful of sand from the spring a little below the headwaters to examine something unusual which had caught her eye. Could it be possible? She asked me what I saw and I looked closely. Among the gravel were white chips that looked like small pieces of bone. Both of us could hardly utter what we suspected. Such desecration seemed so unlikely. It was reported to the Forest Service and on their examination, our fears were verified. These encroachers so separated from the earth and tradition, create their own sad rituals using their own dead, throwing them into a fresh water source. Some sprinkled a pattern of a peace symbol with their loved ones ashes and the forest ranger’s uneducated guess is that it’s a Shinto shrine. Ridiculous. Chaotic rituals like that do not come through the ages. It seems that these with authority are no less confused than the encroachers. How simple it would be to levy a hefty fine for desecration. How simple would it be, under the circumstances, to make the spring inaccessible. How simple would it have been not to advertise the sacredness of the little spring like carnival hawkers exhibiting exotica.

The heavy responsibility to clean the trash from the spring, to remove the cremated remains was given to the Winnemem, as the traditional caretakers of the sacred spring. There is no ritual from the ancestors to take care of this kind of "over the line" desecration. Caleen had to spend a lot of time in contemplation at the Sacred Fire for spiritual direction how to take care of what had been done to the spring, and how to protect her people designated to do the defiling work of cleaning out remains for these times.

The Winnemem worked for weeks unearthing layers and layers of trash. They worked hard to gather the layers of cremation ashes and dispose of respectfully. How easy it would have been just to get rid of all of it quickly. I felt awe for the tribe’s heartfelt pity for the confused and chaotic encroachers and their dead. The Winnemem formed a new wider bowl for the spring to discourage damming. The Forest Service built a path that would detour around the desecrated spring and we had to obliterate the first path.

Still, people continue to come to the spring with more of their pathetic offerings and cremation ashes. These encroachers, having no memory of their own ancestral sacred sites, no historical memory of what to do at a sacred site, no common sense of how to take care of sacred sites in general, like Columbus before them, leave a huge imprint of their chaos and confusion everywhere they step, particularly if the place should inspire reverence and gratefulness.

Then there are the corporations. In the past, the Mountain has shaken off the attempts to develop the sacred meadow into a ski resort. Today, Nestle seeks a bigger foothold on our Sacred Mountain for their water bottling company. At first, they attempted to forego any environmental impact study. I had heard of Nestle’s mistakes in other areas, drilling into the volcanic shelf that held the water, an error that caused the water to disappear forever. The townspeople are left with the damage while the company simply moves to another spring.

We are boycotting Arrowhead bottled water and any other Nestle brand. Beyond that, we don’t buy bottled water. We carry our own water in stainless steel containers. If in an emergency I need to buy water, I buy purified water. Spring water, pure water is endangered. The bottles themselves are not safe. The concept is wasteful. And the industry encourages greed. Someplace, someone can’t wait for the day there is only one drop of water left so they could sell it for big money.

We don’t know why our spring is drying up. Is it over use of the mountain’s water by Nestles and the Forest Service for their campgrounds? Are there secret geo thermal drilling operations going on on the Mountain? Is it the desecration? Is it because fewer and fewer people pray for the water, sing for the spring?

The people officially “in charge” of the spring come from a society which has become used to a disposable environment. Nothing in policy honors historical traditional stewardship of the land, a relationship with the land. Because policy does not look to those who have historical relationship and traditional ways that have been successful for eons, we are losing our most treasured parts of nature.

For the Winnemem tribe, we are not in the first days of environmental crisis. We are looking, within our own short lifetime, at the last days, and in these times we must stand and act with our lives to protect what remains.

Postscript: Today, venting my anger has left me with a question. Part of me wonders, what would I have done at the spring if I had not learned from the Winnemem? I would hope that I would not have left things or taken things from the place as my issei grandfather always taught us. I know that we have strict taboos that our loved one's remains are to be interred in a gravesite; grandpa was Shinto. I hope I wouldn't have gone in out of curiosity. But I wonder. Would I have? and would I have known that the spring wants us to treat them as the deer do? Those questions left in my mind made me ashamed of my anger and I will try to put my anger aside, my judgementalism. Would I have known what to do? Or would I have bumbled and been another encroacher?

