First Nations girl chooses traditional medicine over chemo

Makayla Sault, 10, underwent 11 weeks of chemotherapy before opting out of treatment in favour of traditional First Nations medicine. Her family says it is working, but her doctors warn that decision could be fatal and is asking the Children's Aid Society to investigate.

Makayla Sault faces possible apprehension by Children's Aid, which family and First Nation vow to fight

First Nations girl favours traditional medicine over chemo

8 years ago
Duration 4:27
Makayla Sault faces possible apprehension by Children's Aid Society, which family and First Nation vow to fight

Makayla Sault is only 10 years old, but has already had to make life and death decisions.

She and her parents, Ken and Sonya Sault, have decided to forgo chemotherapy and instead use traditional medicine to fight leukemia.

“I am writing this letter to tell you that this chemo is killing my body and I cannot take it anymore,” she wrote to her doctors at the McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton.
The Sault family say they will do 'whatever it takes' to ensure that their daughter Makayla is not apprehended by the Children's Aid Society. (Sault family)

Makayla was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January. Her doctors told her family that she would have a 75 per cent chance of survival if she continued treatment. If not, they warned that her situation could become dire.

“They basically said she would have 100 per cent relapse and she would die if we discontinued chemotherapy. And that going the route of traditional medicine has zero per cent success rate,” said Sonya Sault.

Children’s Aid Society investigating

The hospital has referred Makayla’s case to the Children’s Aid Society, sparking fears that she may be apprehended and forced back into treatment.

“We just felt so scared that they could actually come in and remove our children from a home where we are loving them and caring for them and we want what’s best for them,” said Sonya Sault.

The Saults are from the New Credit First Nation near Caledonia, Ont. Their chief and council are supporting the family’s decision.

“We’re not going to allow any other agency to come in and apprehend our children. We went through that in the '40s and '50s and we’re not going to allow that again,” said Chief Bryan Laforme.

The Saults said their community has also created a group called the "Makayla defence force," a group of hundreds of community members ready to act if Children's Aid attempts to apprehend her.
Chief Bryan Laforme says New Credit First Nation will do whatever it can to support the Sault family's decision. (Connie Walker/CBC)

“If someone does try to take Makayla away we are assured 100 per cent that people will be there to stop apprehension," said Sonya Sault. "People know the consequences and they’re willing to stand in and protect her at all costs.… If that’s what it comes down to, they need to be physical. We’re going to do what it takes to make sure that our daughter is protected.”

The Children’s Aid Society says it has a good working relationship with the New Credit First Nation and hopes to find a compromise. However, if a child is deemed to be in imminent danger, the society can act to remove a child.

“Obviously, we try to bring kids into care with the knowledge and consent of the chief and council. But there are situations when we are allowed to do what we need to do to save a child’s life.” said Andrew Koster, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of Brant.

Decision made after spiritual encounter

During the 11 weeks of chemotherapy, Makayla experienced severe side-effects that landed her in the intensive care unit.

“It's a mother's worst nightmare.… I remember I would just watch her, and listening to her pray, ‘Oh, God. Come and get me, come and take me from here.’ She said, ‘Mom, [it’s] not the leukemia but it is the chemo that is going to kill me.'”
After Makayla suffered severe side-effects from chemo, Sonya Sault and her family decided to rely on traditional medicine alone to treat her daughter's leukemia. (Connie Walker/CBC)

After Makayla said she had a spiritual encounter in her hospital room, she begged her parents not to make her return.

“I know that what I have can kill me but … Jesus came into my room and told me not to be afraid, so if I live or if I die, I am not afraid.”

The Saults won’t elaborate on the exact medicine Makayla is using but they feel it is already working. 

“There are people in our community who have been on traditional medicines and are well today and are thriving. We know that our traditional medicines work. We know that our daughter is going to be OK.” says Sonya Sault.

The Children’s Aid Society is hoping to schedule a meeting with the family next week to discuss a possible compromise.

In 2008, a Hamilton boy was taken into care after he and his family refused chemotherapy for leukemia. 


Connie Walker

CBC Reporter

Connie Walker is a reporter in the Investigative Unit at CBC News. Follow her on twitter @connie_walker


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