Henry Niese,
The Man Who Knew the Medicine:
The Teachings of Bill Eagle Feather

(Bear & Co., 2002)

The Man Who Knew the Medicine: The Teachings of Bill Eagle Feather is the story of how Bill Schweigman Eagle Feather, Medicine Man of the Lakota Sioux, accepted Henry Niese, a too-white-to-be-dancing part-Cherokee, as a student of the Medicine Way. It is Niese's personal story of growth and transformation, but also an inside look at the culture and teachings of the Lakota Sioux. After Eagle Feather died on Sept. 16, 1980, Niese struggled to carry on his teachings and pass his wisdom to others.

The story begins with the preparations for Eagle Feather's funeral. You are immediately drawn into the story and the intrigue never lets up. Niese has a way of conveying his emotions with clarity and what seems to be absolute honesty. He openly admits being scared or weak and evaluates his participation and actions with an eye for what he did wrong or why he did not achieve better results.

The author's memoirs of the Lakota ceremonies are brilliantly vivid and downright fascinating. I cringed as they were making flesh sacrifices and discovered that I was rubbing my chest after reading how the Sacred Tree would not allow him to break free during his first Sun Dance, even though he had only been lightly pierced. Eagle Feather's explanation for this sent chill bumps down my spine.

The Yuwipi ceremony was the most riveting part of this book for me. I could envision the spirits arriving in the form of lights and the bird flapping around the darkened room, brushing people with its wings. I could feel the energy as I read this passage.

Since his death, Bill Eagle Feather has often appeared to his friends and family. While some may have a problem with believing this, I do not doubt that the accounts given here are entirely accurate. Neither do I doubt the explanation provided for these appearances.

Spirit Woman: The Teachings of the Shields is supposed to be the same type of story -- an outsider trained by a Medicine Person and their journey to elder status. I gave that book a harsh review because it slammed men so frequently. I tried to explain that true native practices hold all life to be sacred. Niese clearly and dramatically reinforces that point in an easily understood manner throughout this book. He emphasizes the way that Native Americans refer to all their relations and call people by family names: "Uncle," "Aunt," "Nephew," "Niece" and so forth. Although I may not be acquainted with you, you are a member of "all my relations."

Henry Niese has participated in more than 100 ceremonies, danced in 37 Sun Dances, and hosted Sun Dances at his property. He teaches healing and medicinal plants in seminars and has established his own center, Eagle Voice Center in Maryland. He is a professional artist.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 13 March 2004

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