I have learned in the past twenty years by attending the ceremonies and being part of the village things I did not know before. I have learned that there are special songs the Winnemem have sung from the beginning of time, a song which the spring understands. It makes the spring so happy when the Winnemem gather and sing because it knows that the people are still following the old way. I have been blessed to have witnessed the spring happy.

I have learned that nothing is to be left with the spring except for heartfelt prayer for the sacred spring, it's people and the way of life which takes care of it. That is the greatest gift anyone can leave. I have learned to go downstream for water so I do not interfere with the spring as it bubbles out and to walk carefully not to disturb the plants which grow there. I will try to balance my harsh anger with the knowledge that without being taught I cannot be absolutely sure what I would have done, and it was my luck to follow Winnemem which made all the difference.

Monday, October 6, 2008

WW/ A Day Trip to the Ceremonial Grounds

On hot days, Grandma Florence, my daughters Soon Sun and Margaret, Grandma’s daughter Margie and I escaped for the ceremonial grounds by the Winnemem (McCloud) River where the doctors gathered from ancient times to the present for ceremony and to help people. It was cooler there than in the valley. Under oak trees, we’d sit, and Grandma would teach my daughters to whistle for the breeze to cool us. Since 1938, Shasta Lake Dam on the Winnemem River has turned the area into a popular recreation center on Shasta Lake reservoir, speed boats, houseboats. Yet still, the Winnemem gather there.

That July day, the swamp cooler pushing the air around in Grandma’s little frame house, one she built with her brothers years before, was not good enough. We made lunch and piled into the car to drive the windy road up to ceremonial grounds. I never can find the gate we must unlock to drive up on top, but with Granny in the front passenger seat, it was never a problem. The hill was steep and the road rough. At certain points large rocks imbedded in the road would loudly scrape the bottom of my low riding Toyota. In other areas, I could only see the sky as we crested the hill and guessing where the road was.

The first thing we’d do when we arruved was to make sure the elders had a comfortable lawn chair to sit in. Then the girls and I would make up a resting place for Grandma in her trailer which was parked there. After the snows and spring rains, we had already surveyed any damage the bears and mice might have done to it and cleaned it up to get it ready for Grandma Florence. Despite its patched up appearance, the old trailer is a comfortable place for a summer nap after lunch.

On this particular day, Grandma wanted me to take her down to the McCloud campground to a particular public restroom . From time to time, she would do that, always to that same restroom. The McCloud Campground was beautiful there along the Winnemem River just before it widened into the dam created recreational lake. Many of the times we went, the campground was empty. But this time, perhaps it was a holiday or fishing season, there were plenty of campers. I parked at Grandma’s restroom. The campground directly below was taken by a middle aged non Indian couple, sitting on lawn chairs facing us. I assisted Grandma with her walker into the restroom. When Grandma came out she stood leaning on her walker and looked for a several minutes around the area. The couple seemed irritated with our presence overlooking their space.

Then Granny said softly, “See that plum tree over there? the peach? My dad planted those. He planted this fig too, " she lifted her chin at the broad leafed tree framing the two campers.

I’m sure that my face reflected the same surprise I saw on the onlookers’ faces as it dawned on us all at the same time that this land had once been her home; she was not the encroacher. “Oh, Grandma. I didn’t know this was your place!” She nodded, her eyes looking off into the distance. I could feel that everything had changed. The campers' irritation was gone.

The two of them and I were old enough to have suffered a loss of a childhood place ourselves, but we were hushed witnessing in this small moment such a traumatic loss of home along this beautiful river, to see the fruit trees carefully planted now surrounded by concrete parking spaces and camping spots, trying to imagine how it must have been when it was a village, a birth place, as recent as this elder’s own childhood. As Granny surveyed the area, picking out the trees, our attentive silence sanctified the moment. Then Granny turned toward the car and we drove back to up the hill.

Medicine grows on the way to the ceremonial ground by the Winnemem River. In the spring we always are excited for that first look after the wet winter. One spring, Mark Miyoshi had come by and Grandma thought this was a perfect day to go to up. He drove Grandma’s Cadillac with Grandma in front. Emerson, Margie and I sat in the back. We were all in very high spirits. The first drive up in the Spring does that! The medicines would be blooming. Wildflowers too. We wondered what shape the trailer would be in. Had the bears broken in again?

As we rounded the curvy mountain road, our mood plummeted. On the sides of the road were grey, dead drooping plants which had once been the new medicines. Around each turn, it seemed as if someone had purposely sprayed only the medicine although we all knew that probably, whoever used the herbicides picked what they though were noxious weeds.

