Understanding traditional medicine - ICT

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  kavika  •  4 weeks ago  •  55 comments

By:   Renae Ditmer (ICT)

Understanding traditional medicine - ICT
Health industry struggles to define traditional medicine as its use increases among tribal communities

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Health industry struggles to define traditional medicine as its use increases among tribal communities

  • Author: Renae Ditmer
  • Publish date: Oct 25, 2022

Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay spend time in an outdoor classroom with 90-year-old Ojibwe elder, Dan Pine from Garden River, Ontario, in an herbal medicine workshop. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Ratteree/FILE PHOTO)

Health industry struggles to define traditional medicine as its use increases among tribal communities

Renae D. Ditmer, Ph.D.
Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Whatever else you believe about traditional medicine, know that no one can agree on its definition.

Type the terms "traditional medicine" into any search engine and out spits a plethora of definitions (and I use that term loosely).

The National Institute of Health defines it as "…health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being."

Not to be outdone, The World Health Organization states that, "It is the sum total of the knowledge, skill, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences Indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the preventions, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness," and inexplicably lumps it in with "complementary medicine" and "herbal medicine".

Johns Hopkins sees it as largely "herbal medicine" as do many other medical schools and universities that also glom on "alternative medicine," yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, and the kitchen sink just in case they're feeling left out.

Add to that the not-so-subtle lectures aimed at traditional medicine users about depleting increasingly scarce or endangered flora and fauna that fuel a search for a cure for something that ails you, Indigenous or not, and you get the picture.

Almost all agree, however, that traditional medicine is somehow connected to Indigenous or cultural practices passed down through generations, however undefined those are. And though providers don't acknowledge it out loud, anything Indigenous is a hot ticket item on the medical market menu right now, and many are glad to offer whatever it is in addition to modern medical protocols to line their pockets.

What is true in the Indigenous community is that traditional medicine, however defined, is making a comeback in Indian health clinics as well. But it's complicated.

Many Indian Health Clinics now provide underserved, non-Indigenous communities healthcare as well, thanks to policies that have allowed our clinics to accept much-needed, third-party payments from Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans benefits, and other state or federally sponsored programs.

While the additional money has underwritten improvements in Native healthcare, what muddles things is that those underserved communities have their own culturally based medical practices.

This has left urban Indian Health Centers scrambling to define and provide traditional medicine that fits all groups' expectations.

First traditional medicine clinic


In its earliest and purest form in Indian Country, the definition of traditional medicine wasn't quite as squishy when the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians stood up the first traditional medicine clinic in the United States in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in 1995.

The clinic introduced the traditional medicine program when the tribe moved into its then-new clinic in the mid-1990s, according to Anthony Abramson Sr., the clinic manager from 1995-2019, and Laura Collins-Downwind, the Sault Tribe behavioral health manager.

After amendments to Public Law 93-638 in 1994 that gave tribes the authority to contract with the federal government to operate services for their citizens, the tribe's program manager, Theodore Holappa, and traditional healer Adam Lusier were able to bring their vision for Indian Country to life when they integrated the program using funds carved out of the tribe's block health grant and burgeoning casino funding.

Like most Natives involved in traditional medicine, practitioners and consumers believe the Creator provides all that the people need in the region from which they originate, and that traditional medicine is a spiritual practice.

Consequently, in 1994, the dream was to integrate into clinic offerings everything deemed "traditional" from across Anishinabek territory that was already being practiced by healers living in the region on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border.

As critical to Holappa and Lusier was the need to legitimize traditional practices by bringing them into the modern health clinic setting. They wanted their people to have access to anything that benefitted them in a single point of service.

But it was challenging given the size of traditional Anishinabek territory. Abramson said both men struggled to get that knowledge from reluctant traditional healers. They then faced the challenge of collecting and harvesting plants - a large part of traditional medicine -and cataloging what they were and how they were used. Non-Anish medicines were not incorporated, although some practices, such as sweats, from the Plains Indians, were incorporated.

The purism of Sault Tribe traditional medicine has continued. While other tribes have expanded their definition of "traditional" to include practices from other cultures, the tribe continues to push back at the notion - especially the inclusion of cannabis - and doesn't offer herbs that don't grow in the area.

That said, the Sault Tribe welcomes non-Natives from the region to participate based on the belief that Creator provides medicine for all originating in the same region.

'A piece of who we are'


None of the Michigan medical schools has traditional medicine programs, and tribal elders prefer it that way.

