Event Review: Indigenous Healing Traditions of the Americas

By Heather Berg

Date: November 14-17, 2002, Washington, DC.

The Indigenous Healing Traditions of the Americas: Paths to a New Medicine Conference was held November 14-17 in Washington, DC to an enthusiastic crowd of individuals from South, Central and North America. Dozens of indigenous healers journeyed to share their knowledge of botanicals and various healing traditions with allopathic and alternative practitioners and with each other. Among the indigenous groups from the Americas represented were the Mohawk, Navajo, Sioux, Oglala Lakota, Cherokee, Anishinabe / Hidatsa, Yupik/Aleut, Cree, Nez Perce, Canadian Aboriginals and Quechua. Other contributors represented government agencies and NGOs, allopaths and academics.

The “palpable energy” of the conference was a tonic, and to many attendees it felt unparalleled in its scope and mission—integrative medicine in the broadest sense. Coming from the natural products industry, one is quickly reminded that the “next new product,” may have roots in indigenous healing traditions.

Dozens of panels and sessions were held with topics ranging from the Medicine Wheel and its applications in Wellness & Nutrition to Techniques of Indigenous Diagnostics. Health issues affecting indigenous populations, including Mental Health, Addiction, Women’s Health, Diabetes, AIDS, Malaria and TB, were given special attention.

Culturally relevant holistic medicine was another compelling topic. Panelists concurred that while there is much good in our cookie cutter approach, modern medicine doesn’t make time to look at the whole, unique individual, incorporating emotional, spiritual, family and social issues. The “Red Road” approach is just one example of a culturally relevant treatment proving to be effective in treating alcohlism among Native Americans.

Mark Blumenthal, Founder and Executive Director of the American Botanical Council gave a provocative presentation on “Conservation of Native American Medicinal Plants and Development of Sustainable Commercial Sources.” “Numerous plants are at risk, threatened or endangered” according to Mr. Blumenthal, however, “various successful programs have been developed to provide sustainable commerical quantities of high quality Native American medicinal plants that heretofore have been available only from wild harvest.” And then there’s the “high tech solution to what has been a low-tech industry.” To discourage and track poachers of Native American ginseng, luminescent dyes or chips are being planted into the fruits of the wild living plant. Bill Quiroga of Native American Botanics further enhanced the presentation by sharing a fine art presentation he commissioned from Native American artists to portray Native American herbs in their unique environments. For more information see www.herbalgram.org and www.nativeamericanbotanics.com

Elena Avila, an RN turned healer, summed up the circular “history of medicine” simply and eloquently. A patient says “doctor I have an earache,” and through the ages, the response may have been:
2000 BC—“Here, eat this root”
50 AD—“That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”
1940 AD—“That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”
1985 AD—“That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”
2000 AD—“That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”

Ms. Avila can be reached at www.Elena-Curandera.com

This amazing conference would not have been available without the visionary presenters and the long-term vision of Anna Souza, Director of Pro-Cultura. Thank you Anna for persisting and making this conference a reality. “ProCultura’s goal is to build support for collaborative initiatives between the biomedical and traditional health sectors.” For more information see www.procultura.org.

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