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Shaman applauds acceptance of old ways of healing

The voice that boomed out across the pow wow field was strong and vibrant belying the fact it belonged to a man in his 84th year.

Bear Heart, a shaman visiting Canada from New Mexico in early July, said that when he heard that drums were returning to the original site of an Ojibwe village on the shores of Lake Huron for the first time in 150 years, he felt he had to be there.

''I was in the area for a wedding and they honored me by allowing me to speak at the pow wow,' said Bear Heart, a Muskogee Creek Indian from Oklahoma whose non-Indian name is Marcellus Williams.

Bear Heart told those gathered on the land that is now a park in the city of Owen Sound, Ontario, he was filled with joy that he could attend the Return of the Drums pow wow.

Many call Bear Heart a medicine man, but that's not how he refers to himself.

''Only the Creator can heal. All I can do is make someone ready for the healing,'' he said in an interview.

In his 83 years on this planet he said he has seen belief in the old ways come full circle. When he was a young man, mainstream physicians had no time for natural medicines.

''The MDs used to frown on it, now many are embracing the idea,'' said Bear Heart, a member of a natural medicine advisory committee for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

One thing that gives Bear Heart the greatest joy in his life is that the United States Pharmaceutical Department has now accepted 637 Native American herbs for use in modern medicine.

''That makes me feel very good, but a lot of our medicines have disappeared.'

For example he knew a really good medicine for diabetes. ''But the land where I used to get it has been sold and bulldozed over to build a shopping mall and I don't know of any other place where it grows.'

Bear Heart, who lives in Albuquerque and has told his story in his book, 'The Wind Is My Mother,' is a man of many contrasts.

Strong and vibrant, he has never spent a day in the hospital, but at heart he is a gentle, family man fiercely proud of his daughter and his six grandchildren, four of whom live with him.

Bear Heart gained much of his knowledge about Native American teachings at the knees of his elders as he grew up in what is now Okemah, Okla. However, in the forward to his book he acknowledges he owes much of his knowledge to 'individuals who are not Native American.'

He's a shaman who practices many of the ceremonies and traditions that have been part of the fabric of his people's lives for centuries, but he's also an ordained Baptist minister who attended the seminaries in Philadelphia and Boston.

Bear Heart doesn't believe there is any conflict between being a Christian minister and being a medicine man.

'Many of the teachings of Christ are related to healing, so why not practice our healing as well?'' he asked.

He visited the Owen Sound area on the pow wow weekend to conduct a Christian wedding for a family friend.

Much of Bear Heart's teaching demonstrates the traditional Native American wisdom, but he said he believes much of it can be applied today to live a balanced, peaceful life.

He credits his vibrant good health to a following a motto of 'All things in moderation.'

''Water is good for you, we can't live without it. But try drinking a bucketful at one time and see what happens. You have to have some wisdom.'