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OMA Winter 2015 Magazine

MEDICAL HISTORY River and throughout the Willamette Valley had been reduced to fewer and smaller villages. Traditional sweathouses, where Indians would try to sweat out an illness, proved to be devastating. After a sweathouse ceremony at Willamette Falls, many would jump into the cold waters of the Willamette and die there. With fewer tribal members left to recover the dead, their remains would wash downriver. Indians slowly turned for help to the new white missionaries such as Methodist Rev. Jason Lee (Willamette Mission, 1834–1844), many of whom linked the “savage” lifestyles of the Indians to their poor health and lack of advancement and civilization, a form of social Darwinism. The missionaries could do little to help cure the “cold sick” (malaria), and the Indians learned to distrust them. By 1856, many tribes were removed to the new Grand Ronde Indian reservation. Once-thriving Chinookan tribes were reduced to perhaps a few dozen members. Kalapuya tribes, who had numbered an estimated 25,000, now were about 600 people. It was the same for all of the tribes in the region. These 27–35 Willamette Valley, southern Oregon and coastal tribes, some of whom were adversarial, were now concentrated in a much smaller area. On Oregon reservations—Grand Ronde, the Coast Indian Reservation, Warm Springs, Umatilla, Nez Perce, Klamath, and Malheur—white doctors were hired by the federal government to care for the Indians. The reservations were managed as military encampments and Indians were not allowed to come and go as they wished. The American doctors were not very successful at first. The tribes associated white medicine with white religion, which they did not trust. As the first generation of reservation Indians passed, more tribal members assimilated to white culture and American doctors were able to provide some help, though the federal government provided little funding for medicines and medical supplies. Reservation supplies were often out of date, and there are indications that some medicines were used some 30 years after they were acquired. It is unclear how effective they were. The “sanitation (health) reports” of the 19th century are full of illnesses and deaths, and it is clear that the tribes had less access to medical care available in cities. In some documented cases, Indians saved or borrowed money from relatives to go to Salem and other cities to buy their own medicines. Some 40 years after the reservations were formed, many “Indian doctors” were gone, still the Indians had yet to turn to American culture. A tribal meeting in Salem in 1871 with the Indian agents and members of the regional clergy spoke directly to the issues that tribes were having at the reservations of maintaining their cultures and not turning to American education and medical care. George Harney, a Siletz tribal member at the meeting, stated, “I do not think we can learn all these things right away. We will have to wait. It is like the wheat. We first plow the ground; then we sow the grain; then harrow it in; then wait till it grows  Chemawa Indian School Nurses training circa 1950s. Courtesy Grand Ronde Tribe Today at Grand Ronde there are instances where traditional herbalism and recovered cultural practices like canoe journeys are the preferred methods of treatment for the long term preventative health of the Tribal members. The Grand Ronde tribe purchases full health care for all tribal members with most services including pharmacy, optometry, physician visits, and dental care available at the Health and Welfare clinic five days a week. The clinic serves IHS eligible patients in the area of Grand Ronde. Current photo of the Grand Ronde Health and Wellness Center. Courtesy Grand Ronde Tribe w ww.theOMA.org Winter 2015 31


OMA Winter 2015 Magazine
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