The Role of Traditional Medicine in Joseph Boyden’s “Three Day Road” Essay

The Role of Traditional Medicine in Joseph Boyden’s “Three Day Road” The roles of medicine, and its effects on the characters in Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road, address the power that both traditional and modern methods had on Native Americans. When we think of medicine and healing, the images that usually come to mind are needles, pills, or doctors. These are recognized as more contemporary forms that we have become accustomed to today.

The forms of healing that are not usually associated with medicine today are the traditional ways of the Native Americans.The role of traditional medicine is a reoccurring theme throughout Boyden’s novel, where he addresses its power, effectiveness, and spiritual significance in the healing of his main characters. The awareness of traditional methods that Boyden shares attempts to explain and acknowledge that the Native Americans ways of healing were sometimes just as effective as modern medicine. “These methods were often viewed by colonists to North America as nothing more than superstition and inferior to the sophisticated medicinal practices of the Europeans. “In fact many actually benefited from and survived diseases through use of Native American treatments” (T. A. A. Portman and M.

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T. Garrett). The many roles that traditional medicine served in “Three Day Road,” truly embodied the beliefs and values of the Native Canadians and aided in unmasking Boyden’s characters to reveal their true identity. According to Laurie J.

Schwing, “Native American healing is largely based on the idea that all living things are interconnected and that the mind, body, and spirit of humans are not to be treated separately. She goes on to say that “spirituality is at the core of their human condition and must be treated along with the physical ailments that arise. ” The contrast between this traditional and modern medicine is seen symbolically through Xavier and Elijah in the way they handle both their physical and mental pain. These two characters go off war and end up embracing it in completely different ways. Elijah becomes fully engulfed in the madness and brutality that arises and embraces the wemistkoshiw ways with open arms.

On the other hand, Xavier has always been conservative and values the old traditional ways of his ancestors, continually distancing himself from the social pressures he is faced with. “Private Bird is somewhat fearful of the English form of medicine. He is used to a more primitive practice of healing” (256) This difference in mentality towards modern medicine leads to their different feelings towards the pain medicine, morphine. Unlike Elijah, Xavier sticks to his roots and is constantly reminding himself of the dangers that supposedly lie with these modern ways.Before they are off to the war, Niska put round each of their necks a medicine bundle full of protective herbs. This traditional form of medicine was not only for physical, but spiritual healing. “The beneficial effects of the medicine bundle are not solely in the herbal medicines, but the spiritual connection with the plants is of great importance in bringing back balance for an individual with respect to their emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual dimensions.

” (Christopher Rybak and Amanda Decker-Fitts).Xavier often made reference to the medicine bundle and how it gave him comfort and reassurance of whom and what was waiting for him back home. “Sometimes I’m tempted to open it, but have decided not to any more, for fear of losing something important, something of you Niska” (79). This traditional medicine brought Xavier reassurance, and aided him in staying rooted to his beliefs and values. On the other hand, Elijah had eventually given into the pressuring healing value of the addictive morphine.This form of medicine helped relieve some of the physical pain however, it is clear that he was deprived of the spiritual comfort and mental healing that the traditional medicine bungle provided Xavier. The symbolic reference to the two forms of medicine is exemplified further through Xavier and Elijah.

Xavier tore off Elijah’s medicine bundle after he had killed him, as if Elijah had betrayed the traditional ways that Xavier so deeply treasured. He thought that Elijah no longer deserved the healing it gave. “I reach around his neck and grab hold of his medicine bundle.I tug at it. It does not want to brake.

I tug hard and the hide rope gives” (370). By removing Elijah’s medicine bundle, Xavier had essentially removed the last ounce of traditional values that Elijah possessed, signifying the detrimental triumph that modern medicine had on this individual. The role of traditional medicine, in “Three Day Road” not only captured the ______and______of Xavier and Elijah, but we also see the effects it had on the character Niska. During the novel, Niska plays a pivotal role in the traditional methods of healing and even becomes to represent it.One of her methods was the use of a sweat lodge.