Mark spoke out angrily. The fall before, he and Grandma had taken the time to point out to the county people all the protected plants. There was an agreement. I still remember this peaceful man for whom forgiveness was second nature said. With great emotion, Mark snapped, “I feel angry enough to see how they would feel if their pharmacies were destroyed.” All the medicines we gathered for our Winnemem doctor in this area had to last for the whole year, and now they drooped, twisted, and dead.

We got to the ceremonial grounds, somber and serious. I felt I got a glimpse of the great irreparable loss that Grandma and her people had already suffered. Emerson walked down with his cane to the sacred fire and sat to smoke his pipe and pray. Mark was starting the fire the old way -- no matches or paper -- using just the flint, and dry grass. Emerson’s favorite place was always by the Sacred Fire.

That day, a song came in to Emerson. Caleen, our leader, calls it the Earthquake Song. Emerson told us that the song came in and the words came from Creator who said, “This is my earth. Everything on it, even each rock, I put here.” Each time I hear this song and sing it, I can still feel the words just as Emerson said them that day. This is the Creator’s earth. People might arrogantly devastate it, or build foolishly over it, but in the end and always, it is the Creator’s earth. For me, the sadness lifted to be replaced by resolution. This is where I want to stand, with Grandma, with this ceremonial ground, with the medicines, the Fire and her people. This day was a defining moment for me and the song became one I would sing each morning when I prayed from my home in Oregon. This is the Creator’s earth. The Creator put everything on it.

These stories are my remembrances only, how I remember and felt them. I cannot presume that I speak for anyone but myself.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

WW/ With Florence on a Spring Day

Florence and I escaped into the spring day. The magazine reporter had called and arranged a meeting with her for that afternoon. He was interested in interviewing Florence, the last of the great Winnemem Wintu Indian Doctors. But that day, Florence became short of breath, had me call the ambulance and sat in emergency for a good three hours. After all the tests and x-rays, the emergency room doctors found nothing. Her breath came more easily and we were free to go. On the way home, too late for the appointment, Florence said, “I want to show you something. Turn here.” We turned away from her little ranch to drive up the red clay road into the low mountains. We stopped by the grassy side. Both of us got out of the car, she with her walker, I carrying a lawn chair which I arranged for her under a solitary tree looking out over the valley and across at more hills.

She pointed out a narrow path across from us made by bear or deer. That’s where she would go hunting, by foot, stalking the game when she was younger. I had listened to her stories, her first hunt at the age of eight and her first deer, bigger than she, which she had to haul out on her own. She said, “The worst part of it is I couldn’t eat a bite. If I did, the animals wouldn’t show themselves to me.” She told me about the bear who got away with the bacon and about the other bear who didn’t get away at all.

The breeze was fresh up in the hills. It blew softly through the grass. Grandma Florence looked down at the soft round-leafed plants with miniature yellow flowers growing among the grass and asked me to pick some. I handed her a small bunch and she deftly broke a piece off for me and put the rest in her mouth. We chewed contentedly. Grandma reminisced about gathering the first greens of the spring for her mother, another Indian Doctor.

She remembered how she and her sisters and brothers would run for the hills to hide when they saw the buckboard coming up the road, but one day, she was caught, she says “kidnapped,” taken from her parents and her people for boarding school. The Indian girls were treated very cruelly, particularly by one staff member who seemed to especially dislike Florence. Florence spent time in solitary confinement situation and was allowed to wear only underwear. It was very humiliating.

The afternoon was spent in quiet and remembrances. Grandma Florence said, now that she was 93 years old, she would like to retire and “live the rest of my life like I want to.”

That day, it was to take off to the hills, sit in the sun with a cool breeze, remembering the hunt and childhood days when a young daughter gathered spring greens for her elderly mother.

WW/ Another Way of Doctoring

Several years ago, I had what women dread, a positive mammogram. I had been going to Florence Jones, or Grandma Florence as we called her, for all illnesses. I trusted her, learning more and more about her way of doctoring each time I visited. In the back of my mind, however, I had wondered what I would do if I faced a life threatening disease.

My medical doctor suggested surgery as if he were giving me good news. “You can expect that it won’t affect your life span,” he explained. The mammogram had caught it at a very early stage. He suggested we set up a time for the biopsy quickly. The doctor was surprised that I wanted to go home to think about it first.

