Sweet Medicine Nation is bridging ancient traditions with modern society. She is a wisdom keeper and a teacher with 35 years of traditional ceremonial
experience and native teachings. She assists those who are longing for deeper connections with sacred by nurturing and guiding them through rites of passage. I met Sweet Medicine a few years ago and she guided me through the process of going on the hill and she’s been my teacher and mentor since then.
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In this episode, I interviewed Sweet Medicine Nation about her work in the world, the Sacred Feminine, feminine leadership, and cultural appropriation.
Carrie: can you tell us about the journey that you’ve had to becoming a wisdom keeper and what it was like early on in your journey to become the woman that you’ve become?
Sweet Medicine Nation: Well, I think no one really gets up in the morning and says when I grow up, I’m going to be a wisdom keeper. And I definitely wasn’t one of those. I was pretty insecure and shy and I stuttered and I couldn’t spell. There were hurdles to get over. But in the other level of my consciousness I was always asking questions and being visited by spirit. I didn’t know that this was uncommon and I felt shy about it.
There were elders always, which seem to be who I hung out with instead of peers my own age. I didn’t have friends until I actually had children and I needed to interact with some other mothers. Mostly elders took me under their wing and would ask me questions that were provocative for me to think about.
Then I moved from Hawaii where I was raised and I had had a lot of Hawaiian elders who gave me the idea and the knowledge that wisdom comes from cultural understanding that is not of today’s world.
I began that process of seeking out my own relatives, my own elders, finding out that we did have Indian blood in my family and it made sense to me why my propensity was to go towards the native people, find out all I could from them, and be curious.
I studied and decided that I would commit to this as part of my goal because I wanted to do medicine: the kind that would be alternative herbal, midwifery, homeopathy, those kinds of things. I found that internally there was another kind of school or university that had been going on since I was about maybe five that I remember back further. That’s when I was being initiated on these other levels to be a basket of this knowledge. To be a wisdom keeper for me requires a lot of experience; not just reading and books or, hearsay from someone else’s personal experience. But also incorporating the wisdom of elders who took me under their wings. People that we will call grandparents, aunties, uncles who just said, come over here, let me show you something. And that ended up being what happened to me.
I studied with, She Who Speaks For the Earth for 10 years. I studied with other aunties and uncles and adopted Lakota fathers who, who out of everybody chose me and, passed their knowledge.
Their ceremonies sanctioned me, gave me through ceremony that permission to share further beyond them, to take what I had learned back to the people. So wisdom keeper to me is dawned on me when it’s like, oh my God, I’m 60, what do I have to offer the world revising relooking I’m remembering myself as to I’m in a new phase and I realized a lineage leaving behind a legacy of a lineage was what other elders did for me.
And so that put me through the next level of understanding I was a wisdom keeper and that that wisdom would go with me if I did share it. So my propensity to go forward and to the right to passage to keep these things going, which had been doing here in Oregon and in the South American countries for years now. I think I figured yesterday it was something like 38 years I’ve been traveling to teach what I know, basically sharing what other shared with me. And so that is what we call a wisdom keeper today.
They’d say, “come over here, you help me with this, I want you to do this part and I’m going to do that part.” It’s like making cookies with your mom. You know, “you pour in the scrambled egg and you mix it all around, throw it in the oven and it comes out and you’ve got cookies.”
This is the process of committing to keeping traditions, not to muddle them. Instead, to keep it as pristine as you can. So people would call that a traditional way of being.
Commitment to a walk, whether it be that you’re a yoga person or you’re a Buddhist or you’re a Muslim or you follow some of the other direction, there is a commitment.
We all have this commitment of alignment. Mine was very strong with spirits. When I’m showing them something that is clear and something that really speaks to my core and I know it’s the truth, like a bell gonging. I listen and I am alert and I take in and that’s not always the case in the outer world.
There’s so much incoming stimuli from so many directions. I feel a little muddled from that, but at the commitment level of learning a formula, a way of being, a way of looking at life. I do live that. I follow that and I think it takes a certain kind of person.
I know now that teacher could include other things: teachers of wisdom, teachers of spirituality, teachers of consciousness.
I didn’t know that as viable when I was young. I had difficulties because as I was being invited to be with elders, but I didn’t look the part. I have a mixture of French and Irish blood and I have some of this Indian blood but it didn’t show up in my skin or my eye color. When I would go and be in all-native closed ceremonies they would say, “why is this blue-eye here?”
They would spit at me and I would get ridiculed. This went on in my life a lot. First of all I thought, “There’s something very wrong with me.” In time as I matured, the elders shared with me what that really was about and how to get past it or how to get beyond it.When I would go and be in all-native closed ceremonies they would say, “why is this blue-eye here?” They would spit at me and I would get ridiculed. Click To Tweet
I had to prove myself and that lesson was about being strong in my commitment. I’m here to do my commitment. I’m not here to volley back and forth their discontent or their rudeness or jealousy. The elders would focus me though, and say, “Just do what I’ve asked you to do, just go do it.”
