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Is Essiac an Ojibway Formula?


[Ojibway is also spelled Ojibwa or Ojibwe]


According to Rene Caisse in I Was Canada's Cancer Nurse, she obtained the original formula for her Essiac formula from an English woman who had obtained it from "a very old Indian medicine man [who] had told me I had cancer."  However, no one knows for sure what tribe he belonged to.  There are many claims on the internet that Essiac is an "Ojibway" tea, but Sheila Snow and Mali Klein found in their research that "There is no evidence to support the theory that the herbal formula came exclusively from the Ojibwe.  In 1977 Rene wrote:  "I want this clearly understood.  I did not get my treatment from an Indian.  In fact I never saw a real Indian in my life."  [Quote from ESSIAC ESSENTIALS, p. 73]


Author/researcher Mali Klein stated the following about the "medicine man":  "We don't know his name or which tribe he came from.  There is absolutely no evidence to support the popular assumption that he was a member of the Ojibwa tribe.  There were six different tribes living in Northern Ontario at that time, including Algonquin, Cree, Cherokee, Huron, Iroquois and Ojibwa as well as the refugees from other tribes in the United States, who were fleeing north of the border from the Indian wars."  [THE ESSIAC BOOK by Mali Klein, the custodian of the Sheila Snow Fraser Essiac Archives.] 


The Ojibway was one the largest tribes of Turtle Island (later called "North America").  However, it was also part of a larger First Nation who called themselves Anishinaabe, which literally means "spontaneous man"[1] [plural: Anishinaabeg or Anishinaabek].  The Anishinaabeg were the people who first greeted the pilgrims and helped them survive their first winters on Turtle Island.  As more Europeans settled on the coast and moved inland, the Anishinabeg were subsequently pushed further and further westward above and below the Great Lakes where they received the "Prophecy of the Seven Fires".  The Anishinaabe people had a common language, both verbal and written, and government/societal structure.   The Anishinaabe clan system served as a system of government as well as a means of dividing labour. 


The religion of the Ojibway is called Midewiwin, commonly referred to as the "Grand Medicine Society".  The Midewiwin is a spiritual mystery school--a secretive group of healers who practiced both spiritual and herbal healing.  Initiates can pay to advance through four degrees.  "Amongst the Ojibways, the secrets of this grand rite are as sacredly kept as the secrets of the Masonic Lodge among the whites.  Fear of threatened and certain death, either by poison or violence, seals the lips of the Me-da-we initiate, and this is the potent reason why it is still a secret to the white man, and why it is not more generally understood." [1]

"There is still another class of persons termed Mashkī´kĭkē´winĭnĭ, or herbalists, who are generally denominated “medicine men,” as the Ojibwa word implies.  Their calling is a simple one, and consists in knowing the mysterious properties of a variety of plants, herbs, roots, and berries, which are revealed upon application and for a fee....Although these herbalists are aware that certain plants or roots will produce a specified effect upon the human system, they attribute the benefit to the fact that such remedies are distasteful and injurious to the demons who are present in the system and to whom the disease is attributed.  Many of these herbalists are found among women, also; and these, too, are generally members of the Midē´wiwin." [2]  The picture below shows an herbalist preparing a mixture for a patient.  The picture on the right shows a birch bark scroll and contents.


plate described in text

Although the "old Indian medicine man" who inspired Essiac tea may have been Ojibway or Midewiwin, there is no evidence to suggest that that was indeed the case. 


[1] -- HISTORY OF THE OJIBWAY PEOPLE by William W. Warren (1885)



Click on the following link to learn more about the Midewiwin obtained from birch bark scrolls (picture on left):


The Mide'wiwin or "Grand Medicine Society" of the Ojibwa
Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1885-1886,
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1891, pages 143-300





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