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Traditional Medicine

Traditional Healers Gathering Report


"On October 12-13, 2011, the Traditional Healers Gathering was proudly hosted on Musqueam Traditional territory and was held at the First Nations House of Learning. The interim First Nations Health Authority (iFNHA) and Aboriginal Health-Vancouver Coastal Health, made this Gathering possible.

This Traditional Healers Gathering was attended by 131 people, which included 68 traditional healers and knowledge keepers from across BC. This Gathering was intended to bring together BC First Nation traditional healers and traditional healing program leads to share their knowledge and provide a space for comments and suggestions on how to support traditional healers in their work and in the communities.

The long-term goals of this Gathering are to develop strategies on how to incorporate traditional healing practices into programs, communities and health systems, therefore ultimately supporting traditional healing practices and making it more accessible to community members. This Gathering endeavored to draw upon the wisdom and experience of the participants to nurture tradition, culture, and holistic wellbeing in our current health systems."
- (excerpt from the Introduction)

PDF Download | Traditional Healers Gathering Report 2013

Traditional Medicine
Throughout the community engagement process the FNHA has heard from First Nations throughout BC that Traditional Medicine is a critically important part of First Nations health. Though not included in the tripartite health plans agreed to with government, we have included Traditional Medicine as part of the FNHC website and health actions work on the widespread recommendation of First Nations in BC.

Best Practices of Traditional Models of Wellness Scan
The FNHC completed the Best Practices of Traditional Models of Wellness Scan in March 2010. This scan was developed to help communities support Traditional and Alternative medicine practices in their health programs and to follow up on the Archive Research Project that commenced December 2009. First Nations Traditional Models of Wellness Environmental Scan in BC was prepared from the results. Here is a brief review of the final outcomes from the scan and the Archive Research Project. 

Traditional Medicines Scan Summary | pdf download | DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT

Executive Summary

Going back to our traditional ways of using the land for our own resources is paramount to our strength and healing as a whole. First Nations across Canada are turning towards their own means of independence through self governance and changing paradigms of thought around such issues as health. Addressing First Nations health through a more traditional, holistic model has been recognized as essential in reducing the health disparity gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people of Canada. The importance of Traditional Medicine as a means of improving the health and quality of life for Aboriginal people is increasingly being recognized.

For this reason, Traditional Medicine has been an area of interest by the FNHC and is continually being addressed.
First Nations approaches to Traditional Medicine | pdf download |
Traditional Medicine overview presentation | pdf download |


Traditional medicine is a very important part of First Nations health that is almost always overlooked by the health care system. Traditional Medicine uses a holistic model of wellbeing through the integration of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of being. Even though specific practices vary between different tribes, all Traditional Medicine is based on the understanding that man is part of nature and health is a matter of balance.1, 2 Therefore there is respect for the land and all of her offerings. Traditional, elders understood the importance of respecting and using their environment for traditional foods, medicines, and ceremonies for overall health.

Many different alternative medical models view health and the body in the same manner as Traditional Medicine. These alternative medical models follow the same philosophies concerning well-being and care for the body and the environment. The principles of these philosophies include; treating the whole person; body, mind and spirit through health and well-being; the use of plant, animal and mineral based medicines; and, the use of knowledge and experience handed down from generation to generation to diagnose, and treat various conditions. Alternative therapies, such as Naturopathic Medicine, can be readily accessed and are available as an alternative to conventional care or in conjunction with conventional care.

Traditional medicine as well as Naturopathic medicine and other forms of alternative medicines are not currently funded through the Provincial or Federal government of Canada. There are some instances where portions of a visit to a practitioner of alternative medicine and laboratory testing will be covered but, as a whole, naturopathic physicians do not bill the government or government funded health organizations. This makes it very challenging for patients to utilize the health care that they prefer. It also makes it very challenging for organizations or clinics to hire traditional healers or naturopathic physicians.

However, many Canadian government reports and strategies recognize the need and responsibility to support Aboriginal choices of health care, including the integration of more traditional philosophies of health care services.4,5

Holistic health care is an integrative approach, balancing the mind, spirit, and body. Healthcare needs to be brought around into a full circle. First Nations Traditional Medicine emphasizes the basic elements of compassion for others and for self. There needs to be a shift, moving away from a dependence model, not only in government but in health care, to allow people to take ownership for their health and to be open to a multidisciplinary approach to health. With this mind change and shift towards ownership of health, comes the need for availability of alternative options in health care services that parallel similar philosophies of Traditional Medicine.

1. Crowshoe, Chelsea. Sacred Ways of Life: Traditional Knowledge. Prepared for The First Nation Centre National Aboriginal Health Organization. 2005.
2. Cohen, Benita. Health Services Development in an Aboriginal Community: The Case of Peguis First Nation. Research study prepared for RCAP (1994)
3. World Health Organization. Media Centre: Traditional Medicine.
4. The Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal People. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (1996)
5. The Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal People: (3) Gathering Strength. (1996)

Goals of addressing Traditional/Alternative Medicine

• Dialogue on Traditional Medicine with the communities. This is a starting point in the development of health services that reflect First Nations cultural values and are community driven. As well as extend the opportunities for health services to practice First Nations ways of health and healing.
• Forming a database of traditional healers
• Forming a database of traditional centers
• Re-establish belief and connection to the benefits of traditional medicine through knowledge transfer
• Establish best practices on how to best approach incorporating Traditional Medicine into all areas of health: mental, CD, ECD, etc
• Educate front line staff in traditional medicine philosophies
• Environmental scan of trained First Nations health practitioners in traditional or alternative medicines

Health Plan Action Items:

Addressing First Nations Health with Traditional Medicine
Implementing traditional medicines/ knowledge/practices is integral into the health and wellbeing of First Nations.

