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 KUMD.org.

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.

Cristian Newman/Unsplash

  Money was short and you ran out of heating fuel in the middle of winter. I expect those were some bad days. You didn’t tell me about that until after it was passed. A desperate someone looking for something to sell kicked your door in when you weren’t home and made your crumbling house lose some of that precious heat. Visiting your mother in the nursing home must have been warm. Your old television couldn’t have brought much money.  Your car got repossessed.

Lisa Johnson

Do the leaves remember those from last year?In the heat of summer, the bright green shimmers of forever.Then the fall.The bitter cold.They show their true colors, these elders.They remind us of the passage into the next life.The commonest of them persistAnd they speak to me.They tell me I am one of them.

Arne/Ivy Vainio

  I was almost to my hotel and a man was kneeling on the sidewalk pulling a trumpet out of its case. I was well past him and was about to cross the street when he started to play.  Jazz? Blues?

Copyright Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

  You told me you didn’t feel you contributed anything to anyone anymore. My father, your brother, died when I was four years old. I have maybe three or four actual memories of him and some memories that are from stories someone else told me and I took them as my own memories. I didn’t get to see his smile except in old photographs. I didn’t get to hear his voice and I never had the chance to hear the advice he would have passed to me from his parents when he thought I needed to hear those things.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Skip Sandman is one of our spiritual leaders and he spoke for the pipe.

Copyright Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

I have no doubt this sewing machine made face masks over a hundred years ago and my grandmother would have made masks. There was a huge second wave of that pandemic and entire families died in a single day. They didn’t have access to ventilators back then and this machine would have been a life saver. My grandmother saved lives as a young woman and I never knew a thing about it.


Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

George has always told me seeing a doctor dancing would be healing for everyone and I discovered that meant me as much as anyone else.  

Copyright Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

At his 70th birthday party, he took me aside and it was like a little ceremony with just me and him in the corner.

“Arne, you need to write. I know you have at least one book in you and maybe more. The only way you’re going to find out is by writing and I want to write the forward to your first book.
He went on, “I’ve been writing all these years and I’m always looking for the next writer among us, Arne. Telling our stories is important and I want to pass something formally to you right now.
“Believe that what you have to say is important. The commas and the punctuation will take care of themselves. You need to write.’”

Ryan Holloway/Unsplash

Florence and her sister were forcefully taken away from her family when she was a little girl and put into a residential school.  She was driven far away from her family, her braids were cut off and she was forbidden to speak her language.  “I was always told before that that I was a beautiful little girl inside and once I was taken away I was told I was stupid and ugly. When I got older I fell in with the wrong lifestyle because I couldn’t go back home and I just wanted someone, anyone to accept me.”

©Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

She had a Singer treadle sewing machine and I was fascinated by the steady “click-click-click” of the needle going up and down. I watched her rock her foot to thread the bobbin, then slide back the cover to load the bobbin into the shuttle. I was always amazed when the sewing machine picked up the thread and could never figure out how it could get thread to link together on both sides of the fabric.

Arne Vainio

In the Spirit of Medicine features the essays of Dr. Arne Vainio, an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a family practice doctor on the Fond Du Lac reservation in Cloquet.

This episode was originally aired May 28, 2018.

Forest Simon, via Unsplash

Death has always been patient.  For some it comes after a long and full life with boats and vacations and mortgages and big weddings and handshakes and Christmas cards from bankers. It comes with friendly nods and gentle warnings for driving a few miles above the speed limit.

For others it comes randomly with agony and pain and humiliation for a twenty dollar mistake.

Association of American Indian Physicians/Facebook

Zoongide’iwin is the Ojibwe word for courage and this is one of our grandfather teachings. Zoongide’iwin means to do what is right when the consequences are unpleasant, to do what is right even when you’re afraid.

This is the time for courage. This is the time to stay strong. The virus is depending on you to bring it to others and we cannot let that happen if we can help it.

Arne Vainio

  “A great sickness has been visited upon us as human beings. This happened to us as Native people a long time ago and it devastated us and killed us by the millions. It took our elders and our babies alike and there was nothing we could do.

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