Abramson and Collins-Downwind agree that for traditional medicine to become a standard inclusion in those schools, standards for its practice need to be developed. They're not there yet, but those seeking traditional healing are growing in number. The pressure is on for medical schools to adapt.

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Collins-Downwind said it's important to bring keep traditional medicine available.

"Traditional medicine is a piece of who we are, and when we lose the knowledge of traditional medicine, we're going to lose the dynamic of how to treat our people," Collins-Downwind said. "Our job to seek it out and bring it back."

The University of Minnesota's Center of American Indian and Minority Health, however, has been up and running in its medical school for the past 50 years, according to the center's director, Dr. Mary J. Owen, Tlingit.

A graduate of the school who completed her residency at the North Memorial Family Practice before returning to Duluth in 2014 to head the center, she has developed and manages programs to grow the ranks of American Indian/Alaska Natives attending medical schools in all fields, as well as keeping them in fields serving those communities.

The Minnesota center was originally launched in 1957 to address rural healthcare and Native suffering in Minnesota, despite an absence of legislative backing and funding. Since 1987, it has been a recognized center in the excellence of Native healthcare education. Today, it has the second-highest number of Native graduates of any medical school in the U.S. with more than 200 having finished the program so far.

All medical students have been required to participate in the Native curriculum at the center since 2014, when it was devised under Dr. Melissa Louis. The curriculum includes the history since Wounded Knee, the Indian Health System, trust responsibility, treaties, and sovereignty. It also deals with historical trauma and its complexity, although students and patients alike have, in her estimation, difficulty grasping its impact on physical and mental health.

Owen didn't think about traditional medicine until that point. Admittedly "very White educated," Western medicine was her core. It wasn't until later that she recognized the powers of Indigenous healing ways - traditions and cultures, not simply herbs.

She sees traditional medicine as embracing more than people ingest — it's how foods are cultivated and harvested, putting community above ourselves, living and evolving language, our core values, trade knowledge. The list goes on. She believes in selecting the good from all things and integrating it into traditional medicine.

"We are evolving, so traditional medicine is evolving," she said. "The more that there's a community dedicated to wellness and helping each other, the more likely we are to understand our physical and mental problems and to be able to address them."

Sage LaPena, Nomtipon Wintu, the only certified medical herbalist in California, an ethnobotanist, and the Healing Ways Practitioner at the Sacramento Native American Health Center, expands on Owen's view.

Her journey in traditional medicine started early in her youth when she participated in a traditional healing ceremony with the northern central California Tribes. And though she is certified in both western and traditional herbalism and her philosophy remains embedded in traditional herbalism, she focuses on the problems plaguing Native communities that food items can address, with herbs addressing more discrete health problems.

Hypertension, diabetes, cardio-vascular issues, obesity — basically diseases associated with metabolic syndrome and a sedentary lifestyle — constitute the core of her practice because herbs can't correct what is rooted in diet.

"Diabetes didn't become a problem post contact until we were put on reservations and dependent on the commodities program," she said.

Moreover, it affected unincorporated areas more than it did urban areas because the rules for the program were different, offering more diversity to urban Natives.

"Insulin drivers comprise the mainstay of the program while we remain surrounded in California by healthy food from local farmers which ends up in local landfills," she said. "When complicated by the obstacles that most Natives are no longer trained in incorporating and preparing healthy food, you end up with a community health crisis."

LaPena laments the many Indigenous societies that are not agricultural and where many elders no longer have basic food knowledge to pass down, and the sheer number of Indigenous people who no longer enjoy vegetables for lack of access.

The food sovereignty programs are a sign of hope, but can't come fast enough.

"How do I get individuals to come to the garden?" she asked. Good question, especially in drought-plagued California.

She thought the Sacramento center was onto something when it sponsored Produce for All, a program that offered imperfect food gathered from the Valley once a month to anyone who needed it. COVID ended that, when telemedicine forced patients out of the clinic into virtual reality.

Beyond bringing back real food to the community, LaPena would prefer to work less as a clinical herbalist and more as a traditional herbalist, someone who could address an individual's habits, life rhythm, personality, and stressors in a broader circle group-type of setting. She believes it would produce changes in outcomes, her ultimate goal, regardless of the patient's community of origin.

At the end of the day, like many things across Indian Country, there is a common theme that runs through traditional medicine even if the definition isn't static. To sum it up, we are all part of a much larger reality yet intrinsically related, and it will take that whole reality to return us to health. Yes, indeed.

