Fading Non-empirical Healing

The Reemergence of the Mending Mind

by Carl M. Hild

Inupiat drummers at dance in Barrow, Alaska

Indigenous circumpolar peoples have a long shamanic history. Many aspects of these traditions continue to the current day in the form of traditional healers and Tribal Doctors, as they are known in Alaska. This article reviews the indigenous people of northwestern Alaska, Inupiaq, shamanic traditions for diagnosing conditions and healing. In addition, it reviews the attributes of Places of Ancient Traditional Healing (PATH).  PATH indicated specific places and times for the collection of herbs and plants specifically for healing. Certain animals were taken and specific parts used. Journey quests for self-healing included going to particular locations and gathering special plants or materials. Some places are believed to be sites at which other forms of knowledge or healing songs could be obtained for advancing well-being. The Tribal Doctors continue to visit these PATHs to advance healing.

A community-based action research approach resulted in a process of multicultural engagement for learning and understanding (MELU), guided by the intention of documenting the advantages of utilizing Inupiaq traditional healing techniques to complement and integrate with modern allopathic health services. The use of other ways of knowing, spirit support, body manipulation, behavioral restrictions, and the extraction of bodily materials are all used to improve well-being. The documentation and assessment of these skills and knowledge for their beneficial aspects for healing indicate an ancient awareness of practical means to improve well-being. These ancient-based ways may lead investigations into further insights as to the various forms of healing that are currently not utilized or understood by contemporary medicine and science.

Carl M. Hild, PhD is Associate Professor of Health Services Administration at Alaska Pacific University. Over the past four decades, he has researched Inupiat traditional knowledge and skills to foster programs that improve health and well-being among northern peoples. He is focusing his energies on community-based participatory health research under an endeavor he calls “Multicultural Engagement for Learning and Understanding.” He is currently working on a second award from the National Library of Medicine on documenting the knowledge and skills of Inupiat healers.

This article was supported in part by the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Grant R24 MD000499 while Dr. Hild was the Associate Director of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The author has lived in Alaska and worked with the indigenous people of northwestern region of the state over the past forty years. He has produced, in partnership with indigenous collaborators, educational materials that have offered opportunities for MELU for improved well-being. By learning about these ways of enhancing or restoring health, the allopathic medical community can gain new insights into the healing attributes of indigenous peoples.


The Inupiat (plural), the indigenous people of northwest Alaska, perceive a world that is more than just interconnected pieces, it is seen as one (Fair, 2004). The Inupiat see the whole through the spirit of Inua that is everything (Fitzhugh & Kaplan, 1992). By knowing who they are, they know the whole and therefore understand its aspects. They perceive and relate to the world in wholeness through respect and sharing. They do not see themselves as a part or as being separate from the whole. They know all as one.

A central aspect of Inupiat cognition is Inua. Parallels within occidental and oriental philosophies are the Holy Spirit and chi. These parallels include a common element that flows through living things. In the Holy Spirit it may be limited to moving among humans only, or perhaps only from God to individuals. Chi moves from plants and animals as well as from energetic physical sources such as crystals, magnets, sun, wind, and rivers into people (Narby, 2006; Rossbach, 1983). Sacred places are either rich in chi or well-balanced with the male and female aspects. The study and application of the movement of chi is known as feng shui (Rossbach, 1983). The sacred sites of the Catholic Church are sources of the Holy Spirit because of God’s perceived presence, not due to any natural or earthly flow of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is defined as a stimulating sense, which comes from the Greek meaning “full of the spirit” or “inspired by God.”

Inua is more than both of these concepts. It is wholeness or oneness. There is no movement of Inua from person to person, as they are one. There is no shift from rivers to people, as they are one. It is an understanding of oneness that pervades Inupiat actions and beliefs. The concept is one of “In the beginning God…” and if it could be appropriately stated, Inua is everything at once. Inua changes its form but does not change itself. Everything is made up of Inua and everything makes up Inua (Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005).

Inua is more than a life spirit. It is more than a perception of self. It is a well grounded sense of oneness that goes beyond the concept of just being part of a whole.

The oneness is not just a physical, three dimensional understanding. It includes the concept of time. Inua provides for ancestors to be present. This is done through the recognition that the knowledge being used currently was first learned by the ancestors. They shared that information in the form of stories. The stories provide the application of the information to demonstrate the understanding, which comes from the practical use of wisdom. What is learned today will benefit the future generations that are already here within the reproductive capacity of those who are now alive. Knowledge resides in Inua and can be called upon. That knowledge may be of things past, things future, or of things unseen in this physical world.

Within the Inupiaq (singular) culture there are healers who actively work simultaneously with the mind, body, and spirit to improve well-being. The Inupiaq name for this healer is anatguk (Burch, 1971, 2006; Ganley, 1996). Each anatguk is capable of providing a combination of a wide spectrum of skills. The anatguk uses experience, knowledge, and insight to provide care. This can be accomplished by working with the physical body for lacerations, cuts and broken bones as well as with the need to reestablish relationships with natural bodily functions through manipulation of the organs or skeleton. It can be through talking and raising questions to discover factors of individual behavior or attitudes. It can also be through spirit journeys and working at a different plane with helpers in a parallel world. The anatguk gains insight or information that is retrieved from non-physical sources (Deloria, 2006; Eliade, 1974; Halifax, 1979; Heinze, 1997; Kalweit, 1988; Schwartz, 2005; Talbot, 1991; Targ & Katra, 1999, Turner, 1989, 1996). Western European and American research literature classify the Inupiaq healing tradition as shamanic. Throughout this paper the citations to shamanic practices are used to elucidate the activities of the anatguk.

