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Understanding Differences

Traditionally in much of Native culture everyone had a specific job to do. As we grew elders would watch, recognize and utilize certain talents exhibited by their young people so they may develop them and enjoy life as they contribute. This aspect is lost in much of everyday modern society where the main focus, in most cases, is to make money and accumulate things.

Some would have the natural ability to track/hunt, other children could repeat stories they had heard verbatim and become the next generation of history keepers/story tellers. There were those who knew what herbs were the medicines and had the ability to bring ease and comfort to the people. There were also some we called seers the children born close to “spirit”. When the ability was recognized in a person it was celebrated, it was special. That person may travel in their dreams, hear the spirits, sometimes predict events which could alter the lives of the people. When someone had the abilities it could be a great gift and a burden.

In modern days, so many of our traditions and culture is unknown to people, to doctors. Our young people with these gifts can become lost. They are labeled by society as strange, eccentric or even “mentally ill”. Causing them to be cast out, separate and at times medicated or locked away due to ignorance and misdiagnosis. This had become so prevalent that Native Peoples magazine did an article about it several years ago.

It has only been in the last decade that celebrities have come forward to reveal their own struggles. Glen Close started a foundation to help because her sister lives with schizophrenia, Carrie Fisher and Richard Dreyfuss have both spoken of their bipolar disorder. Even in history we know some of the greats had their special aspects of creativity that caused them to struggle to fit in with society. But is it curse? The debate remains, are many of the true “creatives” in touch with something?

One of my very popular watercolor pieces was once questioned by a professional. “Totems” shows a face that is half bear and half wolf. A friend we had known for several years wanted a large print of it for his office. He was a respected psychologist and he worked at a practice specializing in adolescents. He was also a Cherokee Indian who danced in the circle at Powwows.

Loving this piece as he did, it became the centerpiece of his waiting area. One day the supervising psychiatrist came to speak with him. Mike came out of his office and found the psychiatrist staring intently at the painting on the wall. Mike asked, “Do you like it?” “It was done by a friend of mine.” At that point the old psychiatrist turned to him and said concerned and VERY serious and adamantly “This is a split personality! We need to get this person some help right now, right away!!”

Mike smiled and explained that the piece has cultural significance.

TOTEMS comes from our belief that your other half, soul mate, that person you were meant to be with, is out there. That if we are blessed or lucky enough to be with that person our spirits, or totems, come together and we become a part of each other.

My hope is for people to try to understand someone they know who is “different”, someone who is creative in their own way and who doesn’t quite fit in. It may open you up to a whole new way of being.



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