Pictured to the right, Eric Mueller and Warner Naizel lay on a healing pit
Our traditional Carrier medicine people use a variety of practices that aim to create wholeness and holistic balance for our people. In this post we will explore the knowledge shared from traditional healers who participated in our 2003 Traditional Medicine Research Project in partnership with UNBC. This article is not meant to offer an exhaustive view of traditional Carrier healing methods. Rather, we will provide a few examples of different means that a traditional Carrier medicine person may use to help others in their work.
In our culture, Medicine People are considered to be innate healers of physical or spiritual ailments, and have the ability to harness great power. In recent years the number of people practicing traditional medicine has waned. Although Medicine People were abundant before European contact, the practice was heavily influenced by colonization and now there are less and less of our people who have been mentored in the various practices. Unfortunately, many of our traditional healers passed on before they were able to mentor others on how to use their gifts.
In our research project, the participants noted that each healer has a different path that they must follow to learn how to use their gifts, dependent on what their gifts are. A person who is identified as having an innate gift for healing was noted to be "raised up" to use their gift; often mentored by someone in their family who practiced the same form of medicine himself or herself.
“I think you’re born and raised with a gift of being a medicine person. Then there’s a certain spot in the mountain that men go and another spot where women go to." – Emma Baker, Stellat’en.
“What I know about Indian medicine is what I’ve learnt from my grandmother.” – Catherine Abraham, Takla
Medicine used to restore balance can include different rituals, dreaming, touch healing, or the collection and use of items made from plants or animals. Our participants also identified that drinking water from certain healing springs or going to specific places in nature also has medicinal qualities.
“Bear head, they used to boil it and they would give it to us like soup so we can learn more about being a medicine woman. And they also open the bear’s mouth and give it to us so we have a medicine woman’s voice. They did that to Mary Anne, that’s why she’s aware of what’s going to happen. “ – Mary Michelle, Lake Babine Nation
Heath de la Giroday and Bernie Ketlo preparing jarred medicines from medicinal plants
Spiritual or physical healing rituals are practiced in many of our communities. Some healing rituals may include burning cedar, spruce, or balsam branches and ‘bathing’ in the smoke to cleanse the spirit, prepare for an activity, or provide medicine.
Our participants noted the creation and use of healing pits in some of our Nations for healing purposes or to prepare for hunting. Chezel (steamed rocks) and plant materials are used to provide steam for cleansing, healing and purification. Different medicinal plants and tree branches would be placed on top of the hot rocks and then covered with a blanket. People would then lay on the blankets and the smoke would rise up to provide the medicine.
A program participant laying on a healing pit
Our people who have the ability to see the future, provide healing, or contact ancestors through their dreams are called dreamers. Some dreamers can consult their dreams to find solutions to problems, perform healing practices or access prophetic visions. As with other gifts, dreamers have an innate ability and sometimes receive mentoring on how to use their gift from another person who also possesses the ability.
“Dreamers (Na’tess) dream about the future. You dream, if you have a dream and sometimes it comes true. It's gonna happen to you sometimes you’ll see the future in your dream. They tell the future, there are some sleeper, dreamers like that.” – Sophie Thomas, Saik’uz
“I dream about things. If people want medicine I dream about it and make it before they ask for it.” – Doris Thomas, Skin Tyee
Our research participants talked about touch healing or hand power; another healing gift given to individuals by the creator. Mabel Walduck from Tachet in Lake Babine was a well-known touch healer, as well as Doris Thomas from Skin Tyee Nation and Mabel Joe from Tachet. Doris told our research team that the gift of being a touch healer is “something that doesn’t just come up on anyone.”
“My dad was a healer. If a person gets sick, he just holds their head and the person walks out without any sickness”. Julie Jacques, Takla.
Mabel Joe using touch healing on Heath de la Giroday
Many of our healers talked about having multiple healing gifts and used a variety of different practices in their healing activities, dependent on what was needed for the person they were helping. All medicine activities discussed by our participants were aimed at the restoration of holistic balance for the person seeking healing.
To learn more about this research project see our first post in this series, and to learn about how the philosophy of respect is practiced in medicinal plant harvesting check out our second post in this series. Watch for the next post in our Traditional Medicine series that will focus on the preparation methods that our healers followed before performing medicine, and the use of intent to heal.
© Carrier Sekani Family Services, 2016. Written/compiled by Marlaena Mann. All rights reserved.
Aboriginal Health Sciences FNST 282-3 (2004) Carrier Sekani Family Services and the University of Northern British Columbia
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Last modified: Monday 06-Jul-20 16:02:04 PDT