After a few years I proved myself. That was my journey through visiting class and sun dances and the patriarchy level. The Lakota and many other tribes are very male-oriented. I came back to the teaching of my choctaw tradition and really researched that.
I see that the matriarch as being the leveler and the anchor that we’re in right now. It’s committing to being a good mother on the earth and a good daughter to the earth.
Carrie: I know that your ceremony House of Flowers is focused on the divine feminine is your native Choctaw tradition. Can you talk about how the Choctaw tradition influenced your life?
Sweet Medicine Nation: I studied with a grandmother and it was very cosmic. It touched those places where I had the visitations. I channeled information that I had no idea how I knew it and it was verified as true and there were some different rites of passage, like the vision quest that I do today.
When I came out of that she crossed over the stars. I filled the void if my teacher and then that’s when the tough grandfather teacher came along and I remembered this one story that I’ve told to you. I think it’s appropriate.
I was in my ego, big time. I had made this buffalo stew, a huge pot with coffee and sugar and cream and fry bread.
I mean I had the whole nine yards, the best food for a native person. I said to my grandfather, “Come with me—I want to go and feed these people under the bridge.” These native people that don’t get to eat that because they’re homeless and maybe they’re drunk. I said, “They deserve to have the taste of their own food as well.”
And my grandfather just sat there. It was rare that he would swear, but when he did it caught my attention. “Why the hell would you want to do that? I’m not going with you. I wouldn’t do that.”
And I thought, “Oh my gosh.” I went into the silence. I got very scared and I was worried. I thought, I’ve done something to upset him. What did I do? I try to review what he said, about my ego.
And then he just said, after a long pause of silence, I mean, we’re talking about a pregnant pause, a good three minutes or four. He just looked straight ahead, he didn’t look at me and said, “How can you tell who the calvary and the Indians are?”
When elders gave me those kinds of puzzles, those kind of questions, they leveled me. What I mean by that is that I get out of my head and I stopped thinking with my forward thinking and I dropped back in to my core of knowledge. And in there I realized what he was saying and I answered, “I don’t know.”
He said, “Well, if you were the Great Mystery and you wanted everybody to learn because they’re your children, how would you want them to learn that what they did is not OK?”
Then I realized, OK, so you put them in the place of the very people that they thought they had judgments against. I realized what he was telling me and it was the first time I really took on this view point of putting myself in other people’s shoes.
What would that be like? What would it be like for a beggar who doesn’t have legs on the side of the street with a little panhandling. What would it be like for these men that look full blooded Indians that are sleeping on the sidewalk, on a piece of cardboard out there.
Whatever that “them” are, they’re doing their work, their life experience, what they shouldn’t have done [in past lives]. So it was just a turn of the lesson of Karma, if that’s a quick way of saying it.
I realized I needed to be careful that I don’t judge others. This also went along with my process of understanding why would people be judging me for being a woman and being a leader?
I internalized that being OK because where are these women leader in our world today? The only women leaders are school teachers and a few professors and really rarely wanting to be an alternative healer.
There were very few women who are doing it. You could be a midwife, you could be an herbalist, you can be these other things, but not a leader. So for me the process of that was to go, OK, there’s some validation here that I don’t know about and I need to start learning about my own tradition.
I went back and reviewed all my visits with my grandmother teacher and realize the things that she was telling me about are things that could happen now even though they happen a thousand years ago.
And that’s when, along with my grandfather’s teaching, I put together this understanding of OK, I am married to a Lakota man, I’m in a Lakota family and I have been adopted by this Lakota father and I’m acting like I’m Lakota.
No wonder in this body I am in, they don’t see me…but I keep finding myself with only elders and they say “Come over here, sit down here, learn this or come over here and sit with me. OK, sing that song. Go do that sweat lodge.” And they gave me sanction to do things that I had earned the right to.
But I hadn’t thought I earned the right to. So out of that came a visit with my dear friend David Carson, author of the medicine cards and a Choctaw elder.
He would ask me questions like, “So when are you going to start doing the ceremonies of our people? When are we going to go back to Oklahoma and take a road trip? What are you going to go to Kilkia, Ohio and the Mississippi, go see where our people are from, when are you going to do that?”
He would always want to go on a road trip with me. We would talk about the importance of bringing forward those things that needed to come forward, which was the initiation. He began the journey and for me anyway to say this provocative question, when are you going to do this?
I realized, Wow, it’s my responsibility. He had learned from his mother and his Auntie and the ceremonies that he was in as he grew up.
I said, “well, we’re not supposed to do this because we’re not supposed to bring these sacred ways out until 2012,” that closing of the Mayan calendar and a lot of other things happened during that time. But I said, “I will do that after.”
However I had already started in some ways for years because how can you not share wisdom and teachings? But I didn’t do the ceremony. So then in 2012 I knew I couldn’t go backwards.
