This study examines Native American shamanism and the duties of roles of medicine men and women (or traditional healers). The study demonstrates that the roots of Native American shamanism may be traced to ancient times, surviving only as testament to the sheer resilience of native peoples. It also demonstrates that, given the diverse traditions of the various Native American peoples, shamanism encompasses a complex, diverse array of systems for exploring, discovering, and gathering knowledge, and for using that knowledge to promote the spiritual, emotional, and psychic healing of the people . In addition, the study examines how one becomes a shaman through processes of apprenticeship and describes some of the challenges that American Indian medicine faces today.
Native American medicine women and men believe that their shamanism is firmly grounded in age-old traditions—in oral legends and teachings that existed “Ever since the time of our cave-dwelling ancestors” . Today, these inherited traditions represent the gradual development, over millennia, of broad bodies of scientific knowledge and skills through time-tested processes of exploration, discovery, repetition, and proving . This scientific knowledge is tied both to the physical and natural environment and bound up in the spiritual world of the ancestors . It shapes not just theoretical and practical knowledge, but American Indian philosophies, cultural ways of life, languages, customs, religious practices, and, indeed, virtually every aspect of being.
As such, healing and medicinal powers are often conceived of as immortal forces that have existed since the very beginning of time, with origins and history that are traceable through diverse ancient Native American creation stories. These traditions are in turn preserved, honed, and transmitted from one generation to the next, in part, through campfire storytelling—a skill long identified as the shaman’s finest gift and talent . The shaman is perceived of and revered by the wider community as an individual chosen to protect and pass on the people’s essential, ancient mythologies and their medicinal and healing practices, as well as to reinterpret and revitalize this great body of knowledge by lending her/his own personal narratives, learning, and mythology.