Traditional medicine for First Nations people

People from aboriginal American cultures get shat on heavily. To start with, they’re minorities, and not one of those with the dubious luck to be seen as hard-working or intelligent. There is a stereotype of them as indigent drunkards. To make matters worse, they’ve been shoved into narrow tracts of land, and then they’ve been separated legally from the surrounding nations. So they’ve got the worst land around and they can’t even get the same government benefits that neighboring counties do. And recently, there has been a spate of killings targeting these people.

All told, there’s no reason for any aboriginal American to trust any of the white people around.

Recently a story has been popping up in my news feed about an aboriginal American family in Ontario who decided to remove their daughter from leukemia treatments. Leukemia isn’t quite a cured disease, but the kid had very good prospects, something like a 90% chance of long-term remission and survival, with modern medicine. At first, they turned to their culture’s traditional techniques. A court upheld their decision.

When I heard this, I was initially dismayed that a family would kill their daughter this way, and further dismayed that a judge would let them. If they were killing her more directly, surely the judge would intervene. But after talking it over, I realized that this cure would require trusting and depending on white people. I acknowledge that not all white people are actively harming aboriginal Americans, but some are and the rest are mostly not trying to help. In that situation, I would be reluctant to get that assistance for my daughter, even if it meant her death.

But I can’t go before a judge and say that I’d sooner see my child die than rely on a white person to heal her. Conscripting teenagers to get shot to maintain your nation’s autonomy is fine, but giving them a peaceful death for the same goal is somehow beyond the pale. It would get me imprisoned and the child sent off to a set of white foster parents. I could, however, point at “alternative medicine” and say I’m using that. I have no dependency on outside people, and my tribe would have at least some palliatives to ease her passing. Depending on my political goals and mistrust of outsiders who had traditionally and recently had my worst interests in mind, that might be a reasonable course of action.

That was when I first heard what was happening. Indeed, the family was turning to their tribe’s traditional techniques. And I reserved judgment.

Today, it came to light that the family is now using another set of techniques administered by white people in Florida. They’re using vitamin C injections and “cold laser therapy”. This is not a matter of valuing tribal autonomy over the life of one member of the tribe. The same amount of tribal autonomy would be maintained if they had chosen another clinic using real, scientific techniques far from their homeland and traditional oppressors. No, this was a triumph of snake oil over science.

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