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Hunting camp near Iqaluit.

Perspectives on Traditional Health

Inuit medical knowledge does not only amount to mastering remedies and the necessary techniques to care for the sick body. Illness teaches us how to maintain life by developing a resistant body and a strong spirit, as the mind and body are complementary and are related to their environment, whether it be social, physical, or animal. The deterioration of the social order is manifested by biological disaster; we must thus enforce ourselves to preserve social order.

From the interviews we find out that since illness comes foremost from the exterior, it is necessary to make it come out of the body. The healing process is thus both about the extraction of the illness out of the body and the person’s rehabilitation within his/her community.

Since the arrival of the white men, values have changed over time. This book teaches us how, today, elders agree that certain beliefs and traditional values are no longer necessary. Nevertheless, and without completely disregarding Western medicine, these elders also plea for a return to traditional practices which are essential to their well-being. In this sense, tradition is a force likely to provide answers and landmarks for today’s lifestyle.

Finally, these interviews underline the power of speech, which enables the strengthening of the child’s spirit as of birth and which can help a person in distress or, on the contrary, which can have a negative influence. This power is also revealed in prayer and confession, both essential to the healing process.

This book, the result of workshops held in 1997 and 98, is in two parts: the first part was compiled with the help of elders from North Baffin, the second part with elders from South Baffin. The first part discusses diagnostics and treatments for the sick body as well as the cultural representations of the existing link between one’s mental state and physical disorders. The second part opens the discussion on the material means used for healing and birth, as well as healing practices. The importance of thought, emotions and words is also discussed. Finally, the second part presents an exploration of current knowledge in medicinal plants. Also included is an appendix relating to shamanism and a conclusion dedicated to song.

Akisu Joamie

The way I see it today, we elders seem to be hiding in the stem of a pipe. We only come out when we are asked to help and meet with others and then we go back into the pipe again. We need to write our traditions down, even though in the past we passed them on orally. People are starting to discuss how families stuck together and how everyone lived a good life. They are talking about what created this harmony. Qallunaat have a lot of written information about their history. We Inuit should start writing things down, too, so that our knowledge is not forgotten and it is passed on. Inuit are very caring, very loving and very forgiving. We don't hold grudges. This knowledge has to be passed on so people know about these things. (Page 212)