Biological Anthropology Section
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
While Indigenous Peoples live in a diverse geographical array with significant differences in language, culture, and history; there is a shared experience of an increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes as compared to the dominant or colonizer populations. Epidemiological models of this chronic disease disregard social determinants that play a prominent role in the disease’s predominance among the world’s Indigenous Peoples, creating a chasm between health care providers and the sick. This division can be reconciled through the recognition of cultural and spiritual connotations in disease management and the incorporation of sacred foods and medicinal plants in diabetes treatment care programs. For millennia, Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest have administered the inner root-bark of devil’s-club to treat illness and disease, including diabetes. Devil’s-club is mentioned in written records of oral traditions and ethnographies, confirming the presence of this plant as a powerful symbol of medicine and its sacred status. The antidiabetic capability of this prickly shrub has been the object of Western pharmacological inquiry since 1938 when scientists recorded the extract to effect hypoglycemia in rabbits, validating the use of devil’s club tea to remedy symptoms of diabetes. From these findings, I designed a research program in which I gathered and prepared devil’s club root-bark to be extracted and tested against hyperglycemia. By synthesizing a discussion of Indigenous knowledge systems, ethnopharmacological inquiry, and biochemical analysis, I will demonstrate that the inner bark of Oplopanax horridus (devil’s-club) contains antidiabetic activity as affirmed by oral testimonies of Pacific Northwest Indigenous Peoples.