2015 Review: A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle

 Cree Healer and His MEdicine Bundle


Healer passes his knowledge on to youth

Written by Russell Willier

Reviewed by Dianne Meili 
Windspeaker Contributor

Hoping to help young people, Indigenous healer Russell Willier teamed
up with anthropologist David Young once again to produce an excellent
book — A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle: Revelations of Indigenous
Wisdom – Healing Plants, Practices, and Stories—that preserves Cree
medicinal knowledge, plant by plant.

Following the 1989 release of Cry of The Eagle, a book tracking
Willier’s life as a traditional healer and his treatment of 10 patients
afflicted with psoriasis, the duo this time enlists botanist Robert
Rogers to provide commentary on folk uses and the explicit properties of
61 plants in Willier’s repertoire.

As a teenager, the healer rejected the responsibility that came with
accepting his grandfather’s medicine bundle. In his 30s, however, aging
medicine people convinced him to abandon his everyday life in favour of
studying their healing methods to help preserve their knowledge.

Cree cosmology figures large in Willier’s approach to healing; he
describes his spiritual views with the help of diagrams. He also
discusses how and where he finds his plants and herbs, offers practical
advice on how to approach a healer, and laments the loss of natural
habitats where his wild medicines grow.

Willier’s favourite healing stories are engaging, especially the one
about the call he received from the family of a dying Elder who saw
spirits emerging from a round flying vehicle “with little windows” to
collect him.

Through Young’s research diary, we ride along with them on a 1,000 km
journey across northern Alberta to collect plants in July. The men slog
through bogs and ride quads on rutted roads to locate medicine, along
the way visiting with Willier’s old mentor, and taking photographs of
flowers, stems and roots.

From “ice cream trees” (Trembling Aspen whose sweet-tasting cambium
tastes like honeydew melon) to “frog pants” (the carnivorous pitcher
plant), Russell provides information about how traditional Cree people
interacted with various †plants, herbs and trees. Rogers provides
additional information about uses and properties of each plant, while
nearly 200 of Young’s color photos illustrate how they appear in the
summer and fall.

The authors revisit their 1986 Psoriasis Research project in the
book’s final section, relying on dramatic before-and-after photos to
help demonstrate the effectiveness of natural plant medicine on severe
skin eruptions.

Six of 10 patients improved significantly over the course of seven
months, one of whom was completely cured of psoriasis on his hands.

Maps and descriptions of Northern Alberta locales where Willier finds
his medicine plants underscore his generous wish to guide young people
in using them. There’s also an index of referenced plants in English,
Latin and Cree, plus a list of references cited in the book, published
by North Atlantic Books, 2015.

Fully accomplishing what it sets out to do, the book offers evidence
that traditional medicine really works, and aspiring healers can
reference text, pictures, and maps to identify and locate them.
Providing, that is – as Willier repeatedly stresses in the book – that
humans stop destroying the habitat of wild, medicinal plants.

Photo caption:
A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle: Revelations of Indigenous Wisdom
– Healing Plants, Practices, and Stories - Written by Russell Willier