Julianne Jennings: In celebration of Indian women of healing

"In 1982 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25, proclaiming a “National Recognition Day for Nurses.” The ANA Board of Directors expanded the recognition of nurses in 1991, to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6–12, as National Nurses Week in conjunction with “credited” founder of nursing Florence Nightingale’s birthday; two years later, National Nurses Week was officially designated as a permanent observation in all subsequent years.

Before Florence Nightingale, however, American Indian women collected essential herbs, roots, barks and berries; making teas, poultices and singing healing songs of her foremothers— medicinal lore passed down from grandmother, to mother to daughter for thousands of years before white men set foot on Native soil; and would later claim this knowledge as their own. American Indian women have been denied the gratitude from the lessons that unite ancient wisdom with today’s healing arts with little recognition as the First women of healing.

Taken from the article “100 Amazing Indian Discoveries,” in American Indian Magazine of the National Museum of the American Indian, fall 2004, before Western science we learn, American Indians practiced asepsis (sterile technique) to clean wounds and incisions with water they had sterilized by boiling; keeping wounds clean and bacteria free. About 1000 B.C. Native healers used anesthetics from medicinal plants, including coca, peyote, witch hazel and dutura to ease aches and pains. They also used anesthetics to help the patient lose consciousness before surgery. The Aztec physicians understood the structure and function of the human body (anatomical knowledge), including the circulatory system long before European doctor’s possessed this knowledge, and North American Indian healers administered medicine beneath the skin with hypodermic syringes made from hollow bird bones and small animal bladders. Europeans did not start using hypodermic syringes until 1853."

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Julianne Jennings: In Celebration of National Nursing Week: The First Women of Healing (Indian Country Today 5/13)

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