Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Traditional healers offer H1N1 help

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For a sore throat, the roots of a type of plant that grows in the water.

For a fever, the gum and needles of a spruce tree, boiled together and swallowed first thing in the morning.

To prevent the spread of infection, the inner and outer bark of the spruce, given to everyone in a household.

These are just a few of the techniques aboriginal healer Be'sha Blondin would use to fight H1N1 if it came to her community.

Aboriginals have been hit particularly hard by the H1N1 virus that has been implicated in more than 60 deaths across Canada. Leaders have pointed out that a shortage of health-care workers and supplies, overcrowding and a lack of running water have made many remote reserves more vulnerable to the spread of disease.

Blondin said traditional healers are eager to face the challenges of the rapidly spreading flu.

"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."

In Manitoba, many of the province's most severe cases have involved aboriginals. Leaders there say that while the H1N1 flu has affected 20 people in every 100,000 in Canada, that number jumps to 135 in 100,000 for Manitoba's First Nations.

Sydney Garrioch, the grand chief of 30 communities in northern Manitoba -- more than half of which are accessible only by plane -- said members are meeting to figure out how traditional healers can help ahead of an expected resurgence of the virus this fall.

Only about two-thirds of the communities have nursing stations and less than half get regular visits from doctors. If a storm were to roll in, especially in winter, it would be hard to get supplies in or sick people out.

"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."

Traditional healers don't just look at symptoms, they treat the whole person, said Blondin. Prayers are said before the medicine is administered, and the spiritual side is considered as important as the physical side.

People dealing with emotional issues, ranging from their experience in residential schools to sexual and physical abuse, may be vulnerable to illness, and that should be addressed if healing is to take place.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2009 A6

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