Hier noch ein Interview / Bericht auf Englisch über Francis Mitchell undtraditionelles Heilen aus der Farmington Daily News vom 12.09.2007
Well-known local medicine man shares his story of Navajo
Article Launched: 12/09/2007 12:00:00 AM MST
FARMINGTON — It starts with the sprinkling of corn pollen.
The yellow powder slips between Francis Mitchell's fingers as he
stretches over a makeshift altar in a small bedroom in his Farmington home. Feathers, crystals and arrowheads are precisely set on the carpet.
Mitchell, a Navajo medicine man, sits cross-legged in the corner, a
yellow bandana tied around his head and turquoise bracelets circling his wrists. A patient and his son — travelers from the Jicarilla Apache tribe — perch on sheepskins nearby. They are victims of a curse or evil spell.
"I'm going to say a prayer and make an offering," Mitchell says. "I'm going to ask the deity to take the bad thing away."
Tendrils of smoke rise from a nest of smoldering incense, and Mitchell fans the sweet odor with an eagle feather. The extraction ceremony will take about two hours, he says. Tthen he will dismiss his visitors with a protection prayer.
"The extraction ceremony is performed when someone is approached by a sorcerer or someone who has done something evil," Mitchell says. "Someone has put a spell on another
because of prejudice or jealousy."
Before the curse can be extracted, Mitchell must determine how it is affecting his patient. He gazes into a crystal, then separates a cluster of bluebird and turkey feathers. He sprinkles pollen into a glass of water and studies the pattern formed by the particles.
The minutes tick by.
"I feel it is a woman," he says finally. The man nods.
"I feel you can't trust females," Mitchell says, "that a female has done you wrong." The man nods again.
"You have a rash on your legs, and headaches," Mitchell says. "You have pain in your back, and you've been told not to lift anything heavy." An evil spell has caused the physical ailments, and the curse must be extracted.
Mitchell dabs pollen on his patient's knees, shoulders, back, forehead and tongue. He puts bundles of arrowheads and feathers into his patient's hands and instructs him to press them against his body.
The ceremony is a complex combination of song, prayer, tobacco and herbs. It begins with a nasal chant, punctuated with the grating rattle of a dried gourd. As he sings, Mitchell sways gently on his cushion, occasionally rearranging feathers on the carpet in front of him.
It is in the feathers, he says, that he can see the past. He sees his patient's weaknesses and the bad luck wished on him. Finally, he knows the location of the curse, he says. It's in his patient's back. Extraction, in this case, means Mitchell will suck the curse from his patient's body.
"Don't tense up on me," he says, then grasps his patient's skin in his teeth. A thin groan escapes the patient's lips and his fingers claw the carpet.
The seconds crawl by, then Mitchell spits a rattle snake tooth into a paper towel. The curse is lifted.
Not a typical job
Mitchell, 63, doesn't carry business cards. He doesn't have an office, and he doesn't work 9 to 5. He awoke early the day of the extraction ceremony and went outside to say his morning prayers. Then he drove to Shiprock to pray for a young woman injured in a car accident. By 10 a.m., he is back home to perform the extraction.
"You're available when people need you," he said. "You don't dictate the setting or the time."
Mitchell carries traditional robes and headresses, but today he works in a pair of slacks and a turtleneck shirt. His cropped gray hair pokes from under the bandana, and sweat glistens on his forehead and cheeks.
"We don't have to be in traditional dress — the loin cloth and
moccasins," he said, "but we can."
A ceremony begins when a patient seeks a medicine man. Patients seeking medicine men also seek a legend. In Navajo, legend is a way of life.
"Navajo really live for these ceremonies," he said. "It is their
teaching, their way of life. It's what they have and what they pass on." Like physicians, medicine men begin by diagnosing their patients. And like physicians, medicine men refer patients to specialists who have earned reputations for performing a handful of the 36 ceremonies.
Diagnosticians are trained in crystal gazing, hand trembling, charcoal gazing or star gazing, said Johnson Dennison, native medicine coordinator at Chinle, Ariz., Hospital on the Navajo Nation. A fifth diagnostic ceremony, listening, is extinct. Listeners, Dennison said, went to remote areas and heard answers in the sounds of nature. "Only gifted people can do diagnostics," he said. "They have to be able to visualize the problem."
Diagnosticians refer patients to medicine men, who perform healing way ceremonies — blessings to cure mental or physical ailments. Healing ceremonies range in length from the two-hour extraction to the nine-day Ye'ii-Bi-Chei, or Night Way.
The complicated Ye'ii-Bi-Chei takes months to plan, Dennison said.
Medicine men perform the ceremony to heal patients experiencing problems with vision, hearing or the mind, and it is performed only during autumn or early winter.
Healing way ceremonies are as varied as patients' afflictions, Dennison said. The shooting arrow way combats injuries caused by lightning strikes or electrical shock; the Navajo wind way heals infirmities caused by natural disasters; and the life way is performed for accident victims.
Healing is the most common reason people seek medicine men, but the native practitioners also perform blessing way ceremonies and protection prayers.
The blessing way is a positive ceremony, a prayer for good fortune, Mitchell said. He performs the blessing way prayer on homes or vehicles to ensure safety and the best of feelings within the walls. Navajo receive the blessing way ceremony every four years or during special occasions, such as a girl's passage into womanhood. Protection ceremonies, including extraction, are used to ward off evil spirits, Mitchell said.