Renae Ditmer, Ph.D., is the chief administrative officer for the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, and an expert in tribal sovereignty and governance. She founded STRATCON LLC in 2007 to provide research and management expertise to both the federal government and tribes and has written for Indian Country Today, now ICT, since 2016. She has a doctorate in government from Georgetown University and a master's in strategic studies and international economics from the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Renae is a citizen of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians.


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Kavika
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Kavika     4 weeks ago

To the Anishinaabe people, the traditional healers are the mide of the Midewiwin society also known as the ''Grand Medicine Society'' which is hundreds of years old. 

In a way they are at odds with the current movement since the Midewiwin Society is not only hundreds of years old but they are the keepers and practitioners of ''traditional medicine'' and were driven underground for decades as they were outlawed by the US government. At odds with yet, they are an intricate part of it. 

The term ''traditional medicine'' seems to concentrate on the physical being but in reality, it encompasses both the physical and mental well-being of the person. 

As we take back our traditional medicine there will be those charlatans that are pretenders as seen by the wannabes that hold ''sweet lodges'' that have actually killed some people because they had no idea of what they were doing, it's the ''new age'' nonsense that is both illegal and dangerous.

I have for many years used traditional medicine (Midewiwin) and can credit it with pulling me back from the brink after returning from Vietnam a very angry and confrontational person headed down a bad road.

It is my understanding that the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN. has traditional healers as part of their staff.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
1.1  devangelical  replied to  Kavika @1    4 weeks ago

the only life that the big pharma chemical industry sustains is it's own.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.1.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  devangelical @1.1    4 weeks ago
the only life that the big pharma chemical industry sustains is it's own.

And lobbyists and some politicians.

 
 
 
Raven Wing
Professor Guide
1.2  Raven Wing  replied to  Kavika @1    4 weeks ago

A very interesting and enlightening article, Kavika. As you pointed out many of the Native American Tribes still practice much of the traditional Medicinal and Spiritual ways of their ancestors.  Mother Earth has provided us with the herbs and other natural means for maintaining good health for thousands of years. 

Thank you for sharing this great article with us. 

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
1.2.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Raven Wing @1.2    4 weeks ago

I'm not very spirutual but I can see the practical use of native plants for medicinal reasons. I also like the idea of using what I find in my backyard so that it can be sustainable

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2  Trout Giggles    4 weeks ago

We've always kept an aloe plant growing in the house for quick burn relief. My parents used a lot of homemade medicine for things like coughs and bee stings.

I would like to lean more about the plants that grow around my house for relief from pain or upset stomach.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Trout Giggles @2    4 weeks ago
I would like to lean more about the plants that grow around my house for relief from pain or upset stomach.

This will get you started, Trout.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @2.1    4 weeks ago

Thank-you! I bookmarked it

 
 
 
1stwarrior
Professor Guide
2.1.2  1stwarrior  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.1.1    4 weeks ago
 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
2.1.3  pat wilson  replied to  Kavika @2.1    4 weeks ago

Yes, thank you. It provided an easily downloadable pdf.

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
Professor Quiet
2.1.4  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Kavika @2.1    4 weeks ago

My maternal grandmother who raised me grew a lot of her own herbs and plants and in our front yard in Arizona. She used a lot of home remedies in our house she learned from her Chiricahua Apache forbears when she grew up on a ranch in Cananea, Sonora Mexico. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1.5  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @2.1.4    4 weeks ago

That is really common of the natives from that time period and now it's in a revival of many tribes. Food security.

The Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) my tribe manoomin (wild rice) is so entwined in our culture it is sacred. Hundreds of years ago one of the ''Seven First Prophecy'' told us to move to the land ''where food grows on water''.

I can remember as a kid getting my rice knocker, lining the bottom of the canoe with paper, and polling out to the wild rice and harvest all day.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
2.2  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @2    4 weeks ago

when I was 6 or 8, I fell out of a tree landing on my back into a pile of boards full of nails. no trip to the ER back then, my granny made a poultice to put on my back. I'm still here. I've used herbal medicine for 50 years. LOL

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  devangelical @2.2    4 weeks ago

The more that traditional medicine becomes more a part of the mainstream of medical services the better it is.

 
 
 
Ozzwald
Professor Quiet
2.2.2  Ozzwald  replied to  Kavika @2.2.1    4 weeks ago
The more that traditional medicine becomes more a part of the mainstream of medical services the better it is.

Let's hear it for leeches.

636237108104633635-LEECHES-1.jpg?width=660&height=373&fit=crop&format=pjpg&auto=webp

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.3  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ozzwald @2.2.2    4 weeks ago

Well Ozz, we don't use leaches most of our medical ingredients are plant-based. In fact to get you updated the American Indian pharmacopeia is a huge part of today's cures for many illnesses. 

