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People Archive Photo
© Mark Peterman

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Miracle Worker
Belen Stoneman has a gift, but don't expect this Native American healer to pat herself on the back.

By Keridwen Cornelius

Chandler Belen Stoneman is a medium between different worlds: spiritual and physical, Native American and non-native, living and dead. Visit her at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort's Aji Spa expecting a massage with a few Native American touches — maybe a creosote wrap, perhaps a few incantations to Mother Earth — and you'll get more than you bargained for.

Stoneman, 49, is a medicine woman, though she'd never bestow such an honorific on herself. "I'm just a facilitator," she says. "The No. 1 rule for me is that Creator God and the spirits do everything."

Five years ago, she began as cultural ambassador at Wild Horse Pass, Arizona's only Native American-owned resort, and two years ago became a healer at Aji Spa. In both roles, it's been Stoneman's goal to teach non-natives about Akimel O'odham culture.

"Everything [at the spa] has the flair of who we are — all the words and protocol," Stoneman says. "I want people to get an idea of who we are, that we're not hokey."

Stoneman wears traditional dress and walks barefoot through the spa's hushed hallways. Her soothing voice and inner smile act like a lullaby, making anyone in her presence feel relaxed and happy.

She begins healings by asking clients what's weighing on their minds. Then, she says, "I pray over them, and I ask their spirit for permission [to heal them], because everyone has spirits and guides and angels, whether they believe it or not."

She smears them with creosote balm, checks their bodies' balance of elements (earth, fire, water, air) and, through a combination of massage and something more mysterious, releases the tension, fear and sadness from their bodies. These are ancient techniques, but they're passed on to only a select few.

When she was a little girl living in the Gila River Community, Stoneman's family discovered she had a gift. "I used to see spirits," she says. "I used to see old people who passed on, and I would talk to them. I knew something was going to happen before it would happen. I tried to be in denial of it, but when you're in denial, it gets stronger."

She studied under medicine men and women on other reservations, earning the title of healer among her people. She could have kept doing healings quietly out of her home, but, she says, her spirit told her she should share her gift outside the community.

Her family objected, but after several years of negotiating, she finally told them: "There are other people who need this. The elders didn't turn away people. Don't they say we're supposed to share?"

And so, through Stoneman, non-natives can get a better sense of Native American spirituality, their own spirits and maybe even their futures.

"It makes me feel good when a non-native person wants to be healed, that they trust and believe enough that they are willing to go to a person in this field," Stoneman says. And when their spirit releases and allows her to heal them, she says, "They're going to leave feeling wonderful."

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