Space for holistic health in Western medicine in Indigenous health care in Muskoka and beyond

This is part two of a two-part series on the call for a National holistic health model which includes Indigenous and holistic practioners. Indigenous health care is rooted in treaties, the “medicine chest clause,” part of Treaty 6, of 1867, defines Canada’s legal accountability and obligation to Indigenous health and wellness.

Catherine Cole, owner of The Great Vine, Huntsville Ontario, has been sharing traditional knowledge and medicines for over 30 years. With more than 200 naturopathic herbs and spice remedies, on her shelves, she envisions a grassroots approach, where respect and reverence for traditional medicines are complimentary to western medicine.

“Pharmaceutical drugs are plant-based. There is much we can do to support our body’s health, with modalities that can work alongside Western medicine,” said Cole.

In 1992, funded by the Ontario government, Cole witnessed a “multi-modality team of health care practitioners working together.” She was stunned to see holistic health practitioners working in tandem with Western medical doctors.

“The tide must turn, there must be a paradigm shift, traditional knowledge and medicine have an important role to play in health and wellness,” she said.

Cole, strives to share her knowledge and expertise, “This is about our global community, there should be a healing garden at every school, it would be extraordinary. Indigenous people knew the cure for cancer, so much has been lost.”

Cole understands the power of plants, and insists the medical community must be willing to stop and listen.

“Look what has happened to sacred tobacco, look what the industry has done to it.”

Al Kwan, a third generation, Chinese acupuncturist, is a “master,” who as a young boy, watched, learned and followed in the footsteps of his ancestors. His father worked with world famous, professor and Doctor, Lee Kung Lok, the pioneer of western acupuncture as set in the Time article, The Nation: Acupuncture in Nevada.

“In Hong Kong, my parents worked in the ER alongside doctors. It was a true holistic model of health and wellness," said Kwan.

Kwan, who practises in Huntsville, and other Ontario locations, is passionate to help and heal people.

“Acupuncture is a very powerful healing medicine," said Kwan.

In 1976, Kwan’s parents opened a clinic in Toronto.

“We must heal from the root cause, from the inside out, I turn on the switch, the network within the body.”

Kwan recognizes, integrates, and listens to the body’s need to heal.

“It is about connection and balance; the body is powerful.”

Kwan is one of only 2,700 regulated and licensed Chinese practitioners in Canada.

“Canada is 40 years behind the United States when it comes to regulating traditional acupuncturists.”

Five provinces in Canada are regulated, compared to 47 U.S. states.

“People fear change, the system fears change. Diet and nutrition are important aspects of the body’s healing process, we use traditional herbal medicines.”

Kwan specializes in peripheral neuropathy, ALS, MS, Bell's Palsy, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, migraines, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Jean Miller, born on Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, is a retired primary nurse practitioner, who believes it is a natural fit to establish a national holistic health model, where patients have choices and are the priority.

“You have to spend time with each patient, listening to their needs, it can take up to one hour with one patient. Indigenous people have complex morbidity issues.”

Culture is an important aspect of health. A one size model no longer works.

“There must be a blended model, Indigenous medicines have supported and helped chemotherapy patients."

In Sioux Lookout, Ont., there is a pharmacy that includes Indigenous medicines.

“Pharmaceutical companies have dominated and own the Canadian health care system, giving freebies and honouriums to the doctors they work with,” said Miller.

The Canadian health care policy has failed Indigenous people, according to the Yellowhead Institute.

The right to health and wellness of Indigenous people is a Canadian legal obligation under Indigenous treaty law.

Doctor Alika Lafontaine, has been appointed as the first Indigenous president of The Canadian Medical Association, 2022-23.

Joyce Jonathan Crone is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter based in Muskoka. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Joyce Jonathan Crone, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Parry Sound North Star