Tradition needed to heal ills of colonization, says doctor

An Alberta physician from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation says it is time to throw off the influence of colonization on Indigenous people and embrace traditional medicines.

Cree doctor speaking in Saskatoon calls for overhaul of Indigenous health care

Dr. James Makokis uses Western and Indigenous medicines to treat his patients. (Courtesy Dr. James Makokis )

An Alberta physician from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation says it is time to throw off the influence of colonization on Indigenous people and embrace traditional medicines.

We are created from the earth.- Dr. James Makokis

Dr. James Makokis is in Saskatoon this week to speak at a First Nations Health Summit organized by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

Makokis says it is time to recognize that Indigenous healing practices were here long before colonization and that they are not alternative medicine.  

"We are created from these medicines," Makokis told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. "We are created from the earth."

Four sacred medicines, including (clockwise from top left) tobacco, sweetgrass, cedar and sage. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

Sacred and western 

Makokis does not dismiss Western medicine, and in fact offers both options to his patients. But, he said, many of the chronic ailments his patients present, from diabetes to addictions, are a side effect of the influence of colonization.   

"It's a direct result of our Indigenous medical or health system being restricted for 100 years," said Makokis.

"Unless the Indigenous health system is rebuilt and supported, there is no way that these incremental changes that are put forward by government will ever make any difference in our community."

Part of that work in rebuilding the Indigenous health-care system, Makokis said, is teaching and empowering patients to be able to gather the medicines they need from the land.

"It gives them the space to go out and pick that if they need to, prepare it, and then teach that to their family."

Outside of his family practice, Makokis is the chair of the Indigenous Wisdom Council of Alberta Health Services, and serves on the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute of Indigenous Health board at the University of Toronto. 

Smoke from the burning sage, a sacred plant, is used to purify participants in ceremony. (Peggy Lam)

with files from Saskatoon Morning