Traditional Healing Practices

The Inupiat perceive a world that is more than just interconnected pieces, it is seen as one (Bielawski, 1995; Burch, 1971; Carpenter, 1980; Ellanna & Sherrod; 2005; Fitzhugh & Kaplan, 1982; Freeman, Morgan & Farquhar, 2001; Nuttal, 2000; Osborn, 1990; Saylor, Burgess & Hild, 1998; Turner, 1989, 1996; Vitebsky, 2008; Weyer, 1932). They cannot separate themselves from the Inua, the spirit that is all. They talk to and with the animals, plants, water, wind, rocks and earth. Their healers call upon supernatural knowledge to understand not only the condition to be treated, but also the underlying cause of the problem. Not being well is an indication that a person’s relationships to all aspects of life that support her or him need to be corrected (Saylor et al., 1998). When a person does not actively do her or his part to engage and respect the world that provides sustenance, then there cannot be wellness.

The Inuit, the transnational indigenous people’s group of which the Inupiat are a member, produce images that are considered perceptually challenging in that they combine multiple facets into one object in what is called a “visual pun” and has been termed “simultaneous reality” (Carpenter, 1980; D. Benyshek, personal communication, June 14, 2006). Inuit art is festooned with complex figures expressing their simultaneously multifaceted worldview (Fitzhugh & Kaplan, 1982). Often Inupiaq art includes temporal and spatial scales that are outside of the physical eye view. The art incorporates what is not only capable of being seen, but what is known, what has been and what is taking place elsewhere. A scene may depict a hunter standing alone on distant ice, as well as show the ocean beneath the ice, the fish and seals swimming there, and a family far away, albeit very present, sitting needing the nourishment of the food that will be given by the animal. Inuit art reflects an understanding of the oneness of the world and the ability for life to transmute itself into combined or alternative forms. Wolves and orcas shift form, and regularly do, as they are perceived by the Inupiat as the same being (Dikov, 1999; P. Sovalik, personal communication, March 1972; Vitebsky, 2008).

The Inupiaq regularly utilize symbols that have multiple meaning. The title of this work was selected with a verbal pun as a visual cue. Fading in this paper has two perspectives. First, as time goes by there are fewer people who really do practice traditional healing with plants, manipulation, behavior, and through accessing non-local consciousness that has been classified as non-empirical. Second, as time goes by the non-empirical aspects of what the mind can do are being demonstrated in repeatable verifiable experiments, thereby removing them from such a classification. So while the non-empirical indigenous healing art is disappearing, the practice is being empirically documented as valid. Therefore traditional healing is fading in two ways. The hope is that the traditional ways can be preserved through practice and be well documented to serve as examples for future investigation and sharing for the larger well-being.


Alaskan ethnographies report traditional healers going to special sites marked with stones or large bones to gather medicinal materials and/or engage in spirit communication as part of the ritual journey to well-being (Ganley, 1996; Lowenstein, 1994; Milan, 1964). A term used is “itiuyaaq” or “spirit shelter.” Sites that are known to have been used may now have limitations to their access due to land “ownership” policies. Seeing and knowing that the world around them is healthy is integral to the perception of Inupiat personal well-being. Places of Ancient Traditional Healing (PATH) are becoming resources for continuing well-being among the Inupiat.

Historically the traditional healer utilized many local resources for plant, animal, and mineral based medicines; the spiritual components of each was honored, respected, and engaged for improving health (Burch, 1971, Craig, 1998; DeLapp & Ward, 1981; Dixon & Kirchner, 1982; Dixon, Myers, Book & Nice, 1983; Eliade, 1974; Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005; Ganley 1996, 2002; Garibalid, 1999; Ramoth, 1976; Saylor et al., 1998; Turner, 1989, 1996). The healers sometimes traveled throughout the region in search of these healing resources and appropriate spiritual attributes. Anatguk used a breadth of resources to assist an individual in achieving health and supporting the community.

The magico-religious significance of place can be physically perceived in a number of ways, and a personal sense of place can enhance well-being. Place can also be a site of ritual, and in a culturally agreed upon set of beliefs, engendered with healing attributes that may trigger psychological and physiological benefits in the nature of psychoneuroimmunology (Freeman, 2004; Halifax, 1982; Krippner & Welch, 1992; Locke & Colligan, 1986).


Among the Inupiat the most well known shamanic type is the anatguk (Burch, 1971, 2006; Ganley, 1996). This is the Inupiaq term for shaman, healer, or medicine person. These individuals worked in an open, public process that was often quite flamboyant in nature. They became powerful and were feared as they set taboos and regulated behavior (Burch, 1971; Fortuine, 1988; Ganley, 1996).

Most anatguk worked as specialists. Few had advanced healing skills in all practices, not unlike physicians today. There are reports of anatguk performing eye surgery in the 1800s to remove growths such as pterygium (DeLapp & Ward, 1981). They reportedly used a human louse suspended on human hair to scratch away the tissue, or through the use of a fine jade knife to cut away the material that was interfering with vision. There are accounts of the removal of tumors and of healing major wounds with just hands and songs (Anonymous, personal communication, Winter 2007; Turner, 1996). Their skills were remarkable for many of the services that they provided.

