On Being An Indian

Last week I had the great pleasure of speaking at the Association of American Indian Physicians. What a wonderful group of Indian people. The whole conference was covered with a cloud of intellectualism. The students were delightful and their enthusiasm brought great joy to my heart. I shared an old Cheyenne story about always seeking to improve oneself. I am not sure any in the audience needed the advice. I was in awe as I asked several questions:

How many of you have been described as overachievers?
How many of you are competitive?
How many of you can’t stop thinking?

After each question nearly everyone in the audience raised their hand.

My next question stumped them. I asked how many have a photographic memory? How have been tested to see if they have a photographic memory? Not many raised their hands. I went on to say that I expected that most of them did have photographic memories and probably never realized it. Indian people by genetic nature have a high propensity for photographic memories.

Think about survival in a land that had constant dangers and the acute memory needed to transverse the land avoiding danger or looking for game. This highly intense focus over thousands of years led to an advanced cognitive process that required photographic memories. Our ancestors excelled at total recall, remembering the smallest details and quickly recognizing even the slightest change in a very complex environment. As the survivors this became a highly developed genetic trait that has been passed on to us. It is part of our natural Indian intellect.

After I finished many of the students came up to me and said that they indeed had a photographic memory but never realized it until I had pointed it out. I felt good because I helped them realize that they were special, and I hope that someday when I am in their care and need their brilliance, they will remember me.

I had another conversation with a young man who was a very successful surgeon. He felt that the field of medicine and rigors of medical school had brainwashed him. Perhaps in this process he was diminished as an Indian person. I shared with him the story of corn. A single kernel of corn, when planted and under the right conditions, will grow into a plant that has leaves, a stalk, an ear, tassels, and even corn pollen. That single kernel will always be corn, no matter where it is planted. I told him that he will always be an Indian just like the corn will always be corn. It is in his genetic makeup and no amount of schooling can change the gift of his ancestors. He smiled and I know he was comforted by what I shared.

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