Thunder Bay·Audio

Cancer cured by medicine man, First Nations man says

An Anishnawbe man from northwestern Ontario says traditional healing practices cured him of leukemia, and he's concerned recent controversy over the treatment of two First Nations girls in southern Ontario will rob others of a cure.

Daryl Archie speaks out to ensure traditional healing viewed as credible

Daryl Archie, of Big Grassy River First Nation in northwestern Ontario, says traditional Anishnawbe ceremonies and medicines cured his cancer. (Jody Porter/CBC)

An Anishnawbe man from northwestern Ontario says traditional healing practices "got rid" of his leukemia, and he's concerned recent controversy over the treatment of two First Nations girls in southern Ontario will rob others of a cure.

On Nov. 14, an Ontario judge dismissed an application from McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton that would have forced chemotherapy on an 11-year-old First Nations girl. Earlier this year there were concerns that children's aid would intervene in the case of another First Nations girl after her family withdrew her from chemotherapy.

"People who [were] trying to take the child away, they're just close-minded about the possibilities of traditional healing," said Daryl Archie. "I'm alive and well and a good example that it does work."

'Not an either/or'

But the traditional healing co-ordinator at an Aboriginal Health Access Centre in Thunder Bay said people don't have to choose one kind of treatment over another.

"It's not an either/or, you can work hand in hand with traditional and Western medicine, in fact it's necessary," said Teresa Trudeau, of Anishnawbe Mushkiki.

Traditional healers often rely on diagnostics such as blood tests or X-rays to better treat their patients, she said.

'All those needles'

Archie, a 47-year-old from Big Grassy River First Nation, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 19 years old. He was sent to Winnipeg for chemotherapy where he said doctors gave him a 50/50 chance of survival. (Doctors for the 11-year-old in southern Ontario said she had an 80 to 85 per cent chance of survival with chemotherapy.)

"Some of those medical treatments they do are pretty painful. They stick a big needle into your hip bone for marrow with no pain killers at all," Archie said, recalling that the chemotherapy drugs made him feel "antsy and anxious."

"Eventually I got tired of the drugs and all those needles."

After about six months of what he called unsuccessful treatments, Archie left Winnipeg. "I guess I felt like I'd just go home and, I don't know," he said, his voice trailing off. "I wondered why is this happening to me?"

Sweat lodge and shaking tent

But then Archie's sister found "a traditional healer, a medicine man, who I could go see who would help me," he said.

He travelled to Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba and took part in traditional Anishnawbe ceremonies like the sweat lodge and shaking tent and was introduced to a healer named Eddie Two-Teeth from Montana. Two-Teeth conducted more ceremonies and Archie travelled with him to the United States.

"He gave me some medicine, it was a small tree and he told me to wrap it in a circle (it was about six to eight inches across) and to boil that and drink the water from there and to drink it for 30 days," Archie said.

The healer told him to keep a positive attitude and when the 30 days were up to go to a doctor for a blood test.

 "So I did and my doctor, after the test came back, he told me my blood was just as good as his," Archie said. "So that told me I was rid of the leukemia."

'With the help of the Creator'

Archie said he has remained healthy in the decades since he was cured.

He's not sure why traditional medicine worked for him when chemotherapy didn't.

"I did believe in the traditional ways, because Eddie Two-Teeth gave me a 100 per cent chance of survival from leukemia. He gave me confidence and hope that Western medicine didn't," he said.

"With traditional medicine, it's with the help of the Creator and with Western medicine it's all just all chemicals and drugs that they put into your body. With the ceremonies, the Creator is right there. They don't even talk about that in the hospital."

The families of both of the First Nations girls chose to remove them from chemotherapy at McMaster Children's Hospital. They have sought alternative treatment at a clinic in Florida that they say is in line with traditional indigenous medicine. Questions have been raised about the clinic and the qualifications of the man who is treating them. 

Stacey Marjerrison, the main doctor for the 11-year-old child at the heart of the recent court case, told the judge that without chemotherapy, the child could die. The other girl who was removed from the hospital by her parents earlier this year has suffered a relapse, according to another doctor at McMaster.

'Credibility comes from community'

Archie is also concerned about the path the girls' parents have chosen.

"I wish the parents would find and take their children to a real Anishnawbe traditional healer, not someone like this," he said. "I fear the children and others will die..."

Archie said he felt confident about Eddie Two-Teeth's skills as a healer from talking to the people in Roseau River and hearing stories about people who were healed.

"That kind of reinforced my belief in him," he said.

Teresa Trudeau is the traditional healing co-ordinator at Anishnawbe Mushkiki, a native health centre in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Trudeau said that's the way verification of healers generally works. Her work at Anishnawbe Mushkiki in Thunder Bay is funded by the provincial government and similar to work done at all 10 aboriginal health centres across Ontario that provide both Western medicine and First Nations healing.

"Credibility comes from the community when it comes to traditional health care," Trudeau said. "That's how someone becomes recognized. The references are very important."

Spiritual guidance

A medicine lodge is located in the centre of the Anishnawbe Mushkiki Native Health Access Centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., where clients can also see a nurse practitioner. (Jody Porter/CBC)
Trudeau said there are some standard plant-based medicines that are used by healers to treat a variety of ailments, but "medicine people" will also use ceremony to receive a vision of a particular medicine to use for an individual seeking help.

"A ceremony to seek that medicine is necessary," she said. "With spiritual guidance, through prayer, the traditional healer will see that medicine visually, it will come to them, the particular medicine that individual will need. It's not to say that one medicine will work for everybody."

True medicine people are rare, Trudeau said, perhaps one or two per province in Canada. But she adds traditional healing is accessible to everyone.

"We are healers within all of us. That's what our healers do. They show us how to heal ourselves on our own," she said.

"It's not the healer who heals us. You heal yourself."