September 26, 2012 [INDIGENOUS MEDICINE]
Indigenous - Aboriginals/the first people of the land.
Indigenous Medicine - A set of beliefs or practices that have been developed over generations
(through oral tradition).
Evidence of this pre-historic medicine comes from the time of post-colonialism and the colonial
(European) explorers, traders, physicians, missionaries, government personnel, etc.
o Potential Problems: Gender biases, distorted by the Western mindset, and Europeans
view ALL indigenous people primitive and the same.
Those in the interior would have seen evidence of the European society through imports that were
delivered to them.
Thousands of autonomous indigenous tribes and 11 different language groups. Each culture
developed in a very diverse manner, very much due to their geographic location.
Due to trading and networking, there were similarities among the groups as well.
Settlements (where tribes cultivated the land). Agriculture allowed for a greater certainty of food
production (versus depending on hunted game). The more settled a region, the more likely it was
that they would develop diseases. Hunter/gatherer societies were healthier.
o Eg. North Eastern Woodlands
There is a theory (developed in the 1970’s) that there was no sickness prior to contact (with
o As the hunters and gatherers lost the land bridge between Siberia and Beringia, a certain
cold screen filtered out old world diseases (approx. 16 thousand years ago). This bridge
area was so cold that it was seen as a filter – sickness couldn’t carry through. Believed
that ice and glaciers prevented contact with Eurasian populations. Plus, the cold climate
was seen as unfavourable to disease and germ populations.
o This idea has some merit. Parasites don’t thrive at higher latitudes, and the Arctic
Ecosystem sponsors lower species diversity.
o This idealized version of the health of these gatherers is not supported by current
evidence. They were never disease free. Environmental hazards such as poisonous
plants, consumed bacteria, parasites through animal consumption (uncooked meats
especially), all enhanced threats of sickness.
Our knowledge of such matters is still incomplete due to our fragmented knowledge. Thus, we
must rely on interdisciplinary studies (pulling together different disciplines and experts). These
include: science, anthropology, etc.
Spread through air.
There were high rates of TB among aboriginal peoples, leading scholars to conclude that this was
a new disease to these people. However, with credit to the interdisciplinary study of archaeology,
TB infection evidence has been found in mummified first nations populations. Thus, it was in
fact endemic (affecting a particular group in a particular area – unlike an epidemic where its is
not isolated. Pandemic means it has become worldwide) among first nations peoples.
More than 133 pre-contact cases of TB have been found. September 26, 2012 [INDIGENOUS MEDICINE]
Part of this conclusion came from animal bone. Found in animals such as bison, scientists must
question whether the humans acquired it from bison, or the other way around. This leads to
further questioning of communication of diseases from animals. Dog remains are specifically
useful, because they would eat leftovers by humans, resulting in similar chemical signatures as
they shared the same evironments. Canines are a very rich source of evidence and information in
Interaction was most found in the fur trade between the 17 and 19 centuries.
Once first nations made contact with Europeans, there is no doubt that disease played a key role
in their everyday lives and relationships. Small pox, measles, influenza, yellow fever, whooping
cough, sifficlus, fevers, etc. caused illness and death to spread among people and villages – all
coming from Europeans. All epidemics were classified by high mortality rates in people of all
ages. Such a pattern occurs either because the disease is new, or because it hasn’t been present
in a population long enough and immunity has been lost/never formed. A modern example
would be aids.
Scholar argue that infectious disease were present before the Europeans.
Areas where trade thrived, were especially vulnerable to epidemics. The higher the population
density, the more likely a disease will spread quickly.
First nations people had a belief in spiritualism and supernatural or other-than-human beings,
which influenced the spread of disease. There was an other-worldliness view towards medicine
Serious illnesses were seen as punishment for a prior transgression, and the assistance of a
specialized healer was needed.
Life was regulated by harmony and balance. Holism was a central tenant of aboriginal healing
3 types of healers:
o Herbalist – draw from botanical sources to treat a variety of disorders.
o Medicine Man (and women) – person with supernatural sanction/spiritual right to make a
o Shaman – a person with the ability to fall within a deep trance and summon the spirits to
o Shaking Tent – In the tent, the Shaman would make noises and shake around, to get rid
o Sweat Lodge – the sick person was put inside the tent, and it was believed that the
sickness would be sweat out.
Sweat lodge is likely more beneficial than the shaking tent, and is similar to the idea of a
sauna. Whether it is actually medically beneficial or not, is unknown.
Traditional African Medicine
Believed that there