Researcher Begins Work on Preservation and Adaptation of Indigenous Medicine
Traditional medicine is being taught, adapted and integrated into Western structures. A UA researcher will begin interviewing indigenous elders to understand their views on the changes.

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications
June 30, 2009

University of Arizona assistant professor Patrisia Gonzales is a practitioner and teacher of Mexican traditional medicine and an herbalist. She descends from several generations of indigenous healers. 

With her background and scholarship in indigenous medicine, Gonzales has developed a UA upper division class that explores various popular and indigenous medicinal systems and how these approaches to healing are being adapted by a new wave of healers.

"Pre-Columbian medicinal knowledge persists and it is also evolving," Gonzales said.

Gonzales has been awarded a grant from the Office of the Vice President of Research and the UA Foundation to study the adaptations to traditional healing and to gather opinions on those adaptations from indigenous elders and healers.     

"Traditional medicine is flourishing but it is also changing. Traditional knowledge keepers, the elders, are growing less in numbers, and that old knowledge is being brought into new settings," Gonzales said.

"Elders have been a part of that change, by training their children as apprentices who in turn may integrate Western knowledge and other forms of healing into their practice and by the elders training people outside of their community, who then may integrate alternative medicine or acupuncture into their practice."  

Gonzales is a faculty member in the UA departments of Mexican American and Raza studies and American Indian tudies.

Gonzales said many indigenous elders and healers participate in traditional medicine programs offered in Mexican universities as well as workshops and health fairs. While these practices have been well-researched, less is known regarding how elders and traditional healers view the changes and adaptations to traditional medicine. 

The grant will allow Gonzales to gather insights from indigenous healers and from programs that teach Mexican traditional medicine.

Gonzales will interview elders in indigenous traditional medicine to find out what they think about changes to traditional medicine.

Her research project will document elders' opinions on who they believe should be taught or be allowed to practice traditional medicine.    

"Mexican traditional medicine traces its roots back to pre-Columbian civilization. Indigenous curing cultures continued to develop over the last 500 years," Gonzales said.

The grant also includes the proposal to train a graduate student in indigenous research methods to preserve traditional curing methods.

The graduate student will participate in interviews and help analyze how Indigenous medicine adapts to different physical places – such as a family garden, a particular ecosystem or inside a conventional classroom setting. The student will co-author a research article with Gonzales.

Students in Gonzales' Mexican Traditional Medicine class explore the theories, relationships and philosophies that are used in traditional medicine as well as learn applied knowledge and practices for self care and community health.

"Students in the course gain a general understanding of how indigenous medicine is a parallel expression of allopathic medicine based on cultural values and world views that are based on relationships of reciprocity, interconnectedness, responsibility and renewal," Gonzales added.  

Gonzales will begin interviewing elders in August as part of the grant and will submit her findings next year.




Resources for the media

Patrisia Gonzales