An ordained Lakota medicine man his Oglala Lakota name, "Pejuta Wicasa," means "Medicine Man" he works as a healer in the traditional way, focusing in equal measure on the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual elements of his patients.
Warne is also a doctor of medicine he earned his MD at Stanford University in 1995 and he holds a master of public health degree from Harvard University as well.
These days, the South Dakota native teaches American Indian Health Policy at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, and is assisting in the creation of an American Indian Policy Center there as well.
Warne draws a firm line between modern medicine and public health, which he explains "are different entities in our system.
"Medicine in modern times," he elaborates, "is not designed to keep people healthy. The medical industry needs sick people, to thrive; so, if we just look at it from a free-market perspective, public health has a huge disadvantage, because it is much more advantageous to treat disease than to prevent it."
Warne grew up in amidst traditional healers in South Dakota. "In my youth," he says, "I received informal training from my uncles regarding traditional philosophy and healing and about the basic concepts of traditional philosophy, and how that relates to being a medicine man." He was considering the study of naturopathic medicine, as a result, because "it might be a good arena in which to make a difference for Indian Health.
But his uncles dissuaded him. "I remember talking to them," he says, "and asking their opinion, with the idea that they might discourage me I had heard of all the horror stories about how they had been disrespected by the healthcare system. But, fortunately, they were very encouraging, and said that if we were ever going to integrate traditional and modern medicine in an effective way for our people, then we need our own traditional people to be educated in modern medicine.
"They said, 'Yes. Go into medicine and go to their best schools and understand their medicine as well or better than they do, because that's the only way we will make this traditional system work."
To that end, Warne focuses on improving community health today, and is now establishing a foundation for the advancement of the traditional healing path program, dubbed Preservation and Advancement of Traditional Healing, or PATH.
PATH takes a holistic approach to the Indian community, as Warne explained in an interview with Explore magazine last year, using the city of Phoenix, Ariz., where he worked for three years as a staff clinician with the National Institutes of Health, conducting diabetes research and developing diabetes education and prevention programs in partnership with local tribes, as an example.
"For thousands of years people farmed and enjoyed a very healthy lifestyle, growing food like corn, beans and squash. Actually, the original name of Phoenix was Pumpkinville," he told the Explore interviewer. "As the settlers were coming to this area, they saw acres and acres of fields with squash and big pumpkins."
That agricultural landscape was changed, however, when the government dammed the Gila and Salt Rivers, effectively killing the farmlands and killing off most of the wild game that had been a major food source, as well. Then, too, "the amount of physical activity was dramatically reduced, because of the loss of the manual labor required by farming, so what you saw was essentially no diabetes prior to 1930," and then, by the 1970s, a population with "the highest rates of diabetes in the world."
The Federal Commodity Food Program, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sent food items to the displaced Indians "things like refined sugar, bleached flour, white bread, canned meat, peanut butter and vegetable shortening" that further compounded the health decline.
There was a spiritual disintegration among the Indians, as well, Warne observes, as the "old cultures" lost their ceremonies for the harvest, ceremonies that marked the changes of the seasons, the planting and the rainfall. "When you take away culture and spirituality in a very tangible way, it results in a lot of issues related to self-identity, self esteem and depression that often result in self-medication with substances like alcohol and other types of drugs," he observes, "so you can trace the health issues among many southwestern Indian tribes directly to damming the rivers and changing their lifestyle and culture."
To address the multiplicity of contributing factors to health problems among the southwestern Indians, Warne turns to the traditional Lakota Medicine Wheel, which symbolizes "the four directions and the four components of human existence." Those components are spiritual, mental, physical and emotional, and "to be healthy," he says, "one must exist at the center of the Wheel and live in balance among all four forces."
To that end, although he actually practices medicine just two days a month, Warne is a Certified Diabetes Educator, and a Diplomate of both the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Medical Acupuncture. In the course of giving acupuncture treatments, he relates, "at some of the powerful points," his patients will say, "'My grandmother used to do that" or "my grandfather used to do that." Some patients, he reports, "have tattoos on the acupuncture points that were used on them when they were children for the same types of things that we would use these points for today. So there was some sort of system for understanding the balancing of energies and understanding energy channeled through the body.
"Today, the local tribes still use manipulation techniques that deal with energy balancing, especially with infants, such as the manipulation of the fontanel, that correspond closely to some powerful acupuncture points."
The tribes' close connection to the natural world is physically underscored, Warne explains, in the Casa Grande ruins, about 60 miles south of Phoenix, where "small windows in a series of walls line up with the sunlight on the summer and winter solstices and on the equinoxes," installed to mark the changes of the seasons for farming. "But if you dam the river and take away the farming, you take away the need to do such things. So a lot was taken away, more than just the water."
Warne knows only too well that there are no simple solutions to these sprawling problems and that the problems affect us all, regardless of our position on a health-care axis that spends more on prison inmates ($3,500 a year) than it does on American Indians ($1,800 a year).
"We are not making the appropriate things a priority," he says. And so long as it remains profit-driven, he emphasizes, modern medicine serves no-one well.
To start moving toward balance, he suggests, it's helpful to look at the traditional Lakota symbol for medicine, health and balance the Medicine Wheel, which is essentially a circle with a cross in its middle. "To the east, where the cross meets the circle, is the spiritual realm. To the north is the mental realm, to the west physical, and to the south emotional. To be healthy, you have to be in balance in all four directions, essentially living in the center of the circle. If you look at the spiritual realm in the east and the physical realm to the west, the connection between spirit and body is through clarity of mind in the mental realm and openness of heart in the emotional realm. So a clear mind and an open heart are the best means to connect the spiritual world and the physical world. And that was understood very clearly in the traditional way, and meditation was an important piece of promoting balance."
Warne will talk about Ancient Knowledge for Healing: Mind, Body, Spirit and Heart, Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. at the Sheridan Opera House; tickets are $10 at the door, part of the Ah Haa School's Out Loud Lecture Series made possible through grants from CCAASE, the Town of Telluride, the Telluride Foundation, Between the Covers Bookstore, TCAH and the Homegrown Performance Series, and Clark's Market.