Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


Traditional healers look at how to help fight swine flu
By Shannon Montgomery
Condensed by Native Village

Manitoba: Aboriginal people have been hit hard by the Swine Flu (H1N1) virus that's caused more than 60 deaths across Canada.  While H1N1 has affected 20 of every 100,000 Canadians, that number jumps to 135 in 100,000 for Manitoba's First Nations.

Overcrowding, a lack of running water, and too few supplies and health-care workers makes remote reserves especially vulnerable.

Sydney Garrioch is the grand chief of 30 communities in northern Manitoba. Over half of those communities can only be reached by plane. One-third don't have nursing stations; less than half get regular visits from doctors. When the weather gets bad, it's hard to get supplies in or sick people out.

Garrioch said tribal members and traditional healers are preparing for a big hit by the virus this fall.

 "That's the basis of it - there's only limited health professionals, limited medical supplies or drugs, or a vaccine, and other things that are required for treatment," said Garrioch. "That's where we kind of develop the medicines within our regions, what can be harvested and what is sustainable."

Aboriginal healer Be'sha Blondin agrees that traditional healers are facing the challenges of the rapidly spreading flu.  She said traditional healers treat the whole person, not just the symptoms.

"I've always wondered how come the scientists and the medical people never ask the medicine people for help," she said from her home in Yellowknife. "We as traditional medicine (people) use a lot of medicines on the land, and we have all kinds of medicine to help any kind of new diseases that come up."

Many agree traditional healing is effective. Dr. Chandrakant Shah works at an aboriginal clinic in downtown Toronto. While he practices Western-style medicine, he often refers patients to a traditional healer. In some cases, he's seen traditional practices heal what western-medicine couldn't. But since most traditional healers keep their methods secret, Shah says its tough to learn what those remedies might be.

"This doesn't mean we should say we won't provide them with Tamiflu because they're using their 'herbal remedies,'" he said. "To me, having these two side by side would be a great benefit. Neither of them would work individually, but collectively there would be a synergy."

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