I was relieved to find that my only thought was I needed to talk to my Winnemem doctor and do whatever she said.

Florence Jones was the Top Doctor of the Winnemem people. According to Florence, this meant she had mastered three levels of doctoring -- herbal, sucking and trance. She was born to her sixty year old mother on Thanksgiving Day in the middle of a great snowstorm. The old doctors gathered together to see what kind of baby Florence was. Usually, babies born late in a woman’s life were either spiritual or the other way. The old doctors saw the infant was spiritual and that she should be mentored in the old way of doctoring.

Florence told me stories of how she learned everything from her mother -- herself a Winnemem doctor -- every rock, every plant, every part of the land between the Sacramento River and Mt. Shasta. At ten years old, Florence walked the whole distance alone. She stopped to rest only once, at the doctoring place at Dekkas Rock. There she was asked by the old doctors if she were tired.
“I was, but I’m not anymore,” Florence answered.
The doctors asked if she were hungry.
“I was but I’m not anymore.” So they sent her on her way.

According to Florence, she was not afraid of the lonely difficult walk because a little bear cub followed her the whole distance, a few yards away. She knew it wanted to help. There was one spot so dark she could not see anything. She was surrounded by blackness. Florence prayed and a star shot light in front of her illuminating her path.

Her spiritual education was interrupted by boarding school. Florence recounts stories of humiliation and abuse characteristic of the government and religious boarding schools of that time. She followed a career path to nursing there but in returning home, she became ill, feverish and delirious. Florence said she fell into a coma-like state.

The old doctors believed the condition was induced by the confusion between two ways of doctoring. In helping Florence regain her health, they made it clear she had to choose. She told me that she chose the Creator’s way and she has never regretted it.

Stunned by the medical doctor’s news, I called Granny. “Don’t let them cut you,” she said. “Come down now.” Granny believed that the knife encouraged spreading. Soon Sun and I immediately left for California.

The morning after my arrival, Granny and I did not talk about the mammogram. Instead, we began the chores for the day. That day it meant keeping Florence’s doctor appointment in Redding. First I drove Granny to her initial acupuncture appointment with Dr. Lee. Indian doctors cannot doctor themselves and must rely on other Indian doctors. However, US incursion into the area affected the indigenous way of life and traditional ways of doing things, including the number of people who continued the doctoring ways. As an elder with arthritis, Florence must rely on other ways for herself.

Dr. Lee greeted Granny with a gentle smile and quiet voice. We were ushered by Mrs. Lee into a room with soft lighting. A large portrait of a baby in pink taffeta caught her eye. “That must be the granddaughter” she guessed correctly, and relaxed onto the table. Her eyes then fixed upon Dr. Lee’s chart of the human body and hundreds of Chinese characters identifying energy points.

Dr. Lee came in, slightly bowing his head and smiling. “Excuse me, please.” His touch, though soft, had authority as he accurately found where her pain was. Florence winced a little with each needle but did not complain. Then Dr. Lee left us. Florence relaxed, her eyes closed. The treatment was very good for her and in the end she had gained a colleague.

“He doctors just like me,” Granny announced as we drove home. Florence does not use needles and Dr. Lee does not go into trance. Although I did not ask, I know the similarity lies in the spirit of the doctoring. Until Dr. Lee retired and moved, Granny was a patient, always asking for her favorite room, the one with his granddaughter’s picture.

Our second visit that day was to Florence’s medical doctor who had treated her since she was young. Granny grew tired waiting for over an hour in the reception area and then more time in the examination room. When the doctor finally entered, he shouted, “What’s wrong, Florence!”

“Oh, my stomach’s been hurting,” she complained.
“Stomach hurts,” the doctor repeated, scratching onto a prescription pad.
“It’s hard to sleep,” she continued.
“Can’t sleep!” he continued writing.

Quickly tearing the note off the pad, the doctor reached into his pocket for a small tape recorder and began to speak in it, “Patient complains about stomach . . .”
Just as quickly as he had rushed in, he rushed out calling out behind his back, “See you next time, Flo!”
That afternoon, we sat together by the newly planted garden. White butterflies flew among the vegetable sprouts. I told Granny what the mammogram revealed. She said, “We’ll take care of it. Remember, I’ve been a doctor for over seventy years and I haven’t lost a patient yet!” She laughed and patted my arm.

