On the Possibility of a Synergy Between Indigenous Knowledges of Health and Healing and Western Biomedicine: Toward a Phenomenological Understanding

Mark S. Dolson


In this paper, it is argued that the possibility for a formal synergy between Indigenous knowledges of health and healing and biomedicine-particularly in remote, Indigenous regions like the Canadian Arctic-at the clinical practice level may be difficult to sustain as a result of the major philosophical differences between the two systems. If a synergy of some form is to occur at all, it is more likely that it would not be at the level of formal services offered, but at the phenomenological level with respect to the help-seeking experiences and lived actualities of those in distress, crisis, or those labelled as "patients." Building on the practice and experience of medical pluralism, it is claimed that it may be more likely for help seekers (in the capacity of nomadic bricoleurs) to form their own creative and strategic healing synergies. From the patients' perspectives, the formation of synergies is achieved by availing themselves of practitioners of Indigenous healing, biomedicine, and any other types of healing services as resources to utilize in their quest for meaning and existential reconciliation in the face of illness and uncertainty. It follows, then, that my own theoretical position with respect to illness is that it is not only a subjective experience of pain or malady (and the physical manifestation thereof qua signs and symptoms), but also a crisis of interpretation: the introduction of illness into a help seeker's life creates a sense of existential and interpretive volatility. It is argued that from a methodological standpoint, a phenomenologically-inspired approach is the most appropriate means through which to access patients' experiences of the synergies of the help-seeking experience.

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