Reprinted from the Centre for Nation Building, Mohawk Nation Territory
Traditional medicine and healers are part of the foundation of every Indigenous society and Nation across Turtle Island. The use of Haudenosaunee traditional medicines can be traced as far back as the Creation Story. According to a report released by the Centre for Nation Building in Akwesasne, “From the very beginning, the Haudenosaunee were given their Original Instructions. These instructions told us who we are, why we were given life, what our responsibilities are as human beings, and how we are to go about on this earth. Sometimes these instructions came in the form of stories. One of these stories provides instructions about Haudenosaunee medicines.
It is said that before we were here on this earth, we lived in a sky world high above us. And it is here, in the sky world, the Creator had provided the people with everything necessary for their lives. As Sky Woman fell through the tree hole and began her descent to Earth she tried to grab onto something to save herself. As she fell she grabbed in one hand a strawberry pant and with the other, a tobacco plant.
As the Creation Story continues, Sky Woman, with the help of birds, landed safely on the back of a giant sea turtle. Different animals took turns swimming to the depths of the ocean to try and bring back dirt from the ocean floor. After the otter finally succeeded, the woman danced in a circle following the direction of the sun and as she did this, the earth and the turtle began to grow. The land began to develop and take shape. This new world was now their home. This dance is still practiced by the Haudenosaunee women as part of their healing medicine, their connection to mother earth and in celebration of all creation.
Soon after this new world had begun its transformations, Sky Woman gave birth to a baby girl who was special because she was destined to give birth to twins. But to the heartbreak of Sky Woman, her daughter died while giving birth to her twin boys.
Sky Woman buried her daughter in the ground and planted in her grave the plants and leaves she clutched upon descending from the Sky World. Not long after, over her daughter’s head grew corn, beans and squash. From her heart grew the sacred tobacco plant, which we use as an offering to send greetings to the Creator. At her feet grew the strawberry plants, as well as other plants that would be used as medicines to cure illness.
There is much more to our oral traditions, but the focus of this story explains how the Haudenosaunee people received their knowledge of Traditional Medicines used by the Traditional Healers in ceremonies and healing to this day. Traditional Medicine as practiced by Haudenosaunee people is key to our good health, healing and survival as a Nation.
Just as the sea creatures gave us their example of how to hold council, we too have held discussions about Haudenosaunee Medicine. Elders, Healers, Traditional Leaders and community members from Six Nations, Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Onondaga and Tyendinaga have shared their thoughts.
We know that in earlier times, Haudenosaunee Nations had a well-developed system of traditional medicine. Each Traditional Healer had certain professional responsibilities to fulfill, including meeting high standards and practicing in an ethical manner.
In the past century, Haudenosaunee medicine has been attacked as superstition and witchcraft. Modern western medical practices, hospitals and university-trained doctors have established themselves as the only type of medicine that is effective.
In recent years, however, health specialists have been willing to take another look at traditional medicine. They were surprised to see that healers actually healed, and traditional medicine worked.
The World Health Organization defines Traditional Medicine as, “The sum of total knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences Indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as the prevention, diagnosis, improvement of treatment of physical and mental illness.”
The time has come for Haudenosaunee Traditional Medicine to reassert itself, to regain credibility and stature, and to serve the Haudenosaunee people once again.”