Despite a history of forced migration, lives restricted to reservations and cultural transformation, Native American cultural practices have survived many centuries. These practices continue to influence the way Native Americans think about their health and wellness.
Through the years, researchers have spent much time discussing the roots of this Native American resilience.
In her new book, Red Medicine Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing, Patrisia Gonzales, an associate professor at the University of Arizona's Department of Mexican American Studies, discusses symbols of medicine.
In the book, "Red medicine' refers to a system of healing that includes birthing practices, dreaming and purification rites to re-establish personal and social equilibrium.
"in traditional indigenous healing systems, red is power," Gonzales said. "It can be power because even a color can be alive and have a healing property. When a particular color is in place of offering, it becomes part of the medicine in the ceremony to heal that person."
The author also explained how dreaming is a form of diagnosing in traditional indigenous medicine, and the way indigenous concepts of the body provide insight into healing various kinds of trauma.
"For indigenous people, the body goes beyond its physical self, and so it has depending on tradition," she explained. "Part of the body can be displaced in a particular place, because of let’s say trauma. Part of the body can also leave in times of dreaming but without the person dying per say.”
Natural law is a constant topic of discussion in Gonzales' book. She also talks about indigenous medicine and how it's evolved from a relationship with the universe.
“Natural laws are the understandings that we have originated, over time, from when we were created as human beings,” she said. “According to the elders, people had different ways of understanding how we would be in relationships with nature, but that came through understanding how nature worked. The elders and our ancestors began to realize that there had to be a balance.”
The book suggests that indigenous healing systems can successfully point Western medicine back to ancestral teachings, and help them reconnect to the dynamics of the natural world.