"As Navajo, we believe in witchcraft," he said. "We believe in skin
walkers and werewolves. People do voodoo and put spells on one another. You need a protection prayer when your neighbor is wishing bad things on you."
Medicine men also perform protection prayers when a person's path is crossed by a coyote — the Navajo version of a black cat, Dennison said. Navajo receive the ceremony every year.
"It's like a seat belt," he said. "It's for anyone who wants to be
protected from harm." Medicine men are forbidden from advertising their services, and most don't set prices on their services, Mitchell said.
He has received cash payments in exchange for ceremonies, but he also has received livestock and land.
"Payment is vague," he said. "I make my living from what comes from the heart."
Medicine men study as apprentices for several years before going on their own, Mitchell said. They learn hundreds of songs, prayers and procedures from a mentor, and they are recognized by tribal elders as medical practitioners.
Medicine men don't earn diplomas or certificates, and they rely on word of mouth to build clientele. "I don't carry business cards," Mitchell said. "I don't have a neon sign outside my house flashing medicine man, medicine man, medicine man.'"
Mitchell's career as a medicine man began after 21 years of darkness. Born in Fort Wingate, Mitchell left the reservation at age 3 when his mother died and his father sent him to live with an Anglo family in Ohio. It took him more than two decades to return.
By then, the Navajo Nation was like a foreign country, he said.
"I did not grow up with this," he said. "I grew up with an adopted
father who was a Christian minister. He used to say Navajo was the devil's way. I didn't have any contact with ceremonial things."
Mitchell graduated from high school in Marion, Ohio, and served in the Marines in Vietnam. He returned to the reservation in 1969 at age 25 to remember his Navajo heritage.
The war was hard to forget, however. Mitchell was drunk for two months straight before reuniting with his maternal grandfather, a medicine man.
"From the day I found him, I began studying," Mitchell said. "Wherever he performed, I was there with him to drive him back and forth. That made me a part of the ceremonies."
Mitchell's grandfather, Tabaha, never had an English name. He practiced the same medicine passed down from his grandfather, Mitchell said.
The traditional songs struck a familiar chord, and Mitchell found
similarities between Navajo culture and the Christianity he embraced as a child in Ohio. "They're both about reaching a supreme being," he said. "Navajo ceremonies are just another way of understanding the deity."
Like many prayers, ceremonial songs must be repeated verbatim, Mitchell said. A medicine man who changes the words or forgets them runs the risk of cursing the individual or structure he is trying to bless.
"You can't sing the songs unless you're doing a ceremony," he said. "You can learn the songs and words, but it takes something bigger to give you the power to perform a ceremony."
Mitchell simultaneously studied Navajo medicine and earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Kansas University. He took a teaching job at Navajo Mission Academy in Farmington in 1980, but continued practicing traditional medicine on the side. Determined to make a career out of medicine, Mitchell resigned from the school in 1992.
He joined the International Association of Shamanic Practitioners and built a reputation that spans the globe. Mitchell sees patients from across the country, Europe and Australia. Patients often bring souvenirs from their homes, and Mitchell uses them to liven up the walls of the medicine room in his home. "I don't get rich from these payments," he said, "but this is where I belong."
Relationship with modern medicine
Some patients seek a medicine man at the first sign of an illness.
Others go to a modern hospital. Ninety percent of patients treated in Chinle are Navajo, Dennison said, and the diagnoses from medicine men and modern doctors can be incongruous.
"In the hospital they get one treatment, but back home in their
communities they have another diagnosis," he said. "There is no cancer or diabetes in Navajo culture, but you can be diagnosed with it in the hospital. It's foreign, and it's confusing."
The Chinle Hospital opened an office of native medicine in 2000, and many other hospitals on American Indian reservations followed suit. Prior to that, culture determined the cure, Dennison said.
"Many patients don't understand western medicine, so they don't
understand the treatment," he said. "If the doctors and medicine men respect each other and make interpretations for their patients, there is a collaboration."
San Juan Regional Medical Center provides meditation rooms for medicine men to work with patients, public relations coordinator Dennis Mathis said. The four rooms in the hospital's East Tower are available for patients who want traditional ceremonies in conjunction with their medical treatment.
"We don't have medicine men on staff, but we do honor a patient's request for traditional ceremonies," Mathis said. "We built the meditation rooms for the purpose of allowing these kinds of blessings." The hospital also invites medicine men to perform blessing way ceremonies on new facilities, Mathis said.
Mitchell learned western medicine decades before he picked up a pouch of corn pollen. He spoke fluent English long before he learned the Navajo language. He credits this sequence to his success as a medicine man in Farmington.
"The tradition of a medicine man is the complete opposite of what my adopted parents taught me," he says. "It gives me a unique advantage in this profession because I've been in both worlds."
Doctors and medicine men work side by side in many reservation
hospitals, Mitchell said, but the gap between traditional and modern medicine is small compared to the gap between cultures.
Medicine men gave up their traditional title, Hataalii, in favor of the English phrase, he said. The significance of the Navajo word was lost in the translation.
"Medicine man' doesn't include the women that practice," he said.
"Hataalii doesn't mean medicine. From our side it's the singer.'"