Power Politics and the Takeover of Holistic Health in North America: An Exploratory Historical Analysis





As far back as recorded history goes, indigenous peoples have practiced holistic systems of medicine. Their complex and sophisticated systems of medicine were effective health promotion, disease prevention, treatment, and palliative care. Indigenous systems of medicine reflected cosmologies that were deeply rooted in interconnectedness between: Earth and all inhabitants; mind, body, spirit; all life forms in the universe. Indigenous systems of medicine are the world’s oldest surviving medical traditions. Another old system of medicine, homeopathy, is practiced in the modern day and was brought here as part of the settler wave of migration. Homeopathic concepts share a great deal with indigenous cosmologies and medical world views. For example, the notion that spirit or energy is responsible for creating health is common to both; homeopaths call this “vital force” and various words exist in the myriad languages of the original stewards of this land. Both of these systems of medicine have helped to keep communities healthy throughout history, but, like all systems of medicine, they also have their problems. Historically, Europeans had two major impacts on indigenous systems of medicine. First, genocide of indigenous peoples — using techniques such as warfare, the introduction of alcohol, residential schools, spreading diseases — causing the death of millions of people and the destruction of their systems of health care (although some survived) and second, the introduction of holistic systems of health care.

Allopathic medicine, while it is well entrenched in North America, has only held this influential position for approximately one century. Dispelling myths that allopathic dominance was gained exclusively through evidence based health outcomes using scientific diagnostic and treatment protocols, this paper demonstrates that two systems of healthcare were overturned in North America, using primarily financial, military, and political tools. In analyzing these social forces, this paper is in no way a wholesale critique of allopathy. Indeed, allopathy has tremendous value in improving population health, particularly in acute and emergency care.

Holistic systems of medicine were ascendant in the past and their decline was less about “the progress of science” and more about power and politics. Despite this decline, holistic health is re-emerging. Medical pluralism is experiencing a renaissance.

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