Most shamans have undergone prolonged periods of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual training during which their ego becomes service oriented so that they can become the vehicles and translators of transcendental knowledge….Shamans also stress that their training never ends because they keep receiving instructions from the “higher” source. (Heinze, 1991, p. 156)

There are also accounts of anatguk traveling physically and spiritually to other places to gain knowledge and skills to help improve the process of attaining well-being, as well as finding locations and insights to be able to perceive healing songs of tremendous power (Anonymous, personal communication, Winter 2007; Eide; 1952; Turner, 1996).

There was a second and relatively unknown historic shaman as well, the ilisiilaq (Burch, 1971, 2006; Ganley, 1996). This is the Inupiaq term for a sorcerer. The ilisiilaq worked in private and stayed out of the limelight that was so desired by the anatguk. The ilisiilaq was not considered malevolent in most areas, whereas the anatguk was associated with fear and setting taboos. The ilisiilaq worked quietly, behind the scenes conducting spiritual journeys for interventions so that individuals could be successful in providing for their family and community. The ilisiilaq was considered clairvoyant in her or his ability to know about what was taking place, as well as being a healer of the spirit or a person adroit at reestablishing proper Inua relationships. It is the ilisiilaq who would foretell the outcome of a birth, hunt, or a season’s weather pattern. They knew who would die in the near future, and “would often warn them to make things right with those they loved” (Anonymous, personal communication, Winter 2007). The ilisiilaq was a diviner.

The anatguk conducted trance sessions with little or no clothing (Eide, 1952; Eliade, 1974; Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005). They were adept at creating a vivid demonstration of the battle with spirits in requesting to be tied, in being able to provide a sense of other beings’ presence with unusual noises, and through what now are considered “sleight of hand” feats (Eide, 1952; Eliade, 1974; Burch, 1971; Ganley, 1996). They also used masks to bring forth the spirit in question (Eliade, 1974; Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005, Fitzhugh & Kaplan, 1982). The anatguk did not always use a drum or rattle to initiate the trance. The anatguk and ilisiilaq both utilized song to gain knowledge and to provide care.

When possessed by their familiar spirits, shamans could see and communicate with such phenomena, but no one else could unless the particular entity involved chose to make itself visible. Even some features of the landscape were endowed with mystical power. If a person fell asleep in the wrong place, for example, or looked at a forbidden topographic feature, that person died. (Burch, 2006, p. 320)

The ilisiilaq did not utilize the drum or dramatic practice, but was able to secure other information through an intentional state to access nonlocal consciousness (Ganley, 1996). Both the anatguk and the ilisiilaq are reported to have gone to sacred sites that were marked with stones or bones to communicate with Inua, often traveling underground, under the sea or to the moon (Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005; Ganley, 1996; Milan, 1964; Ripinsky-Naxon, 1993).

The anatguk would conduct spirit retrievals to reestablish relationships that are required for well-being. Today the Tribal Doctor starts off each healing session with a fervent prayer calling upon the spirit of God in the name of Jesus to aid with the treatment. Often patients are also implored to pray so that the Tribal Doctor can best perform her or his duty and restore the person to health. This engagement of both the spirit and enlisting the patient fully in her or his own healing is part of what is demonstrated in the practice of psychoneuroimmunology (Freeman, 2004). The efforts to gain knowledge from the ancestors and non-local consciousness have been studied by scientists for over a century (Blum, 2006; Mayer, 2007).

The ilisiilaq was the clairvoyant and would see information. This was sometimes used for diagnosis and may have been based on training as a keen observer. This is not unlike any expert who can use insight and experience to glean apparently unknown information. A review of renowned surgeons demonstrates that they too rely on this insightful knowing to conduct their work (Mayer, 2007). Also the ilisiilaq would use spirit travel to access information. The declassification of US Central Intelligence Agency materials indicate that governmental programs have trained and utilized such skills for national defense (Katra & Targ, 1999; Targ & Katra, 1999). Studies by Targ have even shed light on advanced knowing, so that not only is space not a factor in perceiving subsequent distant events, but to a limited extent time is no longer the barrier it was once believed to be (Targ & Katra, 1999).

It appears that the Inupiat had found ways to learn that are not based on our current academic practices. It appears also that they had found ways to go beyond space and time, which only now our quantum physics is explaining on a subatomic level, and governmental sources have acknowledged making use of similar techniques for national defense (Targ & Katra, 1999).


The most common skills reported being used by Inupiat healers were in three general categories (Burch, 1971; Ganley, 1996). One was manipulating or poking the body’s joints, organs and blood system to provide a physical advantage to healing—not unlike an osteopathic physician or acupuncturist. One was working with medicinal plants and animals to provide chemical or spiritual/Inua advantages in healing—not unlike a pharmacist with a physician prescribing pills (Garibaldi, 1999). One was working with spirits of ancestors, animals and the non-physical world to provide a spiritual/Inua advantage to reestablishing required relationships for healing and well-being—not unlike a psychologist, religious leader or faith healer.

Over the last half of the twentieth century a new form of traditional healer emerged (Ganley, 1996). The English name is that of a traditional healer or tribal doctor. The term shaman is not used, and is actively avoided, as its connotation is still closely associated with taboos, the evil anatguk, and the Christian concept of the devil. This new healer was formed as a composite of some of the more acceptable aspects to the new dominant culture of both the anatguk and ilisiilaq. The physical body manipulation, poking, and ethno-botanicals were combined with the private delivery of service and information under the guidance of Christian prayer by both the patient and the healer. The term hand-healer also is used for these individuals (Turner, 1996).

