Green Lake mayor chooses to fight cancer with Indigenous medicine

By Bryan Eneas
July 27, 2017 - 4:58pm Updated: July 27, 2017 - 5:57pm

Science is taking the backseat for traditional knowledge in a northern Saskatchewan man’s fight against cancer.

Ric Richardson, the mayor of the northern village of Green Lake, was given a terminal cancer diagnosis in February. Instead of following modern medicine’s recommendation of chemotherapy and radiation treatment therapy, he is taking matters into his own hands and going a more traditional route.

He’s been following a regime of traditional medicines in the form of a sacred tea to combat the disease – the way his Métis ancestors healed.

“My wife and I have been working with traditional medicines for many years – now it’s just my turn,” Richardson said. “We’ve shared a lot of medicines [at] different times with different people for a variety of things, including cancer.”

He said the tea he drinks is designed specifically for him to reduce the size of his tumors. He said it's left him feeling well most days; he hasn’t caught the flu or sickness since he began his treatments, something he said he caught “every time it came around” before. 

"I'd rather not describe the exact plants because a little bit of knowledge can be used in a lot of bad ways and we wouldn't want anyone hurting themselves," he said.

Richardson was in contact with an oncologist regarding his diagnosis, who refused to follow up with Richardson because of his medicinal choice. The oncologist’s decision stemmed from the amount of people relying on his services, Richardson said.

Following the interaction with the oncologist, Richardson sent a letter to the cancer centre, which was then forwarded on to the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. Now Richardson will be working with the Cancer Society and Dr. Gary Groot, an oncologist in Saskatoon to study the benefits of traditional medicines in cancer patients.

Corey Miller, the Vice President of Care Services at the cancer agency said the organization is supportive of the mayor's journey.

“Ric’s been a very helpful and supportive advocate,” Miller said. “The Saskatchewan Cancer Agency has connections with other research projects and grants that are being looked at and viewed right now… to help us better understand the needs of our First Nations communities in cancer care.”

Miller said the cancer agency hopes to build connections, and re-build trust within the Indigenous community to better understand the role of traditional medicines and healing. Richardson’s involvement is a small step in a larger journey in accepting and respecting patients’ decisions in respect to treatments, he said.

Miller added treating cancer through either a traditional or even holistic approach is a common occurrence. Those patients will often blend modern medicine with traditional or holistic treatments, he said. Through Richardson's involvement, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency hopes to raise awareness about alternative solutions to cancer treatment.

“With the Internet out there, patients certainly go out and try to go out and find other solutions,” Miller said. “Many of them are not scientifically proven but it doesn’t mean it’s not part of the patients’ choice and our job is to support the patients’ choice.”

Miller said the agency is thankful Richardson brought his concerns forward to make the first big step forward in a journey towards reconciliation between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and to build an understanding of traditional medicines and healing.

“For too long, prior to reconciliation, and this is just in the process of reconciliation, they have the opportunity now to recognize that for many, many generations our traditional knowledge has been either demonized, or minimized,” Richardson said. “Now, they have an opportunity to learn that there’s a lot of benefits to be offered.”  

Discussions between the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, an oncologist, the Saskatoon Health Region and Richardson are set to take place in August to continue research discussions. 

-  With files from David Kirton


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