It was time to go up into her attic, a ritual she saved for my visits. There we would sit among her trunks and boxes, pulling out and taking account of all her pretties. “Do you have a fur coat?” Granny asked.

“No,” I answered. It was the farthest thing from my imagination.

“I have three,” she said. “I was so proud when I spent my first paycheck on my first fur coat. It cost me $20 at Montgomery Wards. She fussed in the trunk and pulled out a fur cape. “Here! It’s yours!” I was touched by her gesture and hugged her thank you.

That evening, Florence took me out to the fire. She went into a trance and learned that I did not have cancer, but it was a condition similar enough. She gave me what I needed and instructed me to do exactly what she said. She told me I needed to return to let her know what was happening from time to time.

I went home with bags of herbs and a fur coat. My visit with Florence begged comparison: the Chinese doctor, touching, feeling, observing the body as landscape, encouraging balance by stimulating the body’s own healing abilities; the medical doctor with his books and pills, his tape recorder, his tight schedule; the Winnemem top doctor feeds and hosts the patient, works together in the garden, gives the patient a fur coat, prays and seeks instruction spiritually and sends her home with medicine.

There are further comparisons. The Winnemem doctor is chosen by the Creator to doctor. She learns the doctoring ways, the songs from other doctors, but also through spiritual means. The acupuncturist and the medical doctor are schooled and credentialed. The Chinese doctor seeks balance and works with the body’s natural healing abilities. The medical doctor seeks to search and destroy.
Over the ensuing year and a half, I learned more about the difference between the Winnemem way and the medical way. Granny made me work hard to regain my health. I followed her instructions and took her medicines every day, whether I went on a long trip or worked. While taking some of the medicines, I was forced to lie down, and relax, twice a day. No excuse to stop the medicines.

Definitely, the medical doctors and their pharmaceuticals are quick and efficient. One can be very ill and go on with the daily grind as if nothing were out of the ordinary. However, I wonder, is it really helpful to act as if nothing were out of the ordinary when one is trying to heal?

My medical doctor called me several times wanting to schedule the operation. Finally I wrote a letter asking him not to worry. I told him I sought another way for healing, and did not waste a minute to work hard on the process. He was concerned but he did not try to change my mind.

The medicines caused all kinds of irritations. Was this ok? I clung to my faith. I would call Granny every step of the way. From time to time she would adjust the treatment and would calm my nerves. Everything was happening as expected.

Faith is critical to this kind of doctoring. It is hard work to get well this way. Only the belief I must do it kept me going. I felt alone at home away from Winnemem. Only my husband and family knew what I was doing.

I made the mistake of asking a friend who happened to be a Methodist minister for prayers that I could keep a strong faith. To this day, whenever he asked how I was, he would look at me as if I were doomed.

During this time, my doctor friend who took me down to Winnemem in the first place was very encouraging. He helped me with my faith. Because I was separated by such distance from the Winnemem, he suggested I talk with the plants and the water, asking them for help as I prepared them, and thank them when I was finished with them. I began to feel the relationship grow with the herbs, the water and it helped my faith.

After the longest year of my life, Grandma Florence suggested I get another mammogram. I nervously waited for the results. The day of the doctor’s appointment, the medical doctor met me at the office door, right hand extended. “Congratulations!” he smiled. “I don’t know what you did but whatever you did was right. Your tests indicate you’re clear.”

I settled down in a chair in relief. “Now,” he continued, “You’re at that age we should be talking about hormone replacement treatment.”

“NO!” I said quickly. “How can you talk to me about hormones with its possible link to breast cancer after I’ve spent a year working hard on that very disease, scared out of my wits!”

He argued, “You have a family history of heart disease. Estrogen reduces the risk of heart disease. Without it,” he pulled out the big guns, “your bones will rot and you’ll die of a heart attack.”

I held fast to my resolve and left his office never to return again.

For myself, after a year working hard with Grandma and the medicines, I no longer had faith in the medical way which understands sickness in terms of war -- isolate, kill it, cut it out, radiate it rather than to understand healing in terms of strengthening the body’s natural healing abilities and in the context of relationship with the earth’s medicines.
The Winnemem doctor works within relationship and spirit. The Winnemem way of doctoring builds a relationship for the “patient” with the doctor, the medicines, the water, the fire and all the sacred places. Healing is a long process, not a short, quick efficient one. It is reciprocal, personal and deeply satisfying as any friendship or family.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.