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True Medicine – Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Understanding Holistic Healing

True Medicine – Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Understanding Holistic Healing

Overview: Indigenous people make up some of the oldest cultures in the world. This year, we’re observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day by taking a look at some of their traditions and learning about holistic healing. 

Since time immemorial, indigenous people — including Native Hawaiians, Native Alaskans, and the natives of the North American continent — have built vibrant and diverse cultures, perpetuating their languages, maintaining their lands, and passing along traditions throughout the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day (celebrated on the second Monday of October), our nation celebrates indigenous people’s resilience and their invaluable contributions to our world.

Although Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been observed since 1992, it took 29 years for the federal government to officially acknowledge the holiday. President Joe Biden issued a proclamation declaring October 8, 2021 to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day — one year ago. While various states and counties have celebrated this day for years, this proclamation was the first statement on the holiday by a president of the United States.

The idea of a holiday celebrating indigenous people as an alternative to Columbus Day was first suggested in the late 1970s. South Dakota was the first state to officially observe it, back in 1989. Since then, a growing number of municipalities have embraced the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate a population that is often marginalized and discriminated against.

Related Reading: Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as explained by Native Americans

Importance of Indigenous People:

Our country was formed on principles of equality and opportunity for all people. All Americans should care about the quality of life of indigenous people no matter where we live or who we are. Let’s take a look at some of their most impressive accomplishments.

Indigenous people have invented agricultural practices: Over many centuries, indigenous people have developed farming techniques that are adaptive to extreme weather conditions – such as those found in the high altitudes of the Andes or the dry grasslands of Kenya. Indigenous people pioneered innovative techniques — like terracing, which stops soil erosion, and floating gardens, which are well-suited for intense temperatures — that have influenced agricultural methods all the way up to the present.

Indigenous people are resilient to climate change: Since many indigenous people live in climates with extreme weather conditions, they choose to grow crops that can also adapt. Indigenous people have mastered the nuances of growing native species of crops that are well-suited to their local environments. These crops are also more resistant to droughts, flooding, altitudes, and other extreme weather conditions.

Indigenous people protect nature: All over the planet, plant and animal species are going extinct, and biodiversity is dropping, at alarming rates. But in areas where the land is owned and managed by indigenous peoples and other local communities, nature is deteriorating less quickly than in others. Studies show that deforestation rates are also lower in forests that indigenous people manage and control. This is significant because the health of the natural ecosystem directly impacts the lives and livelihoods of local residents. We all need trees!

We could all stand to take notes from indigenous people’s approach to taking care of the environment. Philip Alston, a United Nations Special Rapporteur, says, “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” He continues to project that many will face a scenario where they will have to choose to migrate or starve. (Source: UNEP)

Ancestral knowledge: Indigenous people hold vital traditional knowledge and expertise on how to adapt to environmental changes, and how to mitigate and reduce climate disaster risks. Their knowledge contributes to modern ecological assessments and helps with sustainable ecosystem management.

Related Reading: Are protected areas safe for indigenous people?

Modern Medicine vs. Holistic Healing:

According to WebMD, “[h]olistic medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness.” Practitioners of holistic medicine don’t necessarily reject modern medical techniques, but they take a less purely scientific approach to healing.

Many indigenous cultures have been practicing a form of holistic healing for centuries. This often includes the use of “home remedies” and homemade treatments. Often, similar techniques and ingredients are used to treat a variety of diseases and infections. For instance, the herbs used to cure toothaches might be the same ones used to heal high blood pressure through holistic healing.

On their website, the First Nations Health Authority of Canada has provided a graphic that illustrates a holistic view of wellness from an indigenous perspective. This visual illustration is based on the concept of concentric rings representing various important factors in holistic health.

At the center of the circle is the individual human being. Outer circles include mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health; as well as broader concepts of respect, wisdom, responsibility, and relationships; then environmental factors of land, community, family, and nations, and so on. The entire circle demonstrates the belief, common in indigenous cultures, that myriad factors should be taken into consideration to ensure wellness.

There are plenty of medical experts who are skeptical of holistic methods. Modern medicine is the result of years of discoveries and developments that are constantly being tested and improved upon. Modern medicine includes the techniques and treatments that have been embraced by the majority of today’s experts. Still, holistic healing continues to have its advocates.

Types of Holistic Healing :

The significant difference between modern medicine and holistic healing is that holistic health care treats the whole person — not just the physical body but mental, spiritual, and emotional parts of one’s being.

Treatment of illness: Holistic medicine differs primarily from conventional medicine in diagnosis and treatment. Holistic practitioners believe that identifying the disease and prescribing medication isn’t the only goal — other factors present in a person’s lifestyle affect their health, so treatment varies from patient to patient. Holistic treatments  may incorporate medicines, natural supplements, improved diet, and even yoga.

Conventional medicine focuses more on formal tests and standardized treatments for every patient. Treatments will include medications and suggestions for important lifestyle changes, but are less likely to include strategies that aim to affect the patient beyond their physical body.

Causes of ailment: While conventional medicine focuses on physical components such as corporeal systems or genetics to look for the causes of illness, holistic practitioners look at the overall wellness of the affected. This method may be directed at any perceived imbalance, such as mental health and diet. They believe environmental and emotional influences are equally crucial for a patient’s well-being.

Insurance coverage: We know you’ve been wondering about it, and yes — until recently, many holistic practitioners were out of network. Some patients who patronize holistic care workers may still find it hard to get covered by insurance. One survey by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that Americans spend $30 billion per year on alternative medicines out-of-pocket. To end trends like these,  some insurance companies are taking note and moving to be more inclusive of holistic health care

Ways You Can Support Indigenous People :

Indigenous cultures have a lot of insights on subjects that are important to the health of individuals — as well as  the health of the planet. Unfortunately, these populations have long been marginalized and discriminated against. Here are a few steps we can take to support indigenous people:

Public awareness: Implementing change begins with understanding, so public education is essential to continuing to ensure that indigenous people are treated with respect. This is everyone’s responsibility. We should educate ourselves and others on the importance of the cause. We can’t ignore the effects of production and exploitation on indigenous people, their territories, and their lands.

Inclusion in decision-making procedure: Without their lands, indigenous people have no place to live, no means to survive, and no livelihood. In this regard, states should respect the ideas proposed by native cultures and include them while making decisions. Indigenous people should be consulted on use of land and development processes.

In Summary –  Observing Indigenous People’s Day: 

We at The Law Offices of William D. Shapiro believe in positively impacting the community. When we honor the needs of others, we honor ourselves. We encourage everyone to celebrate and learn more about indigenous people and their traditions this October 10.

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