The Inupiaq term for this healer of composite skills is ilnuunniaqti which is close to meaning “traditional doctor.” Such a healer performs various tasks such as: kapi – “poking” or draining a small amount of bloody fluid from sites where it has “pooled” and that are somewhat similar to acupuncture points; ilusiiq – setting joint dislocations; and uniiuqtit – the manipulation of organs and deep vessels to allow the for easing of perceived blockages to their normal functioning (Dixon & Kirchner, 1982; Eide, 1952; Ganley; 1996; Kirchner, 1982; Lucier & Van Stone, 1987; Lucier, Van Stone & Keats, 1987; Turner, 1989, 1996). The ilnuunniaqti also prepare poultices, wound dressings, and infusions. The current level of traditional knowledge of ethno-botanicals (plants), ethno-zoonotics (animals), ethnogeotics (water and minerals), is held by these individuals. Hospitals and clinics have requested that these ethno-pharmaceuticals not be used until there is a greater understanding of their potential drug interactions (DeLapp & Ward, 1981; Dixon et al., 1983; Garibaldi, 1999)). Likewise, allopathic practitioners have advised the halting of the manipulation of organs and poking, as they are perceived to be risky behaviors (Eby, 1994, 1998). The work of the allopathic system assessing traditional practices based on its own metrics is now more frequently viewed as inappropriate and culturally insensitive. However, as there is a desire to incorporate or make traditional practices integral in the hospital setting, there are discussions, but the dominant allopathic structure appears unyielding to date.

There are some common themes among the traditional healing being conducted by the Inupiat at the end of the twentieth century. These hold some parallels to the four fundamentals of healing mentioned above. They also provide an overview of the way that healing is conducted.

  1. A different level of perception (“clairvoyance”).
  2. The existence and help of a healing spirit (here it is always “the Good Lord,” Jesus); the life entity of the sufferer.
  3. The concept of disease as a thing, a substance, that can be drawn out.
  4. The hands as the instruments of cure, their special faculty.
  5. The connectedness of healer and sufferer, the “conversation of bodies.”
  6. Correct positioning of the bodily organs – a fundamental concern of Inupiaq healing.
  7. Therapeutic readiness, “healability.” (Turner, 1989, p. 16)

If a hospital or clinic were to be distilled and condensed into its healing essence and put into one person there would be a similarity to the anatguk. The pharmacy is made up of plants, animals, water, and minerals gathered at specific places known to have healing attributes. The physical therapy department is located in the hands of the healer. The psychology department is incorporated in the taboos that were traditionally implemented to advance healing and reestablish relationships. Surgery and Emergency Room services are the methods employed to stop bleeding and stabilize the patient until a full healing ceremony can take place that will employ a full diagnosis and treatment that may entail the entire extended family or community. X-ray and laboratory are focused on all of the senses of the anatguk and are not limited to merely what the basic five can determine. Like ultrasound, X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) there are tools beyond those typically used every day, which on occasion can be put into practical use, such as magnetic sensors in the brain (Baker, 1984).

We must close our eyes and invoke a new manner of seeing… a wakefulness that is the birthright of us all, though few put it to use. Plotinus (seventeen centuries ago) (Katra & Targ, 1999, p. 61).

Slowly the anatguk’s skills, while being modified and provided in a subtle manner in private, are being revived (Craig, 1998, Hild, 2007; Maniilaq, 2005). The Maniilaq Association has supported a Tribal Doctor Program since 1975 (Maniilaq, n.d.). The Norton Sound Health Corporation based in Nome, Alaska initiated the Tribal Healer Program in 2006. Those who have practiced quietly, in ways viewed as complementary to the dominant medical and religious understanding, have been able to continue. In three communities in Alaska, there are now formal traditional healing programs associated with clinics and hospitals. These programs also have apprenticeship programs that are preparing the next generation of traditional healers. There are plans in place to expand these types of programs to other areas of the state.

The “Wolf Dance” of the Kaviagamutes, Eskimo of Alaska.

At One in a Changing World

Currently, the Inupiat have grave concern about the state of the environment. The climate has changed dramatically in the Arctic in just the past few decades. A phrase used is that “the earth is faster now” (Krupnik & Jolly, 2002). The reports of contaminants coming to the Arctic are making the Inupiat question their personal well-being (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme [AMAP], 2002). If the seal eats the same foods as the Inupiat and it is found to have high levels of contaminants and is seen to have reproductive or immune system problems, how possibly can the Inupiat be advised to continue to eat a subsistence diet (Borre, 1994)? If the land is contaminated with global and local pollution, how can its spirit nourish the Inupiat (Borre, 1994; Hild & Stordahl, 2004)?

A century ago there were other challenges. After the industrial whalers had introduced diseases and decimated the marine and terrestrial animals, the Inupiat were struggling and starvation was rampant (Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005). The Christians, who first proselytized northwestern Alaska, were the Pastoral Religious Society of Friends, the Pastoral Quakers. Prior to their arrival there was an indigenous prophet and prognosticator who spoke throughout the region. Maniilaq, an Alaska Native, set the stage for the Inupiat of this region to embrace Christianity (Burch, 1994; Crowley & Crowley, 2000; Haile, 2003; LLT Productions, 1998, Maniilaq, n.d.; NANA, n.d.). He broke taboos that had been set by the anatguk, suffering no harm. He predicted a number of events that soon came to pass including the arrival of a new spirit and the arrival of a new material that would be written upon that was thinner than birch bark. The Bible was seen as the expression of his prophecies. Maniilaq is seen as being the Alaskan embodiment of John the Baptist and Nostradamus.

