Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/2/2011 (3540 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Balancing the benefits of belief and its ability to do harm is one of the challenges facing aboriginals.
In First Nation communities across the country, medicine men are sought out by the people for myriad reasons, including attempting to cure an illness, seeking good luck, putting bad medicine on an enemy or foe, and removing bad medicine. Sounds like fiction, doesn't it? But, in fact, Indian medicine men are busy, and many charge for their services.
Does it really work? It is astounding how many aboriginal people believe in it. Some of us think it may just be the power of suggestion.
It can help people by giving them the confidence to cope with difficult situations. But, of course, when things in life go wrong, as they do in everyone's life from time to time, the believers in Indian medicine often wonder if someone has put bad medicine on them.
A couple of years ago, a family from the north was in Winnipeg to see a heart specialist because the mother had previously suffered a heart attack. After visiting a physician, the mother went to seek the advice of an Indian medicine woman who told her that someone had put bad medicine on her and she would remove it.
Her son, who was also in the city, was having many difficulties with his girlfriend and was despondent. The medicine woman said there was a bad spirit following him around, and she would get rid of it -- for a price, of course.
When I met the son later and was told about that afternoon's events, I became upset. Did the physician not inform the mother that there were most likely many reasons for the heart attack, such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise?
Now she would be returning to her home reserve wondering who was responsible for putting bad medicine on her and causing her heart attack. As for the son, he was in better spirits thinking that the bad spirit plaguing him had been dealt with.
The power of suggestion made him feel that now he can move on and work out his problems. In this case I felt the medicine women had done a good thing -- Indian sociology at work.
Indian medicine is not restricted to health and social ills. It's also used to influence band elections. On one reserve, the chief and his council were said to travel to Alberta to visit a very powerful medicine man for each election.
This news always spread like wildfire and the reaction was swift. Those opposing the incumbent chief now had to wonder: If they did not vote for this chief would bad things happen to their families?
It often swayed many voters, but the vote-buying and the large semis off-loading furniture and other goods as enticers just days before the election had to have helped.
On this same rez, during the days before the most recent election, the opposition fought fire with fire. When word came down that the incumbent chief was planning a trip to Alberta, the opposition sprang into action, going to Saskatchewan to get their own powerful medicine man.
Once on the reserve, this medicine man immediately got to work performing cleansing ceremonies to remove the bad medicine. This seemed to appease the people, allowing the opposition to finally get rid of a dictatorship band council whose members stopped at nothing to retain power.
They got a taste of their own medicine.
Now Indian medicine has reared its head on another large Manitoba First Nation.
A recently elected chief has a large growth appearing on the back of his neck. It's most likely caused by some medical condition, but many on this rez think bad medicine is at work and are calling for an emergency election to replace the chief.
It's astounding how many First Nation people believe in the powers of Indian medicine. They vary from the university educated to the average person.
Is there something there? The power of suggestion is a powerful tool, and many of those who grow up in this culture hearing the tales of good and bad medicine men and women take no chances that it is a hoax.
Most of us have no complaint about Indian medicine as long as it is used to help people with positive thoughts and the will to become whatever you want to become by working hard to achieve your goals.
Don Sandberg is president of Nistanan Centre for Public Policy, Canada's first aboriginal think-tank.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.