In the Spirit of Medicine

"In the Spirit of Medicine" is a new feature on Northland Morning.

Dr. Arne Vainio is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a family practice doctor on the Fond Du Lac reservation in Cloquet.

His essays on life, work, medicine and spirit are published in "News From Indian Country," and you can find the link to his stories and more on our website at

In the Spirit of Medicine on KUMD is made possible by University of Minnesota Medical School- Duluth CampusAmpers, and the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

©Jesse Vainio. Courtesy Arne Vainio

You have too much to offer to let this gift go. This gift is a blessing, but it can also be a burden and a curse. When Jake plays the piano, there’s something in there that makes me cry. Every single time. Your drawings and your artwork have that same power. When you create something, it shows others what is inside you. But more importantly, it shows them what is inside them.

Arne Vainio

He turned on the amplifier and I expected to hear the twangy sounds of the 1950’s. Poodle skirts and ducktail haircuts were in my mind, but what came out of the guitar was the blues.  Not just any blues, but the heart-wrenching blues from a life that didn’t deliver what was expected. I could hear his anguish and the guitar moaning as he was saying goodbye to an old friend who was moving on and leaving him behind.



I was trying to get my jack under the car without kneeling and I didn’t want to have my pants wet all day in the clinic. I finally got my jack under the car next to her jack and raised the car enough to put the old tire back on. I had two of the lug nuts halfway on when her jack buckled and collapsed and the car lurched forward. That put all the weight of the car on my jack and as the car went forward, my jack collapsed and folded and the old tire was barely on the car. It was plain to see there was no way we were going to get her tire changed.


What did he do to bring this upon himself? Likely what all babies do. He cried, he needed changing and feeding. He woke up in the middle of the night. He got sick. He asked his dad to grow up before he was ready. He cried some more.

Courtesy Arne Vainio

The hamburger steak was tough and I had the dirty fork stuck in it and I was sawing on the steak with the butter knife.  As I was sawing on it, the plate moved to the edge of the table and flipped over and landed on the floor. 

Anne Nygård/Unsplash

    Some of you will be coming back home to our people. Some of you will never come back. Those
who stay need to make sure they teach those who come back to us. You need to leave prison life in
prison. Do not bring the way of life that got you into prison back home to our children. 

de Jesus Benitez/Unsplash

I know you’re worried about hurting me and I want you to feel this deep inside. I’m an old woman and I don’t have anything left to pass on to anyone. My opportunity to leave something permanent is gone. I want to know the first time you ever recognized cancer was here. You’re going to feel this again and you’re going to have to tell someone what it is. You need to know what this feels like so you catch it earlier than they did with me. If you’re going to be a doctor, you can’t be afraid.

Cristian Newman/Unsplash

Alvina died with her family at her side. No tubes. No ventilator. No machines keeping her alive. She died with dignity and in peace, just the way she wanted to.

Cristian Palmer/Unsplash

While I was at the hospital, my pager kept going off and I had to return multiple calls to patients, call in prescriptions, …and didn'’t get done with that until almost 11:30 PM.  I had to get up at 4:30 to catch my flight, go through security and check my luggage. 

Ivy Vainio

  Jim Northrup was a good friend and we used to visit him when he was finishing maple syrup in late winter.We would sit under a shelter around a big cast iron kettle.  The kettle was hanging from a tripod encircled by chairs. There was a pit under the kettle for the base of the fire and firewood was leaning against the kettle all the way around.  We sat there and Jim told stories and then he told more stories. Once in a while the boiling sap would rise and try to overflow the kettle.

Tony Goulding/Flickr

  I was sitting deeper in the barn and Jacob and Frank were silhouetted in the door with the rain falling hard beyond them. 

Arne Vainio

It seemed to me she was always old. She had long white hair and she tied it in a bun on the top of her head. 

Center of American Indian and Minority Health

Monica Argentina [via Flickr]

"Lowell would never say this, but deep in his heart he kept a lesson we all learn in childhood, but most of us forget. In order to find true love, you have to be true love. He was all of that to Joyce and he's ready to do it again."

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College

  We live in a competitive world, but traditionally we are not a competitive people. Our heritage is to share our wealth. Our heritage is humility. Our ancestors shared their belongings and food when times were good and knew they could depend on others when times were bad. Having a “giveaway” and sharing your wealth is not uncommon with Native American people who have been honored in some way.