Tuesday, 28 November 2017

2015 Review: A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle Cree Healer and His MEdicine Bundle Healer passes his knowledge on to youth Written by Russell Willier Reviewed by Dianne Meili Windspeaker Contributor Hoping to help young people, Indigenous healer Russell Willier teamed up with anthropologist David Young once again to produce an excellent book — A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle: Revelations of Indigenous Wisdom – Healing Plants, Practices, and Stories—that preserves Cree medicinal knowledge, plant by plant. Following the 1989 release of Cry of The Eagle, a book tracking Willier’s life as a traditional healer and his treatment of 10 patients afflicted with psoriasis, the duo this time enlists botanist Robert Rogers to provide commentary on folk uses and the explicit properties of 61 plants in Willier’s repertoire. As a teenager, the healer rejected the responsibility that came with accepting his grandfather’s medicine bundle. In his 30s, however, aging medicine people convinced him to abandon his everyday life in favour of studying their healing methods to help preserve their knowledge. Cree cosmology figures large in Willier’s approach to healing; he describes his spiritual views with the help of diagrams. He also discusses how and where he finds his plants and herbs, offers practical advice on how to approach a healer, and laments the loss of natural habitats where his wild medicines grow. Willier’s favourite healing stories are engaging, especially the one about the call he received from the family of a dying Elder who saw spirits emerging from a round flying vehicle “with little windows” to collect him. Through Young’s research diary, we ride along with them on a 1,000 km journey across northern Alberta to collect plants in July. The men slog through bogs and ride quads on rutted roads to locate medicine, along the way visiting with Willier’s old mentor, and taking photographs of flowers, stems and roots. From “ice cream trees” (Trembling Aspen whose sweet-tasting cambium tastes like honeydew melon) to “frog pants” (the carnivorous pitcher plant), Russell provides information about how traditional Cree people interacted with various †plants, herbs and trees. Rogers provides additional information about uses and properties of each plant, while nearly 200 of Young’s color photos illustrate how they appear in the summer and fall. The authors revisit their 1986 Psoriasis Research project in the book’s final section, relying on dramatic before-and-after photos to help demonstrate the effectiveness of natural plant medicine on severe skin eruptions. Six of 10 patients improved significantly over the course of seven months, one of whom was completely cured of psoriasis on his hands. Maps and descriptions of Northern Alberta locales where Willier finds his medicine plants underscore his generous wish to guide young people in using them. There’s also an index of referenced plants in English, Latin and Cree, plus a list of references cited in the book, published by North Atlantic Books, 2015. Fully accomplishing what it sets out to do, the book offers evidence that traditional medicine really works, and aspiring healers can reference text, pictures, and maps to identify and locate them. Providing, that is – as Willier repeatedly stresses in the book – that humans stop destroying the habitat of wild, medicinal plants. Photo caption: A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle: Revelations of Indigenous Wisdom – Healing Plants, Practices, and Stories - Written by Russell Willier