The Quakers came to this area of northwestern Alaska as married couples, which made for social interface much more readily than the single male clergy who did not fit with Inupiat family systems (Burch, 1994; Crowley & Crowley, 2000). The Friends’ Church replaced an individual who set taboos and was feared, by having a more democratic and inclusive institution to take on the role of establishing behavioral standards for the community.

Their denomination also had another advantage over more clerically based churches in that the lack of Quaker hierarchy matched the Inuit’s own social structures. Once converted, no priests were needed and the Inuit could hold their own services. Each new convert could become an advocate for the new belief. Other Quaker ideas could be matched with Inuit ideas. The idea that shamans had inner warmth and light that attracted spirits could be equated to the Quaker idea of developing the Inward Light of the Divine in everyone. The Inuit need for public admission of wrongdoing was accommodated by public confession in Quaker services. (Crowley & Crowley, 2000, p. 131)

In a matter of just a few years at the beginning of the twentieth century, the anatguk were gone from sight and in about twenty years the Christian faith had become strongly entrenched (Burch, 1994; Eide, 1952; Ellanna & Sherrod, 2005; Ganley, 1996; Turner, 1989). Most health services were provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later the Indian Health Service. In the 1970s, the Congressional Laws 93-638, Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, and 94-437, Indian Health Care Improvement Act, allowed for the local provision of health care. The community is once again determining how health services are delivered, and in a very Quakerly context.


Though challenged by the domineering influence of external cultures, some of the ancient healing practices continue to this day. Traditional healers are working within hospitals and clinics providing services, often for conditions not easily addressed in the contemporary medical model. They regularly call on the spirit, now through Christian prayer, to assist in their diagnosis and treatment of patients, while the patient takes on the role of requesting divine guidance for the healer (Maniilaq, 2005; tribal doctors, personal communications, Spring 2006). The inclusion and promotion of Alaska Native traditional healing, which is based soundly on the old anatguk and ilisiilaq traditions of the western Arctic, is viewed as a key element in the continued well-being of the people of northwestern Alaska.

Taboos, while instituted by the anatguk in the past, are now provided by the hospital or clinic (take these pills three times a day on an empty stomach), government (do not smoke in public buildings or around children), and religious groups (do not drink alcohol, do not have sex outside of marriage). These taboos, like those of old raise awareness of relationships and initiate behavioral change through setting acceptable activities for well-being. The area of the power of suggestion and placebo effect has been shown to have a great deal of influence on healing (Freeman, 2004; Locke & Colligan, 1986).

Kapi” or “poking” is a form of Inupiaq treatment that combines acupuncture and historic blood-letting to release bad humors. Unlike the old blood-letting kapi is used at very specific locations to release fluids that are not blood. Using sterile techniques the Tribal Doctors use their hands to diagnose where old blood has collected and is no longer serving its purpose. It breaks down and needs to be removed. A small, shallow incision is made, now with just the point of a hypodermic needle and the area massaged. From personal observation what comes from the body is not blood. The fluid can be used for further diagnosis as it can range from close to a clear watery liquid to what appears to be nearly black tar, with a number of viscosities.

Ilusiiq” or realigning joints and reducing dislocations is typically the work of an orthopedic with subsequent support from physical therapists. In the physically active and rigorous life of hunting on the Arctic ice pack rubble, and regular moving entire households throughout the year following migratory routes over the unmarked tundra, falls, sprains, and strains were common. The skill level in addressing these injuries was advanced. Films of 25 years ago showing traditional treatments have been evaluated by a doctor of Osteopathy and the techniques used are considered the state of the art in 2009 (Hild & Schenck, 2009; Maniilaq, 2005). Knowing the subtleties of how to reduce such joint injuries with minimal pain is a skill that would be very worthy of study. There has been interest in looking into the chronic pain management techniques that are used, as the local doctors admit that the inuunniaqti appear to have greater success at times than they do at the hospital.

Uniiuqtit’ or deep manipulation of the muscles and body organs is another practice that has been observed and for which additional knowledge is desired. This technique includes addressing low energy, gastrointestinal problems, conception, complex births, back pain, and high blood pressure (Maniilaq, 2005). The Tribal Doctors use their hands to probe down to the backbone and then reestablish the correct positions of arteries, organs, and muscles so that they work as they should. Watching a back massage given from the front and seeing the patient walk out smiling and upright is remarkable considering that when the healer had arrived the person was bed ridden only a short time before. What can the clinicians and investigators learn from these ancient skills?

The anatguk is reported to have used song specifically for healing. Sometimes this was done with drumming. Altered states of consciousness have been associated with the use of drumming as it establishes patterns and brainwave harmonics (Freemen, 2004, Freeman et al. 2001; Heinze, 1997). In addition the very low vibrations can establish infrasound that allows for a sensed presence (Tandy, n.d.). The use of drumming may enable the healer to access knowledge required for enhancing well-being, and it may position the patient to be more suggestible to what information and behavior is shared. Again the combination of the various aspects of healing are traditionally offered in a holistic manner rather than the silos of care provided so typically in allopathic settings.