A summary of the documents that address First Nations health and the importance of incorporating traditional medicine:

First Nations Health Blueprint for British Columbia
The vision of the Blueprint is to ensure a full continuum of care for First Nations of BC. It states that this continuum of care should be founded on holistic principles of our cultures and traditions and respects the integrity of our healing practices. The vision facilitates shifts in the current health system from disease models of care to First Nations community development and wellness models.1

The Blueprint highlights include:
1) Delivery and Access of the Action Agenda: The minimal recognition and coverage of traditional/non medical interventions and alternative therapies by Canada and British Columbia is a gap in service delivery.
2) Sharing in Improvements of Canadian Health Care: Canada and British Columbia must ensure the participation of First Nations in primary health care transition and innovation development, including but not limited to:

A) The restructuring of MSP physician billing mechanisms to reward interdisciplinary and integrated approaches to service;
B) The incorporation of First Nations indigenous approaches to health and well being into mainstream service models across all jurisdictions of the health care system in British Columbia would be a major step towards the improvement of health services for our people.
3) Promoting Health and Well-being: The point is repeated that British Columbia First Nations' aspire to a health care system that is designed and delivered within their own communities by their own people, in keeping with their own unique cultural ways and traditions. Other characteristics are also identified including, holistic approaches, addressing the determinants of health, inter-disciplinary actions, etc. It is through local processes that are structured with these features that priority actions and the methods and techniques that are used in promoting health and preventing disease will be defined.
Needless to say, the development of First Nations models of health is a priority for investment in health promotion and disease prevention. Such models will always be holistic in their approach to health promotion and disease prevention. The development, testing and publication of First Nations models based on best practice and Aboriginal perspectives are a priority in health promotion.1
The development of health services that reflect First Nations cultural values and extend the opportunities for health services to practice First Nations ways of health and healing should be a priority across all jurisdictions.1

Tripartite First Nation Health Plan
Vision: "First Nations health services will be delivered in a manner that effectively meets the needs, priorities and interests of First Nations communities and First Nations individuals, regardless of their residency, and recognizes the fundamental importance of community solutions and approaches."

Principles of Respect and Recognition: "Cultural knowledge and traditional health practices and medicines will be respected as integral to the well being of First Nations."

Principles of Commitment to action: "Health and wellness for First Nations encompasses the physical, spiritual, mental, economic, emotional, environmental, social and cultural wellness of the individual, family and community. Although the present Plan focuses on health programs and services, it is recognized that the way forward will require a joint commitment to deal with the root causes and structural issues causing socio-economic gaps."2

The Transformative Change Accord: First Nations Health Plan (TCA:FNHP)

The TCA: FNHP does not mention the importance of implementing traditional medicine in its action plan, even though this has been identified by First Nations communities as important.

On page 3 of the TCA: FNHP, it states that "The Province has responsibility for providing all aspects of health services to all residents of British Columbia, including Status Indians living on and off-reserve." 18 The definition of "all aspects of health services" needs to be recognized as including traditional and alternative therapies.

Traditional Medicine Links

Traditional Healing websites

1. World Health Organization
WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations.  It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

2. Prometra: The Association for the promotion of Traditional Medicines.
An international organization for the preservation and restoration of the ancient arts of traditional medicine

3. National Center of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM
NCCAM's mission is to explore complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, train CAM researchers, and disseminate authoritative information to the public and professionals.

4. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: traditional health and healing
A Health Canada document on policy changes to better the life of Aboriginal peoples of Canada

5. Health resource links around the world:
Resources for Indigenous Cultures around the World

6. Native Science: What is Traditional Knowledge?
Information on traditional teachings, food, and local systems of traditional knowledge from the Arctic.

Traditional Healing Toolkits and Documents

1. Sacred Ways of Life- Traditional knowledge. Prepared by Crowshoe Consulting INC
Traditional knowledge community toolkit.

2. Traditional Medicine in Contemporary Contexts: Protecting and Respecting Indigenous Knowledge and Medicine. Prepared by Dr Dawn Martin Hill
An in depth document discussing Traditional Medicine and its role in society today.

3. Handbook and Resource Guide to the Convention on Biological Diversity

4. An Overview of Traditional Knowledge and Medicine And Public Health in Canada

5. Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy.
Detailed report on Draft Guidelines for Traditional Healing Programs, February 2002.

6. CIHR Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People.
Guidelines prepared by the ethics office of the Canadian Institute of Health Research to assist researchers and institutes to carry out ethically and culturally competent research involving Aboriginal peoples.

Tobacco Cessation Websites


2. Centre of Addiction and Mental Health provides many resources available in PDF and to order on tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

3. Centre for Addictions Research of BC provides tobacco toolkits for teachers through the various grades. Also available are Actnow products for order or to download.

4. BC Lung Association has many resources on tobacco cessation.

5. Health Canada- Quit 4 Life: Break the Habit. A website tailored for youth and tobacco cessation.

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