Medicine Men for the 21st Century

June 4, 2007

Author: Kirsten Scharnberg

Source: Chicago Tribune

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Albert Laughter kneels near the fire pit in the center of the tepee, arranging his ceremonial arrowheads, bowls and pipes. He lays out the all-important eagle feathers, reverently unwrapping them from an American flag.

The fifth-generation Navajo medicine man has trained most of his life to treat the people of his tribe with the traditional healing methods of Native Americans from this region of the country: powwows, sacred dances, sweat lodges, purification ceremonies, natural herbs.

But these days his job is very different.

Laughter is employed by the federal government. He primarily treats military veterans suffering from the trauma of combat. And the tepee in which he does much of his work sits not on an American Indian reservation but on the grounds of the Bob Stump Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Prescott.

"I guess I'm a true 21st Century medicine man," Laughter said. "They call me on my cell phone to make appointments, and I get much of my work thanks to two modern wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- that began at the start of this century."