Diseases previously unknown to the population of native peoples of the north Pacific Coast of the US and Canada were introduced by colonizing peoples and ravaged the Salish peoples for more than 225 years. Similarly, market economic policies contributed to the steadily growing incidence of chronic disease beginning in the early 20th century. Acute diseases producing rapid death struck longhouse peoples in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the 20th and 21st centuries these populations experienced a growing epidemic of chronic diseases introduced through processed foods, new modes of transportation, and major environmental changes.
Smallpox was first brought to the north Pacific Coast in 1775, beginning a 100-year era of death among longhouse peoples.Another wave of disease struck longhouses when outsiders arrived in 1805 with measles, chicken pox, and influenza. In about 1830, a mosquito passenger on a ship anchored at the mouth of the Columbia River brought malaria into the rainforest and mated with the local mosquitoes there. This apparently unremarkable event produced a cascading catastrophe that expanded the 100-year terror of disease among the peoples living along the lower Columbia River, up the Cowlitz River, and eventually into the region of the Frazier River and farther north.) Whole longhouses (extended family homes with 25 to 400 residents) suffered enormous losses of life from malaria. Having no immunity, people died from the disease within days. Healers were confounded.
Fearing that the medicine people were using destructive tomanowus, or spirit power, survivors killed many of them. Of those living in close-quarter longhouses, 50% to 90% died. The survivors ran away … to other longhouses. Smallpox and malaria spread, returning every summer and fall for years. As more outsiders arrived, more diseases and waves of disease struck surviving populations. In 1841, the Catholic church arrived in the south and lower Cowlitz River area of Washington and Oregon. The arrival of priests also brought antibiotics. When Indian people were inoculated against various diseases, they survived. The church’s medicine was considered quite strong, and therefore eventually led to the subordination of traditional medicine practices. There were clearly more incidents of introduced disease, and the outside medicine proved essential. People’s confidence in native medicine was seriously shaken by generations of disease. The church made it clear that the Indian could no longer access spirit powers without its help. By the 1840s, its schools continued to emphasize the importance of following the church and rejection of traditional practices. Clearly, all evidence available pointed to following the practices of the “black coats.” As more outsiders moved into Indian territories, new foods and practices were introduced to replace old ways. Indeed, where so many people of medicine, leaders, artists, philosophers, and craftspeople had been killed by disease, many of the survivors were left to fend for themselves. The outsiders provided an apparent safe harbor. The people would be weaned from their well-established but now sundered way of life. Cultural practices would undergo profound transformation. The strategy was to wean people away from reliance on the land. Then they would not need access to deer, fish, and other traditional foods. They could become “civilized.”
Over time, the outsiders’ apparent generosity turned against descendants of the longhouse Indians. The introduction of pig fat, wheat and rye flour, milk, and sugar became the nutritional basis for what was to become a rapidly growing epidemic–diabetes, heart disease, substance abuse, violence, cancer, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression. heart disease, substance abuse, violence, cancer, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression.
In the 21st century, the descendants of the surviving longhouse Indians are now faced with the need to retrieve their ancestral knowledge to treat and reverse the scourge of slow death from chronic disease. We are gathering together once again, to remember the wisdom of the elders; to tell stories; to find the old, hidden places where the camas still grows; and to prepare and share their foods with others. The Salish people are joining indigenous peoples all over who are restoring their culinary traditions.
Excerpted from: Preventing and Treating Diabetes Naturally: The Native Way
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