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Native American Medicine Essay

1889 words - 8 pages

Native American Medicine

"Native American medicine is based on widely held beliefs about healthy living, the repercussions of disease-producing behavior, and the spiritual principles that restore balance." -Ken "Bear Hawk" Cohen (Chrisman 1).

The beliefs that Cohen is referring to are shared by all North and South Native American tribes, however, the methods of diagnosis as well as the treatments vary significantly. This is mainly due to the fact that Native American medicine is based upon a spiritual view of life. A healthy person is someone who has a sense of purpose and follows the guidance of the Great Spirit who represented the central religious figure for most tribes (Chrisman 2). It is believed that someone is unhealthy because they have done something morally wrong, or not within their culture's boundaries of what is deemed acceptable. If the tribe member did do something wrong, often they would not receive medical treatment because it was believed that they were learning a lesson as a direct result of their actions. However, many times when an illness could not be accounted for the patient would receive medical attention. Native American medicine was administered through two primary sources, ritual procedures and rational therapy (Vogel ix). These two sources provided working combinations that were able to cure many illnesses for several reasons.

The medical practice of rational therapy was generally practiced first. It is referred to as rational therapy because actual substances, such as parts of plants and herbs, were used and often resulted in medical success. Many people do not realize how many contributions the Native Americans made in the field of medicine. They experimented and determined the proper way to allow broken bones to heal, the theories surrounding the birth control pill, a cure for scurvy, the use of cocaine as an anesthetic, and the development of antibiotics, to name a few. In order to heal a fractured, sprained or dislocated bone, the natives would form a padding of wet clay or rawhide to form a cast around the injury. This restricted movement, thus allowing the bone to heal properly. In another method, used by the Ojibwas, they washed the fractured arm with warm water, then greased it, applied a warm poultice of wild ginger and spikenard to ease the pain, covered it with cloth, and bound the arm with cedar splints (Vogel 215). This procedure resulted in a sling that allowed the broken bone to heal correctly. When someone broke a bone, it was crucial that the bone be able to heal properly as the injured person was needed to return to work as quickly as possible. Some Native Americans often used specific drugs to suppress ovulation and control the menstrual cycle (Vogel 5). This drug's success started researchers on the road that led to the pill, a common form of birth control today. This demonstrates that many of the needs of the people of the past are similar to the...

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