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A Native Prescription

An old Cherokee creation story transcribed by noted anthropologist James Mooney describes the origin of medicine as the result of a war between mankind and animals. As the tale tells, the two groups lived together peaceably for a time, but when mankind began to multiply, the animals were crowded into forests and deserts. Man also began to destroy animals for their skins and furs, not just for needed food. This angered the animals—bears, deer, fish and reptiles alike—so they devised methods of retaliation, including weapons, disease and nightmares.

Bridal group (The North American Indian; v.10). 1915. Ghost Dance of the Sioux Indians in North America. 1891.

According to the story, the friendly plants got wind of the animals' plans and planned a countermove of their own. Each tree, shrub, herb, grass and moss agreed to furnish a cure for one of the diseases named by the animals. When the Cherokee Indians went their Shaman seeking medicinal relief and if the Shaman communed with the spirit of the plants, he always suggested a proper remedy for mankind's diseases.

November is National American Indian Heritage Month, and the 2007 theme is "A Native Prescription: Balancing Mind, Body and Spirit." The theme was developed by the Indian Health Service, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that is committed to raising the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The Library is also celebrating Native Americans by recognizing their contributions to the nation and paying tribute to their achievements in a new Web site topic page. In partnership with other federal agencies like the Smithsonian Institution and the National Portrait Gallery, the site spotlights notable past and present Native Americans, resources for kids and teachers and special collections and photographs highlighting the resources of the various agencies.

Mooney, who lived among the Cherokee for several years, was mostly known for his ethnographic study of the Ghost Dance, a widespread religious movement among various Native American culture groups that ended in 1890 in a confrontation with the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee, S.D. He made many sound recordings of the various chants associated with the movement. Searching for "James Mooney" in the "Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry" presentation in American Memory will uncover several of his Ghost Dance recordings.

A. Bridal group (The North American Indian; v.10). 1915. Northwestern University. SUMMARY: The bride stands between two dancers hired for the occasion. Her father is at the left, and the bridegroom's father at the right behind a man who presides over the box-drum. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.

B. Ghost Dance of the Sioux Indians in North America. 1891. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-52423 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Illus. in AP4.I3 [General Collections]