The first day I met Amiel Redfish, Physician Assistant, in 1990. We discussed medical issues of our modern society and how stepwise improvements in longevity came with proper sanitation, clean water, and the discovery of antibiotics. I liked this man right away, this Amiel Redfish. Through the years, I’ve heard Amiel give wise council about many issues, recently about the value of eating a hunter-gatherer’s diet with more roots, vegetables, berries, fruit, eggs, and wild game meat. So impressive!
My colleague was taught traditional Indian medicine followed by formal medical physician assistant training. He’s a treasure, a true Sioux Indian Medicine-Man. However, despite the sagacity, insight, and traditional perspective he represents, I dare say there are those who, not knowing him, would look at his original American Indian features and prejudge him. Prejudice leads to prejudging—making an opinion about another individual using preconceived notions, coming to an opinion about someone before one has the facts. Typical prejudices are often parentally taught and are about perceived differences in race, gender, gender identity, nationality, social status, religious affiliation, age, disability, height, and weight.
Anthropologists speculate that, at one time, stereotyping or prejudice probably provided a survival advantage. In an unpoliced society, people were safer trusting only their family and their known community, while being careful with outsiders who looked different. 100,000 to 10,000 years ago, people not belonging to our tribe were more likely to cause us harm, and all this became hard wired into our middle brain. However, in this modern era, it is reversed; we are more likely to be murdered by family member than by outsiders.
Other research suggests that treating people with respect and not prejudging them by appearance allows an openness to operate and churns the wheels of commerce, community, and communication. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr.’s communication rings true for all good people when he said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That should go for all children of every color. Since our daughter is of Asian heritage, King’s statement has particular meaning for me and my family.
It is nice to find research which proves that those who break free of prejudicial stereotyping profit from it. It’s nice, too, to make friends . . . friends like Amiel Redfish.
Research tells us that regardless your age, exercising just 30 minutes daily of even mild to moderate walking increases energy levels, improves mood, and actually increases longevity. I submit that doing this outside is even better, weather permitting. Of course, on the northern high plains, sometimes the weather forces us to an indoor gym or to the personal exercise machine in the basement to get activity, but that’s OK too.
However, when we can, we should get out of the igloo and do our exercise outside. When the sun’s rays come pouring through our pupils, they not only give us vitamin D to strengthen our bones, but those rays tell our brains that we are alive. The views we see of the outside clue us into the changing cycle-rhythm of the day and season, prevent that seasonal affective disorder, and provide for a sense of a spiritual light of hope. Going outside, when possible, is very good for us.
Better yet, getting outside in South Dakota every season of the year makes the modern adventurer realize why they call this the “Land of Infinite Variety”. I especially relish my daily one-mile round trip walking trek to my morning café for breakfast and coffee (even in inclement weather when I have to put on boots and get all bundled up in my hooded 40 below winter coat). That said, there are many pleasant days in South Dakota throughout all four seasons.
I have wonderful memories of enjoying the outside in South Dakota. These include Black Hills riding snow-mobiles, down-hill skiing, and steep hill hiking to the summit of Black Elk’s Peak; spring and fall hiking through Oakwood Lakes and Lake Poinsett State Parks; sailing in the yearly Lake Poinsett Sailing Regatta; road biking through and around our community of Brookings; east and west river pheasant and deer hunting with friends; working in my vegetable and pepper garden; and walking or running some distance almost EVERY DAY for the last 40 years.
Take it from an experienced physician who has lived here for 57 out of his 69 years and who thinks he’s seen it all. Nothing comes close to improving one’s emotional and physical health than being an active interested person who gets outside and savors all four seasons on the northern high plains land of infinite variety.
Facing my own pancreatic cancer, I have read a few books recently recommended by friends who are lovingly trying to comfort me. A book written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, MD has been one of those stories that talks about a “near death experience” (NDE). Alexander developed bacterial meningitis and, during a seven-day coma experienced a NDE like others. He found himself drawn to a warm light while sensing tremendous reassuring comfort. A former skeptic of these stories, he has become a fervent advocate that these experiences (NDE) are evidence for God and Heaven. His final chapters discuss how inadequate science is in explaining consciousness and suggests that each of us is “more than our physical body.”
Throughout the ages, some of the greatest minds in the universe have addressed the question “what is consciousness?” From what source does our awareness come? Where does God fit into that question? Alexander states that “. . . the greatest clue to the reality of the spiritual realm is the profound mystery of our conscious existence.”
As a physician who has practiced for many years, I have tried my best to use evidence-based science to guide me in choosing the best diagnostic and therapeutic options for my patients. I define medical science as a search for truth using double-blinded studies that avoid the placebo effect and preconceived biases. As science advances, we are continuously improving what we can do for people. For example, we can now cure certain cancers that twenty years ago would have killed those affected. We can now relieve suffering from severe heartburn, from shortness of breath, from a heart that races, and from unrelenting depression. I am forever enthused and amazed by the continuous improvements in medicine that keep unrolling with proper use of the scientific method.
However, with all of our “method”, science has not been able to answer the consciousness question, the spiritual connectedness we can feel toward each other, the question about life after death, and the love and acceptance that many of us sense coming from God or another higher power. I agree with the neurosurgeon: answers to these questions must come, not from science, but from another place.
I love our home in Brookings, SD. When anyone asks me where I am from, instead of saying my home of 37 years, I almost always answer that I grew up in the sweet town of De Smet where I attended twelve years of school. Emotional and physical health starts in the community in which we were raised.
Many people take a lot of pride in being from that little town and much of that is from its history. Back then, within the library and the local Masonic Lodge, there were several original oil paintings by Harvey Dunn the famous painter and illustrator. It’s neat that De Smet has a connection to such a famous artist.
However, it’s most significant notoriety comes from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books because De Smet is the Little Town on the Prairie. Laura’s tales of growing up in the late 1800s in a pioneer town are famous throughout the world. Her clearly written words tell how those of European ancestry first moved and homesteaded onto American Indian land of the Minnesota and Dakota prairie. In particular, her book The Long Winter illustrates how challenging the conditions could be on the winter prairie, and how settlers (and Indians) had to be tough as nails to survive and thrive.
History is important, but the continued thriving character of present day De Smet is the result of the myriad of activities occurring in the community. For example, Old Settler’s Day is De Smet’s summer festival, usually taking place on June 10th, has parades, tractor pulling, (and a carnival that used to come to town). I remember, as an eight-year-old, thinking that June 10th was almost better than Christmas. It was a surprise and disappointment to my young self when I found out, one day, that June 10th wasn’t celebrated everywhere as it was in De Smet. I was not quite correct, however; South Dakota is abundant with similar community summer planting or harvest festivals.
Of course, most important are the lifetime friendships that develop in these communities. I remember joining with other families during holiday meals, celebrations and funerals, and even sitting around family campfires. There was sledding, camping, and canoeing with the Boy Scouts; hayrides, roller skating, dances, and rock and roll music; football, basketball games, track meets, talent contests, and many band and choir performances; and there was church.
Innumerable studies show how such social and community connections are related to enhancing the overall health of individuals. How lucky and healthy can a guy be, growing up in a little town on the prairie!