I had to go forward and I had to resurrect and bring forward these ceremonies. House of Flowers is actually a school for all women’s teachings from the time of diversity of the time that we promised to the stars. As that unfolded and I got the confidence behind me within my dreams and visitations. I saw my whole life had been as a young adult and mother about a doctor, all the things that I was doing in the outer world were just preparing me for this.
I saw the effects of it on women to discover themselves, discover what we’re really here to do.
In our world we self initiate. People read a book and then they go out and think they can do this thing for themselves. Oh yeah, I’m doing a vision quest. I’m going to go for a walk about and the desert taking my gallon of water and I’ll contact you in four days when I get back and tell you I made it.
That’s so sad because a rite of passage is so that the community supports us, that we have a village that knows we went through there that are supporting us, so the same is true with House of Flowers is done with other sisters, some initiated ahead of time years before and then you the younger ones coming through the initiations until we’re at the end of our life and those that we left this information in there keeping as the next wisdom keepers than they perpetuate it and keep it going.
Initiation is how are the divine feminine is going to be brought up. Initiation in the tribal sense was always vital because it’s what built community trust in one another.
I see what happens once someone has done a rite of passage, whether it be a sweat lodge or, going all the way to vision quest or people who are sun dancers or doing other initiations.
They say, “I had no idea. I had no idea how valuable this was.”
For me it’s putting my root down in the center of my core and realizing that I matter here and there’s a reason why I’m here. And there’s a reason that I’m in a female body and there’s a reason why I’m here to do something in this era being born now
For me there seems to be no other way.
We ask, f we’re in the feminine body, what does that mean? And that doesn’t exclude the Lodge of the Deer Men, which is the male counter part to the House of Flowers. This is not just lip service to the Divine Feminine.
This time predicted. It is a prophecy. It was told that this time was coming and the women of today have an opportunity, but they’re not initiated because culturally the initiations are the news. The initiations are self initiations: Women saying, oh, I think I’m old enough to do this now.
House of Flowers brings a woman into a place of understanding: why is it that I am in this form and what am I to be doing here by being alive. It’s not a profession. It’s a reason. There’s a difference.
The reason I am here to be. It’s very important and each woman starts to discover by being in the environment of the House of Flowers, hearing the teachings, understanding how important it is to have the female body, and especially at this time now for the next thousand years to be awakening this balance again, that has been out of balance for quite some time.
We are instruments. We’re like a tool. We come here to feed the mother and so I teach about that and why that’s important, why it is that we can create life and how important that is and paying attention to that.
High ceremony happens every month for a woman. Why doesn’t the world support, that I don’t understand.
In an ancient cultural sense, we would honor ourselves. We are eternal beings and we have a job to do, or a purpose to do, or a service to offer that is not in a CV or a job.We are eternal beings and we have a job to do, or a purpose to do, or a service to offer that is not in a CV or a job. Click To Tweet
Many people say, “If I had known this, I wouldn’t have gone that direction.” Nothing’s lost. Now what are you going to do when you know why you’re here.
Carrie: It has my attention that there are a lot of people out there calling themselves shamans and medicine men or women, I think it’s really important to be discerning with who we choose as our teachers. I’m on the outside following the red road and I’m curious what your thoughts are on that cultural appropriation conversation.
Sweet Medicine Nation: Well, it takes me back to the conversation with my grandfather teacher: How do we know who people are by looking at their skin? We don’t know. How do you know what’s in the package?
We just have to be able to decide who has the years of experience.
Today we have people just saying, “I have a drum, I have a rattle. I’m going to go out and buy this pipe. OK, now I’m going to do these ceremonies.”
And that is not OK in the sense of you haven’t walked the path of understanding what you’re doing yet. And you do need guidance. You do need someone to help polish the rough edges as you’re feeling wobbly and your training wheels.
In the Native Tradition we would never name what we are. The people name you by your deeds. I never called myself a shaman, never called myself a medicine person, never called myself a wisdom keeper.In the Native Tradition we would never name what we are. The people name you by your deeds. Click To Tweet
Those titles came from people outside of me. These aren’t things that we call ourselves. We are just who we are. Working with our medicine, doing our skill, the very thing that gets initiated and awakened in us when we are initiated as to why are we here.
Carrie: How would you describe what feminine leadership is?
Sweet Medicine Nation: What I noticed about the feminine leadership role was that you had to be tough, you had to be strong
I think it’s very important to have a nurturing, a curiosity, a softness, a sense of that. Being fragile but strong at the same time. I didn’t know that that was possible. I didn’t know that that was a choice. This is how I want to model leadership.
The greatest teacher is mother earth. Why wouldn’t we pay attention to her and how she does things: She has cycles and she changes with those cycles and she has ways of nurturing. She has ways of saying, wake up, pay attention. Something’s changing now.The greatest teacher is mother earth. Click To Tweet
I pay attention to nature as a good teacher and seeing how is it that if I’m a replica of the great mother that I should be in this world for myself and for others.