Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona

Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, founder of the Coyote Institute in Maine, helps First Nations incorporate their culture and traditions into their contemporary healthcare model. (mehl-madrona.com/)

A doctor from Maine with a background in psychiatry and psychology was in Whitehorse this week, sharing his knowledge with Kwanlin Dün health workers in a field he calls narrative healing. Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona is the founder of Coyote Medicine Institute, which aims to incorporate the traditional knowledge of indigenous cultures into contemporary medicine and psychology. 

Midday Cafe's Leonard Linklater caught up with Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona during his visit. 

What are some of the traditional medicines you've been talking about with Kwanlin Dün First Nation?

One of the strengths of indigenous people is community, and to understand that illness occurs in a network of social relationships and relationships to the natural world. And healing has to address all these relationships.  

Among my father's people, the Lakota, we believe that when a person gets ill, they get ill for the whole community. It's our responsibility, as members of the community, to help them get well. So we start with the idea of what's most important is healing in community and not isolation. 

Cultural stories are an incredible wealth of healing wisdom, and every nation has them. - Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona

I don't know the local culture here, but what I know is how other people have incorporated their culture into their healthcare. My goal here is to encourage a deeper incorporation of the local culture and practices into the healthcare that's provided.

One of the things I've been promoting is this idea of integrated care, where we have the behavioural-expert, medical doctor and the traditional healer all in the same room, working together. We try to take care of  mind, body, spirit all in the same two or three hour block. 

We've done research to show that that's much more effective than individual appointments. 

It looks like you use storytelling as a way of healing as well. Can you explain that?

It's a centuries-old practice in North America. To tell stories, to teach a lesson to people, to teach an idea that will help them to heal or live a better life. 

My grandmother was especially this way: you couldn't ask her a question without getting a story. Sometimes you would just groan and take out the garbage and avoid her, because you didn't want to hear a story that would teach you to better take out the garbage! 

One of the strengths of indigenous people is community. - Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona

I think that the traditional cultural stories are an incredible wealth of healing wisdom, and every nation has them. We need to honour them and tell them and the more that they're told, the more that they'll have an effect on people. 

I think today, more than any other time, people are desperate for this wisdom. So many people feel abandoned and they feel desperate and they feel isolated. Many of them in the cities, many with drugs and alcohol.

Culture is medicine. These stories can fill them up with something different and can enrich and improve their lives.