Morley entertainer good medicine for confused youth

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 12, 2008

The emerging elder and popular speaker from Morley had his professional start in entertainment as an extra in Little Big Man. He moved on to casting with Buffalo Bill and the Indians and authentic First Nations traditional set design with Legends of the Fall, and has been involved in many other entertainment productions worldwide, most through his own company that bears his name, Koskanûba.

Helmer Twoyoungmen – his Nakoda (Stoney) name Koskanûba, pronounced koh-shkah-NOOM-bah, literally means “two young men” – has turned his attention now to giving the often-confused young people of his community a fresh start, and one way he’s doing that is by promoting a balanced view of traditional and modern medicine.

Speaking to healthcare providers, addictions counsellors and youth leaders, Helmer, himself a community addictions counsellor, says:

“Everywhere I go, I try to promote better understanding between my culture and the culture of the dominant society. My special concern these days is the relationship between our two different systems of medicine: my First Nations traditional medicine, and the dominant society’s modern medicine.

“The Creator has given the dominant society understanding of how to make cars, tools, televisions, and computers. The Creator has also given them understanding of how to make medicines that can act very quickly – but that sometimes lead to addictions.

“The Creator has given to First Nations gifts of holistic understanding of Nature – the weather, the behaviour of animals, and the herbs. The Creator has given First Nations the special gift of making medicines from herbs that act slowly and that help develop a healthy lifestyle – medicines that do not lead to addictions.”

Many see the years of professional training modern healthcare professionals undergo as validation of their superior knowledge in medical matters, he says. They may take six to 10 years of university studies in their specialties so that they can give a better life to our children and grandchildren.

“Traditional First Nations medicine people also spend a long time in training. But it’s not just six or 10 years,” he counters. “It might take sixty years of apprenticeship under others who know how to use herbs: when to gather them, how to prepare them, how to prescribe them.”

Understanding of these traditional medicines is not just about head knowledge, Helmer stresses. It’s about heart understanding, too. The role of traditional First Nations medicine people is not so much to give a “quick fix,” but to think of the long haul.

There are, of course, many herbs that do give quick relief, herbs that have special value on extended hunting trips, he says.

“Our medicine people would always go around with hunting groups in case of accident. If someone gets cut, there’s a special herb called ‘blood stopper.’ Our medicine people chew it and put it on the cut, stop the vessel from bleeding, and then wrap it.”

There are herbs for treating rib injuries when riders get bucked off, herbs for flu and colds, and herbs for mental and emotional distresses.

In all of this, Helmer is quick to point out, the traditional healer does not practice medicine because of the money, but because of the Creator’s gifts.

“When people come to receive the services of a medicine person, they will bring an offering of tobacco. The medicine person, in turn, offers the tobacco to Mother Earth, from where the healing herbs come.

“People might also bring prayer cloths to the medicine person as offerings: white for winter, blue for spring, green for summer, and orange for autumn. The colours speak of the cycle of the years, and remind those who come for healing that important things can take time.”

Yes, he says, the people may give the medicine person a gift of money, as well, “because the medicine person has needs for food, transportation, and clothes, too, but the healing is not in exchange for the money; the healing is simply sharing the Creator’s gifts.”

At the heart of all effective medicine, whether traditional or modern, is respect, Helmer emphasizes, and this is especially important for the youth.

“Our young people today are sometimes lost; they’ve forgotten who they are in our traditional way, but they haven’t learned who they are in the new ways. They need to find out who they really are in both worlds, and find balance and harmony by drawing on the positives from both sides.

“The very best medicine I believe we can share with them is our respect for each other, always thankful for the gifts the Creator has given to all the different peoples of the world.

“We are each other’s best medicine, no matter what culture we come from.”

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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