Finding few scholarly resources providing guidelines for teaching about traditional healing and wellness practices among the nation's American Indian populations, Patrisia Gonzales, a promotora, herbalist and traditional birth attendant who teaches courses on traditional Indian medicine at the University of Arizona, set out to produce such a text.
Released by Kendall Hunt Publishers, "Traditional Indian Medicine: American Indian Wellness" explains and addresses issues related to the cultures and traditions of medicine people and the role of ceremony in healing; plant knowledge and use of food as medicine; traditional ways of addressing mental health within tribal and indigenous communities; and the varying and complex nature of American Indian worldviews.
The book follows the release of Gonzales' "Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing," published in 2012 by the UA Press. The book is being used in college courses across the nation.
Her new book, also meant to be used in classrooms and by researchers and practitioners, contains discussion questions and also contributions from scholars such as UA Regents' Professor Ofelia Zepeda, a renowned Tohono O'odham poet and linguist; Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakawa "Katsi" Cook, a Mohawk midwife and environmentalist; Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona of the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine in Canada; singer Joanne Shenandoah; and Syracuse University anthropologist Maureen T. Schwarz.
"There are no textbooks for the courses I teach, so I saw the need to develop what appears to be the first textbook of this kind on the topic," said Gonzales, an associate professor in the Department of Mexican American Studies, who holds an affiliated faculty appointment in American Indian Studies. She is also a faculty member with the Native American Research and Training Center in the UA College of Medicine.
Gonzales (Kickapoo, Comanche and Macehual) was raised by a family of traditional healers — bonesetters, herbalists, midwives and other specialists — and has spent years speaking and teaching locally, nationally and internationally about ways that indigenous medicine and Western health care can and should be complementary. As a promotora (health promoter), she is trained to provide health and environmental education training in homes and community-based organizations.
"My life's work is to look at indigenous knowledge through the healing systems of the original peoples of the continent. I wanted people to understand the depth of these systems of healing as not only the practices, but the values and relationships to sacred ecologies," Gonzales said of her book.
This semester, she is teaching two courses at the UA: "MAS 160A: American Indian Medicine and Wellness: Traditional and Contemporary Practices of Health and Wellness" exploring the historic and contemporary ways American Indians approach healing, illness and well being; and "MAS 435/535: Mexican Traditional Medicine," which focuses on popular and Indigenous medicinal systems.
"Students are exposed to these profound lifeways, and they are also expected to think critically about the context of traditional healing ways and key values of respect, responsibility, reciprocity and relationship," she said. "These are among the foundational values shared by many indigenous peoples but expressed distinctly. They are also human values in relationship with a deep understanding of the structures of life and the universe."
Gonzales explained that American Indian and indigenous populations believe that imbalance — whether it be in one's family, socially or in the natural world — contributes to illness and disease. Methods of healing as evidenced by American Indian traditional medicine, then, focus not only on the individual ailment, but also the preservation and protection of language and natural resources, for example.
"There is great disconnection in the world today. As many Native thinkers have noted, disconnection makes people vulnerable," she said.
"The teachings in this book remind people of the importance of key values in many Native societies. While the textbook addresses the practices, its focus is teaching about ways of thinking, being and doing in deep relationships with place, the environment and each other."