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Traditional Health & Wellness

SweetgrassTraditionally, the Aboriginal Peoples took a holistic approach to health and wellness. In addition to the physical aspect of an individual or community’s well-being, total health also took into consideration the spiritual, emotional, and social. The key to wellness was balance. People strove for balance within their environment and with others, but most importantly, they maintained a balance within themselves. Their body, mind, and spirit functioned together as one interconnected system.

Alberta’s First Peoples lived a very healthy lifestyle, free of sicknesses such as influenza, tuberculosis, or syphilis, which threatened their existence in the years following contact with Europeans. Their lifestyles were based on the cycles of nature, which led them through the vast lands of the prairies and kept them fit and strong. The land was also a source of sustenance, supplying the peoples with food for energy and nutrition. Communities functioned like large families, offering support to all members. People generally lived in harmony with the world around them.

Of course, life on the land did not come without injury or illness. People could suffer from a number of maladies, including cuts and scratches, toothaches, burns, headaches, upset stomachs, or chronic pain. Women needed assistance during pregnancy and with the birth of children. For times like these, communities relied on their healers, Elders, and midwives to prescribe the right remedies. These medicine men and women were extremely skilled in the art of traditional healing, a talent that took many years of practice and an incredibly rich and precise knowledge of the land to master. Most importantly, they possessed the ability to connect their peoples to nature and to the Creator. They knew the secrets of the land, and served as ‘translators’, helping their community to better connect with the resources around them.

To pass on this traditional knowledge and to ensure the survival of their peoples, healers shared their expertise with younger apprentices, who would assume responsibility for the health and well-being of the community after the healer passed on. There was much for an apprentice to learn. A healer had to be learned in the spiritual aspects of health, including how to conduct healing ceremonies. He or she had to know when and where to gather herbs and medicines and how to store them. Most importantly, it was imperative that he or she understood how to use the remedies, as some were poisonous if not prepared correctly or given in the right dose, at the right time.

Plant life differed from area to area, and traditional healing remedies depended on available resources. However, the remedies were known for their effectiveness. Aromatic herbs, fruit, tree bark, roots and leaves were used in an assortment of ways to bring out different healing properties.

In Alberta, hundreds of different medicines were used to treat a large variety of ills. Sage was known for its anti-bacterial, astringent and antioxidant properties. Apart from being used in purification rituals, it served as a disinfectant for wounds, an anti-irritant for skin conditions, and could be boiled as tea to relieve digestive problems, headaches, or colds. Fireweed was another popular healing plant. Almost all of its parts could be harvested to cure many types of ailments, including digestive tract troubles. It was also used to heal burns, and offered protection from the effects of cold when applied to the hands and face in wintertime. Another frequently-used plant was the dandelion, which was well-known for its ability to treat heartburn, rheumatism, and skin conditions such as eczema, scurvy, or jaundice. Burdock, cattail and arrowroot contained edible roots which were used in a variety of ways. Burdock was especially known as an antidote to take after the accidental ingestion of poisonous plants, including certain mushrooms, oak, and ivy. Other plants known for their healing properties included mint and blueberries. The bark, leaves and buds of trees were also harvested for their healing properties. Poplar buds, for example, could be mixed with oil to make a balm that relieved pain, coughs, and skin problems. The bark scrapings of the poplar, aspen, or birch tree could be boiled to make a nutritious and aromatic tea.

Today, though Aboriginal Peoples have moved away from the lifestyles of their ancestors, many still rely on the traditional healing practices to restore them in times of weakened health. The traditional remedies mastered by Elders, healers, and midwives over hundreds of generations continue to act effectively against a variety of human ills.

Sources:
http://www.wrc.net

http://www.galileo.org

 


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