Published on January 28, 2012 by Casey
Native American medicine is a term that refers to the historical collection of information, and treatment modalities of many different North American tribes, over thousands of years.
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Much about the practices of these various peoples have been passed down through strictly oral traditions, a factor that makes documentation of it’s origin, and initial use a relative mystery. What is known to date is that much of their existing medicinal knowledge was in use when the Europeans first visited this land more than 500 years ago. Some estimates suggest the first medical practices of the North American Indians at some 40,000 years ago.
In a manner similar to that of TCM and Ayurveda, the approach of Native American medicine is one that takes all aspects of one’s inner self, lifestyle, emotions, social setting, as well as their natural surroundings into consideration when recommending treatment.
The philosophy is one that strives to bridge the unseen relationships that exist between man, and the natural world that surrounds him. At the core of the approach is a respect for the impact each has upon the other. Overall balance, and through it, health, is a target that is achieved by taking into full consideration the forces that flow within, and without one’s body, and in the growth of his/her understanding of the apparently simple truth that all life relies inherently upon all other life.
Native American medicine is a tradition that is rich in subtlety, and difficult to document and communicate fully outside of its varied traditions, and ceremonies. With a body of knowledge spread across hundreds of tribes, thousands of miles, and many years of unrecorded use, there is little that can be said to be standardized about its practice.
Although similarities in approach can be seen across the various tribes, the differences are also clear, often relative to the lifestyles, and needs of each specific region, as well as the medicinal properties of those plants native to that region.
It has also been noted that even the approach of various practitioners within one tribe could differ significantly, based on the individualized, and intuitive grasp each had on the world around him.
This lack of ‘standardization’ was not seen as an indication of weakness surrounding the varied treatments, but as an added strength, respecting each individual’s connection with the natural world, and from that connection, their ability to offer a fuller, and more all-encompassing approach to the treatment of those in need of healing.
The preferences of the patient are always respected within this cultural tradition. It’s focus on a reverence for all things naturally designates the patient with a complete freedom to utilize their understanding, and connections to enable a determination of their own path towards balance, and ultimately, towards healing.
Although many of the ceremonial practices of Native American medicine have survived centuries of tribal extermination, and integration, one must presume that knowledge of profound value has been lost.
As a medical tradition never recorded in writing, the death of individuals designated to carry forward these practices to the generations that followed would immediately end a path of communication stretching back thousands of years, one ripe with information that can never be reclaimed.
In spite of this tragedy, what has survived intact to this day is a body of knowledge that continues to impact the health of both Native Americans, and non-natives alike. Many common natural, and pharmaceutical remedies make use of plants and herbs discovered, and utilized by these peoples, for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
As the tide of medical theory begins to swing back towards an approach that recognizes, and respects every aspect of the individual, science, and those in need, search out the knowledge behind this highly regarded tradition, with the intent of an improved well being for all.