Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

How a New Digital Archive Preserves-and Protects-Indigenous Folk Medicine

UCLA's database features hundreds of thousands of entries detailing traditional healing practices


For thousands of years, people around the world have relied on medicinal folklore, herbal treatments and rituals to heal an array of ailments. Now, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have created an online platform featuring hundreds of thousands of these traditional therapies. Spanning seven continents and 200 years, the Archive of Healing draws on such sources as anthropologists' field notes, scholarly journals, oral histories and folktales.

"The whole goal here is to democratize what we think of as healing and knowledge about healing, and take it across cultures in a way that's respectful and gives attention to intellectual property rights," says David Shorter, director of the digital archive, in a statement.

As Valentina Di Liscia reports for Hyperallergic, the database is one of the most inclusive catalogues of medicinal folklore in the world. A key goal of the project is preserving Indigenous treatments while ensuring that this knowledge is protected against exploitation by pharmaceutical companies seeking to make a profit. To that end, certain identifying details for plants and recipes are omitted from the archive.

Western medicine has, historically, overlooked herbal remedies used by women and Indigenous peoples. As folk herbalist Sade Musa explained for Healthline in 2019, many traditional treatments were passed down orally and, as a result, overlooked in favor of written documentation.

Click this image to visit the digital database. (Screenshot via the Archive of Healing)

"[C]olonialism built a medical industrial complex through often violent means of cultural suppression, erasure, and exploitation," noted Heathline. "The rise of the patriarchy also authorized only white male physicians to practice and define medicine for the world."


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