How the antaguk enters a receptive and active state of non-local consciousness is an art work investigation. Inupiaq song can be a chant that requires a regular breathing pattern. This may be quiet and calm, but most often is energetic. Inupiat practice throat singing in which the harmonics of two chanting individuals produce what sounds as a third voice that pulsates with the others. Stanislov Grof has investigated the use of breathing patterns to achieve altered states of consciousness and has called this holotropic breathwork. In 1995 he produced a list of potential areas for research using this technique and it included “Documentation of Experiences that Challenge Newtonian-Cartesian Paradigm” (Grof, 1995, para. 7). Music, song, solitude, and suffering are additional recognized methods that have been used to enter altered states of consciousness:

Song and music undeniably are the most ancient means of bringing man into harmony with himself, his environment, and nature…. And if a song or melody reaching us from without is capable of healing, why should not the wisdom of our body, in an endeavor to heal, produce its own song from within? …If, as we have seen, the song of power is a song of joy, this surely must be the joy at being reunited with our higher nature. (Kalweit, 1988, p. 156)

True wisdom is only to be found far away from people, out in the great solitude, and it is not found in play but only through suffering. Solitude and suffering open the human mind, and therefore a shaman must seek his wisdom there.

This that I am telling you now, I dare to confide to you, because you are a stranger from a far away country, but I would never speak about it to my own kinsmen, except those whom I should teach to become shamans. [Quote from Igjugarjuk a Canadian Caribou Inuit] (Halifax, 1979, p. 69)

It is through the engagement of the indigenous people that their knowledge can be incorporated into new management practices. The desire is to have a sustainable approach to assuring the land has all of its attributes for the well-being of future generations. While the Inupiat have a set of cultural, historical, and contemporary events with which to deal, there are other indigenous peoples facing similar situations around the globe.

Multicultural Engagement for Learning and Understanding

The Inupiat, as Parran et al. (1954) reported, were generally viewed as being above average intelligence and in light of their worldview concept of Inua, self-report that they regularly access knowledge that they did not learn from empirical experience and then put that information into practical use (Anonymous, personal communication, Winter 2007; Burch, 1971). They also knew the land and the healing properties that it contains as they have watched and learned from the animals. They knew the body as they regularly saw how it and a bear are similarly structured. They had the capacity long ago to know how to provide healing. They still have that capacity.

Twentieth century science and investigations have found that indeed the human body is capable of detecting very subtle changes in the geomagnetic field, ion levels, smells of the soil and water, as well as the behavior of animals. Humans are keen observers of their environment, and are particularly sensitive when they are not physically insulated from the natural world by the anthropogenic materials that create interference to natural abilities. There is indication that humans can, at will, allow their minds to know more than is physically suggested. People can enter a state of consciousness, during which they can perceive knowledge that is not regularly available to them through the predominant five senses. The Inupiat have used more than the Western defined five senses in their relationships of knowing their world. They acknowledge that much more can be perceived and understood than the information that comes in through seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting their environment. Through this elevated consciousness, which can be stimulated or enhanced at special places, there is a personal relationship to the earth and alternative level of other knowing.

The indigenous peoples of the Far North have faced centuries of challenges to the utilization of their places of ancient traditional healing. They are well aware of what might be lost if they are not diligent. They are well aware of the current environmental challenges that are facing humanity. There is a belief that the ability to reinitiate the conversation with the earth is held among those circumpolar indigenous people who can sense the healing resonance of the earth and sing the songs that it provides.

What does the information that has been collected mean? What will the proposed actions initiate? What are the next steps that will need to be outlined and researched? Who will foster the processes? What follows are the musings of the investigator upon reflection of the information that has been gathered.

First, there is the cultural perception of what information is and what takes place when it is utilized. Knowing information is not applying wisdom.

Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole. (Asian proverb)

To fear the Lord that is wisdom, but to depart from the way of evil is understanding. (Job 28:28)

Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations of occurrences minute and irregular and seldom met with, which it always proves more easy to ignore than to attend to….Anyone will renovate his science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena. And when the science is renewed its new formulas often have more of the voice of the exceptions in them than of what were supposed to be the rules. (attributed to William James)

In the struggle for scientific progress, new facts are less of an obstacle than obsolete concepts. (Reich, 1973, p. 74)

Information is not wisdom, neither is it understanding. Information is fact in context. The investigator believes that how a fact is interpreted and utilized depends upon the filters through which it is received as communication. Just as a television set is adjusted to the local channels, people coming to a new cultural or social milieu may need to adjust their interpretations in order to better perceive community values. Those filters may be ones of spatial, temporal, cultural, or other parameters that forge the foundations of concepts for how the communications are understood and utilized. Therefore, how anyone interprets facts is based on her or his frame of reference.

Not only are facts seen through the filter of one’s own experience, but the emotions that are present when those experiences take place and when the information is gained, can be imprinted into the very cellular matrix of the entire body.

These discoveries over the last twenty years have led [Candice] Pert to propose a theory that emotions are the key element that effects the conversion of mind to matter in the body. Emotions are not just in the head or the brain: They are part of the body, and we can no longer make clear distinctions between the brain, our mind, and our body. In fact, Pert refers to white blood cells as “bits of the brain floating around the body.” …

There is no such thing as a purely psychosomatic or purely physical illness: Diseases are conversations, or events involving the exchange of information among cells within a living system. And scientists have documented that mind and information travel throughout the body, not just in the brain or nervous system. (Targ & Katra, 1999, p. 252-253)

Exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy.

