Adee Dodge defends medicine men

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 2, 2014

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As 1963 ended, a newspaper article in a Phoenix paper was getting a lot of attention on the reservation. The writer accused Navajo medicine men of practicing "black magic."

The statement apparently came in an article in the Arizona Republic about the hospital in Ganado. In the article, the reporter quoted doctors at the Ganado Mission hospital talking about the "black magic" medicine being practiced on the Navajo Reservation, saying it kept some members of the tribe from seeking medical attention when it was needed.

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The response to that statement resulted in the state's biggest newspaper taking another look at the subject before the year ended.

Jerry Eaton, the Republic's state editor, interviewed Adee Dodge, the grandson of Henry Chee Dodge and a well-known Navajo artist.

Adee Dodge's real name was Adolph Bitanny Dodge. While at Bacone Junior College, Dodge was given the nickname "Adee" by his teachers because of his initials.

A Navajo Code Talker, Dodge received a B.A. degree from the University of New Mexico and a Juris Doctorate from Columbia University, according to his biography on Internet art sites.

Born in 1911 in Wheatfields, Ariz., he died in 1992 but during his life, he gained a lot of fame for his stylized artwork which is now in the collection of several museums, including Arizona State Museum and the Peabody Museum.

Shortly after he began painting full-time in 1954, he was commissioned to paint a mural at the Arizona State University Administration Building. His artwork is still collected today.

But like his grandfather, he was outspoken on issues relating to his people and their culture. Just a couple of days after the remark about black magic appeared in the newspaper, he got hold of Eaton and told him that doctors in Ganado had a wrong view of what Navajo medicine men did.

"The medicine man is not a worthless witch," Dodge told Eaton. "He is more commonly referred to as a holy man and he is an important contributor to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the Navajo."

He described the typical medicine man as having "courage" to treat life and "gumption" to take a person who had a serious illness to the hospital if necessary.

"The medicine man on the reservation sometimes travels 20 miles to consult with others of his profession," Dodge said, adding that most medicine men are elderly.

"The youngest are 30 years of age and they have completed an internship somewhat similar to doctors," he said.

He explained that becoming a medicine man isn't easy. One must learn complicated chants and be able to recite them without flaw. Once the chants are mastered, he gets a "degree" from the medicine man to whom he was apprenticed. This usually takes several years of study.

"The medicine man is important to the Navajo people," Dodge said. "He is, in effect, a psychiatrist who calms distressed patients with music and chants."

He also stressed that medicine men on the Navajo Reservation also perform some of the same services as doctors do.

"Medicine men were setting bones before Columbus set foot in North America," Dodge said. "They are well schooled about the physical body and know the names of bones and the work of cells."

But where medicine men differ from that of regular doctors is that the medicine man treats the whole body and is more concerned about a person's spirit than his physical body.

"If it's a choice between physical or mental help, the Navajo will take the mental every time," he said.

When asked about the mental state of the Navajo people, Dodge pointed out that Navajos are trying to find a middle ground between forces affecting them from the outside and their own traditional upbringing.

"We are caught up on development of resources on our reservation and competition with the white man," he said. "We are motivated to progress while at the same time we cling to our past."

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