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.

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.

©Bob King. Used with permission.

 "Ernest knew that deep inside and he gave me something I didn’t even realize I needed. He gave me silence and he taught me in that silence. All of the fishing stories and his taking his sister back into his life and his sitting outside the art gallery working leather were in that silence. When I stood next to him I forgot the things I needed to do and those cares and stresses were a world away. All that mattered was friendship and the sounds of the powwow and the smell of the lake. For a brief moment I could let time slow down and simply stand next to a friend."

Ivy Vainio

I always think when you’re finding your family history, you want there to be a haunted Scottish castle on a moor and maybe some kind of lost treasure. Instead, we found poverty in the heart of Tampa and we found love and acceptance.

©Ivy Vainio. Used with permission

  I have something for you and for him. It’s the only Ojibwe song I know and it was given to me to sing in the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. I sang it there for my wife’s great uncle Johnny Mercer and everyone who died on that B-17 bomber and for every warrior there. It’s a Soldier Song and I want to sing it for you now.

  It’s the only thing I have left for you.  

©Ivy Vainio. Used with permission

The story of how I became a doctor has several beginnings and maybe the middle part has a few different versions depending on what part of being a doctor I’m thinking about.


   “I remember your stories and I appreciate what you tried to teach me.  I wish I could have gone ricing with you and heard you knocking rice as the flocks of redwing blackbirds rose and fell by the thousands in the rice beds. I’ve thought about you sitting by the fire on cold February nights with the stars bright above you and the trees popping and snapping from the cold as you cooked your maple syrup.  I want to learn some of our songs and I always hoped you would teach them to me.”

Devon Wilson/Unsplash

These men are in prison with the expectation from society that they are going to change for the better. They should be able to expect the same from us in return.

Chiot's Run/Flickr

   When I make my maple syrup, it’s the only time I find any peace. My dog stays by the fire and I can hear the popping and the cracking of the trees and sometimes I can hear deer walking in the snow out in the woods.  

I look up at the moon and I watch the clouds go past and it’s the same moon that kid in Vietnam would have looked at. I make my syrup for him, Dr. Vainio. I always make my syrup for him.

Charles on Unsplash

“This insulation and caulking are for my daughter’s house. She left home when she was seventeen and she was never coming back. She has a daughter who’s just going in to the fourth grade. I have so much to make up for and I want her and my granddaughter to have a warm house. I want them to remember I’m the one who gave that to them.”

Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

  “I always think about Genevieve and you’d think I would be better by now. It’s been almost three years since she died and when the clouds are out it seems like the sun will never shine again.”