Mi'kmaq History and People: Health and Well being

By Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Spotted Wolf

Pjila'si (welcome),

When someone was ill, my great grandmother, Grammy Desiree, would go into the woods and return with an assortment of roots and berries. She would prepare them and boil them. If anything ailed you, she would help you and you would feel better. There is an ancient art of Mi'kmaq medicine and tradition say using plants together make what is called ektjimpisun will cure mostly every kind of illness. The ingredients of this medicine are: "wikpe"(alum willow), "waqwonuminokse"(wild black-cherry), "Kastuk"(ground hemlock), and "kowotmonokse"(red spruce), as well as others. Of course there were and are local variations of the types of medicines used. The Jesuits made their own observations regarding Mi'kmaq health. They did not seem particularly impressed with what they saw. They said:

"They keep themselves well (principally in Summer) by the use of hot rooms and sweat boxes, and by the bath. They also use massage, afterwards rubbing the whole body with seal oil, causing them to emit an odor which is very disagreeable to those not accustomed to it. Nevertheless, when this oiling process is over, they can stand heat and cold better, and their hair is not caught in the branches, but is slippery, so that rain and tempest do not injure the head, but glide over it to the feet; also that the mosquitoes (which are very vicious there in Summer, and more annoying than one would believe) do not sting so much in the bare parts, etc.

"Now those among them who practice medicine, are identical with those who are at the head of their Religion, i.e. Autmoins, whose office is the same as that of our Priests and our Physicians. All their science consists in a knowledge of a few simple laxatives, or astringents, hot or cold applications, lenitives or irritants for the liver or kidneys...

"In regard to the cure of sores, the Autmoins know no more; for all they can do is to suck the wound and charm it, applying to it some simple remedies at random."

As we see, the Jesuits didn't look very highly on the practise of aboriginal medicines. Their knowledge of them was very limited and coloured with biase. The Natives were so very different from what the Europeans considered civilization that it was almost inpossible for the Jesuits and other making first first contact to fully and truly appreciate the balance that existed between the aboriginal civilization and their environment.

Welįlin (thank you).

Wantaqo'ti, (peace).

Compiled by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi'kmaq Researcher and Saqamaw of Benoit First Nation

Cape St.George, NL.


Website Copyright © 2004 Jasen Sylvester Benwah