Medicine That Walks: Disease, Medicine, and Canadian Plains Native People, 1880-1940


300 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-4728-9
DDC 362.1'089'970712




Reviewed by Marilyn Mardiros

Marilyn Mardiros is an associate professor of health sciences at the
University of Ottawa.


This well-documented social history of medicine explores the impact of
colonial and Canadian government policies on the health of Plains Native
people between 1880 and 1940. Lux challenges conventional belief that
the cultures of First Nation’s people provided little or no support to
the effects of colonization. She provides detailed evidence that
cultural practices sustained people and helped them survive the
adversity of European assimilation policies and practices. Research
presented demonstrates the endurance, sustainability, and flexibility of
First Nation’s people that allowed them to adapt to changing

European society focused on the essential racial inferiority of
Aboriginal people as the “white man’s burden,” a view supported by
the science of the time. Lux frames her analysis within the social
determinants of health—the relationship of “traditional” economy,
politics, and education to health, illness, and healing. Instead of
subscribing to the theory of biological invasion weakening Aboriginal
societies, she points out that ecological contexts that had sustained
people for millenniums were rapidly changing, resulting in starvation
and disease. The disappearance of bison, which resulted in a diminished
source of food, shelter, and clothing, had a profound effect on
Aboriginal peoples. The negative impacts of residential schools and
missions, inadequate and inappropriate Euro-medical care, and the treaty
process are documented through historical records. Lux provides evidence
of the effectiveness of Aboriginal medical practices (including
midwifery) and practitioners, demonstrating the resistance and
resilience of Aboriginal people to colonization and assimilation.

Anyone interested in understanding the historical context of
contemporary issues of Plains First Nation’s people will benefit from
reading Medicine That Walks.


Lux, Maureen K., “Medicine That Walks: Disease, Medicine, and Canadian Plains Native People, 1880-1940,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,