“This is the greatest error in the treatment of illness, that there are physicians of the mind and physicians of the body and yet the two are indivisible,” (attributed to Plato). “The whole history of scientific advancement is full of scientists investigating phenomena the Establishment did not believe were there” is attributed to anthropologist Margaret Mead in an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This of course raises the question of what else we should have been paying more attention to, rather than putting off the amazing skills of the shaman as the “work of the devil” and “sleight of hand magic.” The continued use of Inupiaq traditional healing is now even more imperative than before. There is more substantiation in that there is scientific rationale behind its practice and success. The questions still remain as to how this is done, but without the continued practice of these skills there will be no future opportunity to investigate the answers.

What is being provided by the Inupiat as a thread to be followed is that some places allowed the shaman’s abilities to flourish.

Cultural traditions of thought strongly influence scientific theories often directing lines of speculation, especially (as in this case) when virtually no data exists to constrain either imagination or prejudice. (Gould, 1980, p. 225)

The Inuit worldview allows transformations to take place when required. The wolf and orca are one and morph as needed. Shape-shifting oneness is a holographic universe concept. Inuit expressions including visual puns and simultaneous reality provide examples of their ability to perceive multiple concepts. Incorporating those worldviews to advance humanity’s well-being can be achieved through the MELU process – multicultural engagement for learning and understanding.


Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. (2002). Arctic pollution 2002. Oslo, Norway: AMAP.
Baker, R. (1984). Bird navigation: The solution to a mystery? New York, NY: Holmes and Meir.
Bielawski, E. (1995). Inuit indigenous knowledge and science in the Arctic. In D. L. Peterson & D. R. Johnson (Eds.), Human ecology and climate change: People and resources in the far north (pp. 219-227). Washington, DC: Taylor and Francis.
Blum, D. (2006). Ghost hunters: William James and the search for scientific proof of life after death. New York, NY: Penguin.
Borre, K. (1994). The healing power of the seal: The meaning of Inuit health practice and belief [Electronic version]. Arctic Anthropology, 31(1), 1-15.
Burch, E. S., Jr. (1971). The non-empirical environment of the Arctic Alaskan Eskimos. Southwest Journal of Anthropology, 27(2), 148-165.
Burch, E. S., Jr. (2006). Social life in northwest Alaska: The structure of Inupiaq Eskimo nations. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press.
Carpenter, E. (1980). If Wittgenstein had been an Eskimo. Natural History, (2), 72-77.
Craig, R. (1998). Traditional healing among Alaska Natives. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 57(1), 1-12.
Crowley, V., & Crowley, C. (2000). Ancient wisdom: Earth traditions in the twenty-first century. London, UK: Carlton Books.
DeLapp, T., & Ward, E. (1981). Traditional Inupiat health practices. Barrow, AK: North Slope Borough Health and Social Service Agency.
Deloria, V., Jr. (2006). The world we used to live in: Remembering the powers of the medicine men. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.
Dikov, N. N. (1999). Mysteries in the rocks of ancient Chukotka: Petroglyphs of Pegtymel. Report NPS D-8. July 1999. Anchorage, AK: US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Shared Beringian Heritage Program.
Dixon, M., & Kirchner, S. (1982). “Poking,” an Eskimo medical practice in northwest Alaska. Etues/Inuit/Studies, 6 (2), 109-125.
Dixon, M., Myers, W. W., Book, P. A., & Nice, P. O. (1983). The changing Alaskan experience: Health care services and cultural identity. Cross-cultural Medicine, 139 (6), 917-922.
Eby, D. (1994, October). Traditional healing, technological biomedicine, compacting – How do they fit together? Unpublished paper presented at the American Public Health Association National Conference.
Eby, D. (1998). Traditional healing and allopathic medicine: Issues at the interface. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 57 (1), 62-66.
Eide, A. H. (1952). Drums of Diomede: The transformation of the Alaska Eskimo. Hollywood, CA: House-Warven.
Eliade, M. (1974). Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ellanna, L. J., & Sherrod, G. K. (2005). From hunters to herders: The transformation of earth, society, and heaven among the Inupiat of Beringia. Anchorage, AK: US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Alaska Support Office.
Fair, S. W. (2004). Names of places, other times: Remembering and documenting lands and landscapes near Shishmaref, Alaska. In I. Krupnik, R. Mason & T. W. Horton (Eds.), Northern ethnographic landscapes: Perspectives from circumpolar nation (pp. 230-254). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History, Arctic Studies Center.
Fitzhugh, W. W., & Kaplan, S. A. (1982). Inua: Spirit world of the Bering Sea Eskimo. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Fortuine, R. (1988). Empirical healing among the Alaska natives: An historical perspective. Arctic Medical Research, 47 (1), 296-302.
Freeman, L. W. (2004). Mosby’s complementary and alternative medicine: A research-based approach. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Freeman, L. W., Morgan, R., & Farquhar, T. (2001). Traditional peoples and the circle of healing. Complementary Health Practice Review, 7 (1), 5-15.
Ganley, M. (1996).The role of anatguk in northwest Alaska: Historic transformation NOAS, 12 (1-3), 5-19.
Garibaldi, A. (1999). Medicinal flora of the Alaska Natives. University of Alaska Anchorage, Environment and Natural Resources Institute, Alaska Natural Heritage Program.
Gould, S. J. (1980). The panda’s thumb. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.
Grof, S. (1995). Suggestions for Research Projects Involving Holotrophic Breathwork. Retrieved from the Association for Holotropic Breathwork International on 16 February 2009 at http://static.ning.com/holotropicbreathwork/research/grof1995.pdf
Haile, S. (2003). Maniilaq: Eskimo prophet. Springville, UT: Bonneville.
Halifax, J. (1979). Shamanic voices: A survey of visionary narratives. New York, NY: Penguin.
Halifax, J. (1982). Shaman: The wounded healer. New York, NY: Crossroad.
Heinze, R. I. (1997). Trance and healing in Southeast Asia today. Berkeley, CA: Independent Scholars of Asia, Inc.
Heinze, R. I. (1991). Shamans of the 20th century. New York, NY: Irvington.
Hild, C. M., & Stordahl, V. (2004). Human health and well-being. In N. Einarsson, J. N. Larsen, A. Nilsson, & O. R. Young (Eds.), Arctic Human Development Report (pp. 155-168). Akureyri, Iceland: Stefansson Arctic Institute.
Hild, C. M. (2007). Places of Arctic traditional healing. In R. I. Heinze (Ed.), Proceedings of the 22nd Annual International Conference on the Study of Shamanism and Alternative Modes of Healing (4 pages). Berkeley, CA: Independent Scholars of Asia, Inc.
Hild, C. M. (Producer), & Schenck, A. (Writer/Director). (2009). Understanding the healing hands of the Maniilaq Tribal Doctor [(abridged 30 minutes) Motion picture]. Retrieved http://www.arctichealth.org/tm.php)
Kalweit, H. (1988). Dreamtime & inner space: The world of the shaman. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Katra, J., & Targ, R. (1999). The heart of the mind: How to experience God without belief. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Kirchner, S. (1982). Andrew Skin Sr.: Eskimo doctor. Alaska Medicine, 24 (6), 101-105.
Krippner, S., & Welch, P. (1992). Spiritual dimensions of healing: From native shamanism to contemporary health care. New York, NY: Irvington.
Krupnik, I., & Jolly, D. (Eds.). (2002). The earth is faster now: Indigenous observations of Arctic environmental change. Fairbanks, AK: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States.
LLT Productions. (1998). Maniilaq: The Eskimo prophet [Motion picture]. Angwin, CA: LLT Productions.
Locke, S., & Colligan, D. (1986). The healer within: The new medicine of mind and body. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton.
Lowenstein, T. (1994). Ancient land: Sacred whale, the Inuit hunt and its rituals. New York, NY: North Point, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Lucier, C. V., & Van Stone, J. W. (1987). An Inupiaq autobiography. Etudes/Inuit/Studies, 11 (1), 149-172.
Lucier, C. V., Van Stone, J. W., & Keats, D. (1987). Medical practices and human anatomical knowledge among the Noatak Eskimos. Ethnology, 10 (3), 251-264.
Maniilaq Association. (2005). Della Keats’ collection. University of Alaska Anchorage, Consortium Library Archives, Alaska Moving Images Preservation Association. (Accessed with written permission from the Maniilaq Association through Bertha Jennings secured July 10, 2005).
Maniilaq Association. (n.d.). Company information. Retrieved January 7, 2006 from the Maniilaq Association Web site: http://maniilaq.org/companyInfo.html
Mayer, E. L. (2007). Extraordinary knowing: Science, skepticism, and the inexplicable powers of the human mind. New York, NY: Bantam.
Milan, F. A. (1964). The acculturation of the contemporary Eskimo of Wainwright, Alaska. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska, 11 (2), 1-95.
NANA – formerly the Northwest Alaska Native Association. (n.d.) Retrieved January 7, 2006 from the NANA Web site: http://nana.com
Narby, J. (2006). Intelligence in nature: An inquiry into knowledge. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
Nuttall, M. (2000). Indigenous peoples’ organizations and arctic environmental cooperation. In M. Nuttal & T. V. Callaghan (Eds.), The Arctic: Environment, people, policy (pp. 621-638). Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association.
Osborn, K. (1990). The peoples of the Arctic. New York, NY: Chelsea House.
Parra(1954). Alaska’s health: A survey report to the United States Department of the Interior. PA: University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health.
Ramoth, R. (1976). Timimun Mamirrutit. Kotzebue, AK: Mauneluk Cultural Heritage Program.
Reich, W. (1973). The cancer biopathy. New York, NY: Farror, Strauss & Giroux.
Ripinsky-Naxon, M. (1993). The nature of shamanism: Substance and function of a religious metaphor. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Rossbach, S. (1983). Feng shui: The Chinese art of placement. New York, NY: Arkana/Penguin.
Saylor, B. L., Burgess, D. M., & Hild, C. M. (1998). Bridges to the future: Traditional and local healing practices in Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage, Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies, prepared for the Southcentral Foundation.
Schwartz, S. A. (2005). The secret vaults of time: Psychic archeology and the quest for man’s beginnings. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads.
Talbot, M. (1991). The holographic universe. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
Tandy, V. (n.d.) Ghost sounds: A review and discussion of the infrasound theory and applications. Retrieved May 6, 2004 from the University of Coventry Web site: http://heracles.coventry.ac.uk/cyberclass/vicweb/parapsychology.htm
Targ, R., & Katra, J. (1999). Miracles of mind: Exploring nonlocal consciousness and spiritual healing. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Turner, E. (1989). From shamans to healers: The survival of an Inupiaq Eskimo skill. Anthropoligica, 31: 3-24.
Turner, E. (1996). The hands feel it: Healing and spirit presence among a Northern Alaskan people. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University.
Vitebsky, P. (2008). The shaman: Voyages of the soul, trance, ecstasy, and healing from Siberia to the Amazon. London, UK: Duncan Baird.
Weyer, E. M., Jr. (1932). The Eskimos: Their environment and folkways. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.