Now, instead of leaches, we do use the lamprey which can dig deeper and suck out more blood in a shorter period of time. We don't use them often but do use them on a cure for ''wise asses.''

256

 
 
 
Ozzwald
Professor Quiet
2.2.4  Ozzwald  replied to  Kavika @2.2.3    4 weeks ago
Well Ozz, we don't use leaches most of our medical ingredients are plant-based.

I understand that, however "traditional" medicine extends far beyond native American medicine.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.5  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Ozzwald @2.2.4    4 weeks ago

And that is so.  TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has been practised for thousands of years and is a legitimate and popular treatment in China.  My experience with it has been both helpful in some circumstances and useless in others.  Potions to imbibe are made up from all knds of plant life, dead insects and who knows what else.  Heated vessels are used to suck on the skin, which I tried once to no avail but I have never experienced acupuncture yet for many it is effective.  

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.6  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2.5    4 weeks ago

As I explained in my to comment to Ozzwald, we are discussing the traditional medicine of the NA's and in particular the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.7  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ozzwald @2.2.4    4 weeks ago
I understand that, however "traditional" medicine extends far beyond native American medicine.

I'm aware of that, Ozzwald. In this case, the article is centered on NA traditional medicine and specifically the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians (Ojibwe). So that is what is being addressed in this article and in my comments. 

The article also mentions the vast number of interpretations of traditional medicine. So we'll stick with NA traditional medicine for this discussion.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.8  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Kavika @2.2.6    4 weeks ago

Sorry Kavika.  Would you like me to erase my comment?  I will so your article won't be diluted by my wandering off topic with it.  I must have been misled by your referring to the fact that there are many forms of traditional medicine.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.9  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2.8    4 weeks ago

I guess I was stupid enough to think that supporting your comment about traditional medicines being effective as compared to regular western medicine would be a positive endeavor.  Forgive me. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.2.10  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2.8    4 weeks ago

Do whatever you chose to do, Buzz. 

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
2.2.11  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2.9    4 weeks ago

Buzz,

All that Kavika is doing is redirecting you back to the topic. Nothing personal. 

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
2.2.12  cjcold  replied to  Kavika @2.2.1    4 weeks ago

Grew up in a scouting family with first aid as a primary field of focus.

Small wonder I worked as an EMT and a paramedic all those years.

Dad would drive our local Dr. around on his house calls. They were buds.

This was back when doctors still made house calls in small communities.

So many modern, expensive, remedies came from nature.

The Weeping Willow produces aspirin.

No explanation needed for the Opium Poppy.

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
2.2.13  pat wilson  replied to  Kavika @2.2.3    4 weeks ago

jrSmiley_10_smiley_image.gif

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.2.14  Trout Giggles  replied to  cjcold @2.2.12    4 weeks ago

Foxglove is a beautful flower but also produces digitalis

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
2.2.15  cjcold  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.2.14    4 weeks ago

Have always been fond of peyote, cannabis and tobacco myself.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.2.16  Trout Giggles  replied to  cjcold @2.2.15    4 weeks ago

Never tried peyote I think I would do magic mushrooms first

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.2.17  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @2.2.3    4 weeks ago

Mein Gott that's an ugly assed animal

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
2.2.18  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.2.16    4 weeks ago

mushrooms are legal in denver, statewide is on the ballot next week. beats the hell out of buying some frozen glob of who knows what in the corner of a baggie like we had to 50 years ago.

 
 
 
cjcold
Professor Quiet
2.2.19  cjcold  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.2.16    3 weeks ago

Cut out the white fuzzy spots on peyote buttons before taking.

The white fuzzy spots are strychnine and can lead to stomach pain.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
3  Perrie Halpern R.A.    4 weeks ago

Interesting article.

I am glad you pointed out the pop culture aspect of how traditional medicine is being abused. Most western cultures do not view it as holistically as do those who actually practice it. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @3    4 weeks ago

We see this ''new age'' nonsense on a regular basis. Those that deal in this are there to make money, nothing else. 

I know in my tribe that a Midewiwin or the newer traditional medicine native would never think of asking for money, if someone does you should walk away as quickly as possible.

 
 
 
Veronica
Masters Expert
4  Veronica    4 weeks ago

I may not be NA, but have reading up on and using various traditional medicines.  Thank you for a very interesting article, Kavika.  You are always such a fountain of information....I will be bookmarking that link you gave Trout as well.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Veronica @4    4 weeks ago

Happy that you enjoyed it, Veronica.

 
 

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