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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Métis Midwives and Traditional Healing

In the early trading communities, medical help was available from two sources: some of the traders had training in European medicine, and had medical chests; Aboriginals had their own medicine, and the Métis often learned from their Native ancestors. Every community had a community midwife, who was charged with the reproductive health of the women, and the survival of the babies. This was not a position that was inherited, but rather, girls who showed an interest were taken as apprentices and carefully instructed. Aboriginal and Métis women were some of the first midwives. There was much to learn and hopefully the apprentice would be ready to take over before the elder mid-wife passed on. There were herbal treatments to learn, and where and how to gather prepare and store them. There was also the more vital element to practise, that of being part of the maintenance of the relationship between the community, the world and the Creator. The midwife, the healer, the Elder, people turned to if they were ill, whether spiritually, emotionally or physically. There were of course, male Elders as well, who supervised the development of the boys, and watched over the welfare of the band. The Elders also were charged with maintaining the continuity between the past and the future.

Traditionally, every community had their own midwife. Often, she was a childless and by becoming a midwife she also became godmother to most of the children in the community. Some midwives were prominent Métis women, who would use their access to resources to assist in the community. One prominent grandmother in early Medicine Hat, known to be descended from a well-known fur trade family, is said to have saved whole villages during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Métis Traditional Health

Indigenous cultures throughout the world have always approached health in a holistic way. Holistic approaches to health means that the whole person is considered in any treatment of disease. The inter-relationship of the mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and social aspects of health and well being of individuals and communities are considered in order to treat a person.

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