Medicine Man

A medicine man is not to be confused with a doctor, even though doctors prescribe medicine!  A medicine man is a term for a Native American healer or spiritualist.  (The term medicine man is considered to be derogatory towards Native American spiritual beliefs, as it is a term applied to these individuals by people outside of the culture). 

Also known as a shaman, this individual was believed by outsiders to claim supernatural powers.  There are also equivalents in other cultures, and have been throughout time.  Sometimes they are also called witch doctors. All of these terms have problematic cultural implications due to their disrespectful connotations. A better analogy for a medicine man might be a counselor or a pastor, someone who heals the community at a spiritual level, rather than using the term medicine man, which implies that this healer is no better than a pretend doctor.

 In each case, this individual is a respected and important figure in his or her community. The medicine man is not in every case a man—women can perform this role as well.

Typically, this healer is believed to have control over matters such as weather, fertility, food sources, and disease. The healer engages in ritual and ceremony to cleanse and heal a victim, or to commune with the spirits so that they may help the tribe in matters of survival.   

The healer is a highly respected and crucial member of a tribal community, whose work benefits the tribe. It is also important to remember that Native Americans do not form a single culture in spite of being referred to as “Native Americans”—rather, the many different tribes each have their own identities and practices, and the role of a healer will also vary from culture to culture.  The environment and history of each individual tribal community will affect the types and purposes of the ceremony that the healer performs.

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