Indian Doctors Mix Technology, Tradition Spokane Conference Helps Healers Integrate Both Worlds
When he becomes a doctor, Chris Lacroix hopes to give his Native American patients the best of both worlds - a mix of traditional healing practices and modern medicine.
While waves of technological advances rewrite health care in this country, Lacroix, a 23-year-old Lumbee Indian from North Carolina, worries about preserving his tribe’s holistic rituals.
“The main issue I see is meeting Indian people’s spiritual needs,” said Lacroix, a student at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. “I think that’s been lost over the years.”
This week, Lacroix joined 230 other Indians, including about 70 doctors, for the 25th annual Association of American Indian Physicians conference at Spokane’s Ridpath Hotel. The group wrapped up a week of seminars and entertainment with a Tuesday night powwow.
The national gathering allows Indian doctors and medical students to meet and encourage others to enter the field, said Dr. Gerald Ignace, association president.
More importantly, he said the convention marks a greater awareness concerning Indian health issues.
This year, participants discussed ways to preserve traditional medicine.
“There is a fear that will die out,” said Ignace of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. “But I think we’ll be seeing a resurgence of it.”
Other Indian doctors agree.
Janice Longboat, an herbalist and member of the Mohawk tribe, said mainstream America is becoming more accepting of traditional healing methods. What’s more, a bridging of the two disciplines is becoming more common, she said.
Longboat, a healer with the Anishiabe Health Program in Toronto, said the clinic is an example of how modern and traditional medical worlds can co-exist.
Her program has four Western doctors and about 30 part-time healers who refer patients to one another.
For example, a person suffering from depression might be asked to talk to a traditional healer down the hall, rather than take Prozac. The healer might then suggest that person participate in a fasting ceremony.
A cancer patient getting chemotherapy could also use herbal remedies.
Whatever the ailment, Longboat said it’s possible for both tradition and technology to come to the aid of Indian patients.
“I think this gives a person a choice for their own health,” Longboat said. “We have to become our own healers.”
There’s also been a drive to get more Indian youth interested in health careers. Longboat said she hopes the younger generation will learn the skills and knowledge of aging traditional healers.
Interest from a new generation was evident at the workshops, which drew about 35 medical school students.
“It is very heartening for us,” Ignace said.
His son, Lyle, who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota, is among the emerging young Indian doctors.
It’s rare to find second generations of physicians in Indian families because many Indian students drop out of school before reaching college, Gerald Ignace said.
Part of what got Lyle Ignace interested in pursing a medical career was attending similar conferences as a teenager.
“Just seeing other Indian physicians convinced me I could be a physician as well,” he said.