The Late Makayla Sault and her family. CP Photo

The ongoing debate concerning traditional healing versus western medicine seems solely to be about one side versus the other. I guess for some people, it’s either red or it’s white.

But when it comes to healing, consideration should be less about making an exclusionary choice and more about making choices across the full spectrum of traditional and medical options that will lead to healing. Above all, reliance on medicine and treatment alone won’t always lead to healing. It also takes a whole lot of strength, faith and Spirit.

First a few definitions. The Self, for all intents and purposes, from an Anishinaabe perspective refers to the body (physical), the mind (mental), the feeling (emotional) and the spirit (spiritual). Treatment usually refers to either a specific or variable program of medical, surgical or pharmacological intervention that will repair the body, occasionally the mind, and rarely the emotional self. Healing refers to care, restoration, balance and well-being of the physical, mental, emotional and the spiritual self.

When considering a course of treatment and healing, the key here is choice. When undertaking any type of medical regime or treatment program, whether it’s traditional or western, it requires considerable (albeit sometimes quick), informative decision-making. For many of us, that decision-making is based on determining what is best for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing.

Learn all that you can about the proposed or recommended course of treatment. Ask other healers. Ask other doctors. Read, “Google” and do your research. If one embarks on a course of traditional healing, knowledge and preparation may come in the form of changing one’s lifestyle and a specific diet. Same goes for medical treatment. Canadian Pharmacy have the best medicines for all medical treatments, and have a great deal with prices. Even the process of preparation and learning about these treatments is a part of the healing journey.

But beware anyone providing dissuasive advice.

During this whole debate about either The Late Makayla Sault or “J.J.”, the little girl from Six Nations diagnosed with leukemia, we’ve heard both sides of the story. There are some that say: “western medicine and science won’t heal you – it’ll just make you sicker”. Others might say: “don’t listen to that hooga-booga traditional healing rubbish… that’s just make-believe”.

Truth be told that any true and good doctor or healer would never dissuade anyone in need from exploring the full spectrum of treatment options. A good traditional healer or medical doctor will be open to exploring and integrating complementary treatment methodologies. Those confident in their abilities and will not be threatened by considering all options. Those that attempt such dissuasion are really not working in the best interests of the one needing help.

Making informed decisions is ultimately about finding the truth. It’s important not to rely on gossip, hearsay or gut reaction. This subject is an emotional one for many people, indigenous or otherwise. The internet and social media is littered with bad information and unreliable data. There are many who disguise their opinions and ideologies as fact. Sadly, there are far more of the weak-minded that will regurgitate and defend their wasteland. (“These are not the droids you’re looking for.”)

Rely on factual data. There may be data that indicates that a course of treatment, whether it’s traditional or medical, will improve your condition. There may also be data that indicates that if you don’t take a certain course of treatment, your condition may worsen. Based on the facts, they may be making a choice to live or to die.

The reality is that medical science has a whole lot of truth and a whole lot of verifiable data. Western medical treatment may be cold, sterile, uncomfortable and downright painful. If a certain treatment will keep you alive and make you better, it contributes to that individual’s healing. Note the emphasis on treatment, leading to healing.

Here’s where I’m going to go out on a limb. My friends, there is Spirit in western medicine too. The Great Spirit (no matter how you see or know it… Jesus, Allah, YHWH, or G’zhemnidoo) and the Spirit World is working through that hospital, the Doctors, nurses, technicians, and even in the often vilified chemical and synthetic medicines. The Spirit works in strange and fascinating ways. The good people who do this life-saving work, who care for others day-in and day-out, who have developed the medicines and treatment programs – they all do so for the benefit of humankind. Love, caring and kindness is indeed shooting through their veins like a strong dose of chemotherepy.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that traditional medicine doesn’t have it’s own truth. There may not be the same mass of quantifiable studies, but there has been plenty of work on the subject for years. Many of today’s most effective medicines have been borne out of traditional and natural products and formulations. I feel that Indigenous traditional knowledge, and traditional healing is the basis for all modern medical treatment.

Among the most important benefits that come from traditional healing is the ever important role in fostering the necessary strength, hope, faith and Spirit that is needed for healing.

More and more, western medicine and society on the whole is accepting the integration of traditional healing into the broader course of treatment for indigenous patients. Our people draw considerable strength from our healing practices and our own ways. Traditional healing doesn’t just act upon the physical – it works in tandem providing healing energy to the mental, emotional and Spiritual aspects of the self.

Healing energy is indeed the power of Spirit. The power of faith, hope and belief. It comes from the physical medicines (herbs, roots, leaves, fungus, animal parts, teas, compounds, salves, elixirs, vapours), but it also comes from the emotional, mental and Spiritual medicine.

Tobacco, for example, long known as the whipping boy of adverse health, is an important part of prayer and Spiritual medicine for the Anishinaabe. When you offer prayer with tobacco, offer your thoughts and words to the Creator, the greater your faith and belief in healing. With faith and belief comes energy. With healing energy comes strength. Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph and so on.

In other words, the greater the production of healing energy, the greater the strength will be in the patient. The greater the healing energy on the individual affected systems, the greater the strength that will be generated in those systems, cells and functions. Thus, you get improved cellular regeneration as well as systemic and metabolic function. Traditional healing is medical healing.

Preventing someone from making their own choices, denies them from obtaining the full spectrum of treatments available to them. It also denies them the impacts that strength, faith and Spirit brings to their healing journey. It may also deny them the ability to make the necessary consideration to choose life.

Ultimately, it’s not our choice. Whatever choice is made by an individual seeking healing, is made for very personal reasons based on their own needs, truth, reasoning and guidance by the Spirit.

For whatever reason, some may choose the wait for a miracle. Sadly, others may make a choice that will lead to an unsatisfactory ending. But whatever the choice, it needs to be based on informative decision-making of their own freewill.