“The integration of the physical and the spiritual is at the heart of the tradition of sweat lodges, and is believed to be the most widely practiced indigenous healing ritual” (Dunn, Samantha). We are introduced to times in her life where Niska was in need of mental comfort and spiritual guidance. When she is seduced by the French trapper, her dignity, spirit, and heart are broken by the manipulative lust that the Frenchman uses to rid her of her “heathen Indian” ways (174).After this horrifying encounter, Niska was was fearful he had stolen her power, spirit, and strength through fear he had imposed on her. Deeply hurt and troubled by the experience, she flees back into the bush where she seeks help. She constructs a sweat lodge like her father had taught her, and prayed for purification of the mental _______that the Frenchman caused. Spirit animals began to arrive “rallying around [her] hurt,” finding its source, and extinguishing it (176).

Through this traditional method of healing, the spiritual and mental comfort it provided made played a significant role in the ______of Niska.The sense peace that she received from the performance of this traditional ceremony made her World a “fresh and clean place again”(175). This encounter made Niska that much more strong in her beliefs and values as an indigenous medicine woman, and her feelings toward the continual threatening ways of the wemistikoshiw people.

Through the power of traditional medicine and its effects on the Niska’s identity, Boyden exemplified her traits as being a proud, strong woman that did not give in during a time of cultural upheaval.The most prominent traditional medicine that was showcased in Three Day Road was the powerful healing effects of storytelling. We see its effects in all three main characters and how it too, provided medicinal qualities. “The narrative of one’s experience and understanding is connected to the inner dialogue of the mind, body, emotions and spirit” McCabe says.

He continues by saying “sharing stories of pain, suffering, healing, finding oneself, and meaning in life, is a major player in the indigenous people’s healing process and in fact becomes an expression of healing itself. After Xavier has returned from the war, fighting off the effects of morphine, Niska tried to aid in the fight with her traditional forms of healing. Sharing her stories which would reflect and resemble the experiences Xavier was fighting, Niska’s narrations provided comfort to the war within his mind, while distracting the physical pain he was enduring. “I decide here on the river, that I will speak to him. Maybe some of the poison that courses through him might be released in this way” (89). Having each protagonist tell a story within the story, we are able to see the effects that storytelling had on each individual character.We are also able to see the effect that withholding from this traditional form of medicine had on a character. In the instance where it could have aided in healing Elijah, Xavier was unable to provide this type of mental healing to his friend.

Xavier’s ancestors like Niska and her father were great storytellers, however Xavier lacked this attribute. When Elijah was suffering, Xavier never “said what Elijah needed to hear” (342), and began to realize “the emptiness inside [Elijah] [could not] be filled up,” due to his inability to heal him through story (343).Boyden truly makes us become aware of the traditional healing power that stories had on the Indigenous people. Through this power, we again are able to capture the roles that traditional medicine played and how it brought out the characters true identity in Three Day Road. “Western cultures have traditionally rejected the idea of mind, body, emotions, dialogue, and ancestral voices for use of healing and spiritual comfort. This rejection has had the influence to send traditional healing practices underground and in some cases eliminated from the cultural vernacular altogether.

On top of this many indigenous people feel that western medicine does not always live up to the promises they so optimistically offer. ” ( ) These things are showcased throughout Three Day Road and the emphasis of change through more knowledge of the contending side, is what I believe Boyden was trying to achieve. If more and more people become aware of the healing power of traditional medicine, the likely hood of acceptance of traditional Native American healing practices will increase.Boyden truly showcased that traditional medicine should not be taken for granted, as it can provide not only physical, but mental and spiritual healing as well. He also _________how it attributed to the development of each character’s identity.

With this insight we are able to further understand the roles that traditional medicine played and develop a greater understanding of its power and importance within society today. From this we can grow to respect both forms of medicine and eventually decide which one will define who we are as individuals.


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