Many of the inequalities in the health of the Aboriginal people can be attributed to the
erosion of the Aboriginal culture.(chp.2). Restrictions placed on the cultural practices of the Aboriginal people ultimately led to the abatement of the Aboriginal traditional medicines.(p88). Losing their freedom to practice traditional therapeutics, the Aboriginal people eventually had to adapt to the culturally inappropriate ways of western medicines. The purpose of this paper is to examine the advantages of Aboriginal healing methods for the Aboriginal people, as well as to explain why these traditional methods continued to persist long after western style medicines were introduced.
Advantages of Aboriginal Healing Methods for the Aboriginal People
Traditional healing methods were based upon traditional Aboriginal spirituality beliefs.(p18). This spiritual belief system stated that “people exist within this context as worthy creatures, but no more worthy than any other being. To live secure, healthy lives through acknowledging and respecting the spiritual as well as the physical world, because there is no difference between the two.”(p71). The whole Aboriginal culture was based around these beliefs. Everyone in the community was treated as equal with acknowledgment and respect. Therefore those who deemed to follow the cultural beliefs had no difficulty in understanding the healing practices of the people. This appreciation of equality and respect was an advantage to the Aboriginal people, especially within their healing methods.
Illness was treated in many ways but the main goal was to achieve a sense of balance and harmony.(p82). Applications of herbs and roots, spiritual intervention, and community wide ritual and ceremonies were all therapeutic practices.(p71). “It was the healer who held the keys to the supernatural and natural worlds and who interpreted signs, diagnosed disease and provided medicines from the grassland, woodland, and parkland pharmacopoeia.”(p18). The healers knowledge of herbs and roots and ways to administer and diagnose had been passed down from generation to generation.(p85). Healers stood as an advantage for the Aboriginal people. “Trust and a personal relationships would naturally build between the patient and the healer.”(p77). This must have been comforting for the Aboriginal people, being aware of what they were taking and trusting their elders and ancestors with the guidance. Aboriginal medicines were based upon their beliefs, the healers and medicine men were reassuring and comforting members of the community since they could communicate with these spirits. Even though they were usually men and elders ,
they were not seen as having more power, just higher spiritual ability-they were treated as equal and
respected the same as any other.(p73). The healers also respected the physical environment form which all medicinal herbs and roots were taken. If something was taken a gift was always left as a sing of respect and acknowledgment- for example tobacco was commonly left when herbs were taken from the ground as a gift to the creator.(p100). I see this as an advantage to the Aboriginal people because it taught value and meaning to life-not to be too greedy as the white men soon came to be, depleting many of the Aboriginals’ medicinal herbs and roots for their own use.(p99) There was one thing that the white man could not take away form the Aboriginal people – their beliefs. Even though the White man tried it was something that the Aboriginal people kept as their own. This, I see as an advantage to the Aboriginal culture because the medicinal practices were based upon these beliefs, and they could not be stolen from them.
One other advantage to the healing practices of the Aboriginal people was the formation of bonds and ties with one another through the ceremonies and rituals that were performed.(p73). An illness was a communities responsibility. Everyone had roles from dancing to singing to drumming, depending on the ceremony.(p75). The family would constantly surround the ill stay in the same room until the person was no longer sick.-This was misunderstood by many western medical doctors who eventually forbid any of the rituals to take place.(p115). So the main advantage I would say, that Aboriginal healing practices has for the Aboriginal people is the understanding and clarity it makes for them because it is what they know and what their ancestors knew. It was their culture, and one must understand the culture to understand the benefits of its healing process for its people. The white man began to deteriorate the Aboriginal healing practice in order to implement their own. No values or beliefs of Aboriginal therapeutic practices were taken into thought. This forcing uncomfortable and untrustworthy situations to arise within the “western world of medicine.”(chp.4).
Persistence of Aboriginal Healing Methods After the Introduction of Western Medicines
One does not have to look far to find the reasons why the Aboriginal people failed to embrace the Western-style medical practices. Reasons that I will discuss for the persistence of Aboriginal healing practices are 1. Lack of doctors for the reserve. 2. The Aboriginal people were afraid and unaware of the practices (not trusting of the ways). 3. The communication barrier between doctors and their patients. 4. The misunderstanding of cultural practices and the roles of the individuals involved (the role of a doctor vs. role of a healer). 5. Many of their healing methods
still continued to be effective western medical attention was the last resort.
