Holistic Health and Traditional Knowledge
In Canada, many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people highly value traditional knowledge that teaches alternative medicine practices, healthy eating, and traditional ways of using natural resources. The philosophical foundation of traditional knowledge revolves around a holistic model that recognizes the intimate interconnectedness between the person, the food they eat, their environment, health and healing, and the impact of lifestyle choices. This framework is essential when addressing First Nations health towards improving the health and quality of life for Aboriginal people.
From an Aboriginal perspective, holistic health care is an integrative approach- that seeks to balance the mind, body, and spirit with community and environment. Healthcare specialists need to bring non-Aboriginal medicine full circle to the way it was traditionally practiced. First Nations Traditional medicine emphasizes the basic spiritual principles of compassion for others and for self. Traditional knowledge incorporates more traditional foods into the diet with a focus on whole foods and not processed foods. The belief that the land is sacred to First Nations is reflected in the teachings of respecting the land because it provides nutrition through gardens, fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering. For example, the Dene near Yellowknife recently welcomed the Duke and Duchess of York (Prince William and Kate Middleton) to ‘north of 60’ with traditional practices of drumming, moosehide tanning, Inuit sports, and fish drying.
In Inuit communities, oral history is very important. It is passed down, from Elders to children about practical knowledge of how to live off the land and their other cultural history. More importantly, Inuit knowledge of health, healing and wellness is still very much alive and current; it is not something that exists as stories from the past. Traditional Inuit knowledge strives to ensure that it is maintained and used on a daily basis. This simultaneously ensures younger generations continue to learn traditional ways of thinking, cultural continuity, which embraces the importance of Elders and community. Studies have shown, that a diet based on foods from the sea, are a rich source of nutrients, such as the omegas, and continues to protect Inuit from various diseases. For example, as the trend in obesity, type II diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease and rates of cancer increase throughout North America, Inuit who continue to strictly practice traditional ways of living and eating, defy diseases with high mortality rates. The well-being of Inuit in northern regions is focused on the importance between the human-environment relationship that incorporates hunting, fishing and collecting activities. As research is continuing to prove, the link between high participation rates in [any] physical/cultural activities and healthy eating prevents the aforementioned diseases and increases one’s quality of life. Similarly, these activities are not only highly social and promote cultural values, but they are also an essential link within the individual and the collective well-being of their community. Demand for Inuit art forms including prints, figurative pieces and carvings have become increasingly popular throughout Canada.
The Métis Nation of Ontario recently released a report (Southern Ontario Métis Traditional Plant Use Study, 2010) on the significance of gathering plants, indicating which ones are good to eat and provide medicinal properties. This report, as well as a documentary highlights some of the unique traditional medicinal practices of certain Métis in southern Ontario in relation to plants and vegetation. Métis Elders regularly gather to recognize, share, protect, affirm, use and revitalize Métis traditional health and healing knowledge and practices. Métis Elders stress that awareness of historical, cultural and Aboriginal language perspectives is necessary in order to better understand traditional cultural protocols. The following themes are important in Métis communities:
- Ancestral wisdom about Métis health and healing.
- The importance of Métis women and families to community health.
- Land and water as central to Métis health and wellness.
Traditional knowledge, as defined by the Assembly of First Nations, is the collective knowledge of traditions used by Indigenous groups to sustain and adapt themselves to their environment over time. Traditional knowledge is unique to Indigenous communities and is rooted in the rich culture of its peoples. The knowledge may be passed down in many ways, including: storytelling, ceremonies, dances, traditions, arts and crafts, ideologies, hunting/trapping, food gathering, spirituality, teachings, innovations and medicines.
NAHO’s First Nations Centre (FNC) is devoted to the protection, recognition and affirmation of First Nations traditional knowledge and traditional healing practices. The holistic and traditional knowledge of Elders – including traditional healing practices and medicines – form part of a continuum of care that promotes healthy lives for First Nations people.
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