There was a shortage of doctors on the reserves if there were any doctors at all; as well as a
shortage of doctors who would treat the aboriginal people. “The native people were often affiliated with very malignant diseases such as smallpox, scurvy, and other loathsome diseases..doctors wanted to protect their own health and safety…they feared potential outbreak within the communities…this being the number one reason why the department was at first unwilling to entertain the notion of medical practitioners for the reserves.”(p143). The white culture should feel extreme guilt for it was them who introduced the malignant diseases to the Aboriginal people, forced them to practice their “Western medicines”, than left them to suffer when no “western medicines were provided resulting in the high death rates of the Aboriginal people. And this all because the doctors were afraid to do their jobs-treat the ill. Frankly this makes me sick. In another section of the book it states that “the people(Aboriginals’) refused to come to the hospitals to be treated because there was not enough staff to support all the people in need.”(p117). So obviously Aboriginal health was not in the best intrests of the “White man” , especially when it came to supplying proper care.
Aboriginal people were not familiar with the ways of “western medicines” which resulted in them acting with fear and distrust towards the system. “Doctors medicines were neither understood nor trusted by the Aboriginal people.”(p144). “The focus of Aboriginal healing methods were not the same as the “White mans”…many times the doctors would focus on the next life while the healers would focus on this life.”(p74). White healing methods were not based on spiritual beliefs rather only on the scientific and physical facts. This produced little faith in the “new” medicines no purpose or beliefs to follow. “The people simply did not care for the hospital as they had very little faith in white doctor or his medicines.”(p115). Throughout the book Maureen Lux makes mention to the many elders who state they were afraid to use the medication given to them by the white doctors because it made them ill, many think they got side effects because they were used as guinea pigs in the “western medical field.” (p180). There was also a great fear of hospitals because they were isolated buildings which the Aboriginal people related to ghosts. The hospitals were always a last resort for the Aboriginal people, they were viewed as a place for the chronically ill and alone-who rarely came out alive.(p179). It was basically a misunderstanding, but the White man” did not take the time and courtesy to help the Aboriginals’ understand and not be afraid, it was something they had to learn on their own.
Many misunderstandings arose due to the fact of the communication barrier between the
doctor and his patients. If your ill you usually go to the doctor and tell them your symptoms right, well
this was impossible at the beginning because there was not too many interpreters, so basically it was a guess? The following quote is based on the early experience of doctors on the reserves, “Girard’s i
inefficiency to help the ill was hardly surprising. He did not speak the language and he had little knowledge of the people who were his patients. Therefore his methods and medicines were neither understood not trusted by the people.”(p144). It is also stated on page 117 that there was a shortage of attendance at the hospitals because no one could speak “their ” language. One doctor finally came to the understanding that Aboriginal people still practice their healing customs because it was their only way of getting treated early, effectively, and continuously.(p145). This leads me into my next point which is the misunderstandings in the customary roles that a healer plays vs. a doctor. Healer-patient relationships are based on emotions and personal relationships. They offer a sense of reassurance and commonality. While doctors offers simply chemical formulae and its responses not their own.(p72) There was no supernatural or spiritual involvement in “white” medicine as there was in Aboriginal medicine.(p73). Doctors were understood as being hierarchal in their society and expected the Aboriginal people to treat them the same way. But they did not because according to their culture everyone and everything is equal and they treated their healer as an equal.(p73). I believe the Aboriginal people preferred their own healing practices because it was what they knew and understood, not because they didn’t appreciate the “western” medical ways or wanted to rebel against the “white man.”
Probably the main reason that Aboriginal healing methods persisted to exist was because the methods were still effective. “The persistence of their faith in ceremonial dancing and the medicine bundle suggests that the therapeutic regime continued to make sense to them in a way that little else did on the reserves.”(p101). Their medicinal practices were so strongly based on their spiritual beliefs, because they still held these beliefs the healing practices still made sense to them and worked. They also found that their healing practices is the only thing that they could keep for themselves, it was how the Aboriginal people “combatted their own dehumanization.” (p90). Yet as time went on, more chronic diseases were introduced and their healing still proved effective in the sense that it killed the pain and aided with the relief of symptoms, but did not usually cure the diseases.(p14). Basically I look at it as why would someone stop doing something they’ve done for so many years that has proven to be effective for them. The healing practices persisted because they satisfied the needs of the Aboriginal people and because they trusted and understood the
healing rituals and practices along with the individuals involved. Isn’t it best to trust what you know?
The nature of traditional medicine and its intimate relationship with Aboriginal culture explains the inadequacy of Western medicine as the primary model of health care for the Aboriginal community. I believe the preservation of the Aboriginal culture is the only true cure for the Aboriginal people. Society today must work on developing an understanding towards each other, and realize that the Aboriginal people are not rebelling against the “White man” or his ways, rather Aboriginal’s are trying to help their people by going back to what has worked for their ancestors for centuries; and what they feel comfort in.
word count: 12542
Medicine That Walks
Question #4 based on the book by Maureen Lux