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Shaman Bared From Using
Ayahuasca Following Woman's Death
Francine Dubé © Copyright 2003 National Post [Canada]
Saturday, April 26, 2003

MANITOWANING, Ont. - An Ecuadorean shaman who brewed a potion that killed an elderly native woman on a Manitoulin Island reserve received a one-year conditional sentence yesterday in a ruling that gives approval to native healing ceremonies.

"The court is satisfied that this was a sacred ceremony conducted by traditional healers," said Gerald Michel, a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice. "This case is so very difficult because we have to try and mesh the drastic consequences of a sacred spiritual ceremony by temporal means."

Juan Uyunkar, 49, was ordered to perform 150 hours of community service, to reside in the area of Wikwemikong, observe a curfew and not leave Ontario for one year. He may continue to perform healing ceremonies, but is forbidden to continue using the hallucinogen ayahuasca, also known as harmaline, a banned substance in Canada.

His son Edgar, 22, was ordered to return to Ecuador within 14 days.

"I don't feel good about it, because my father must stay here," said Edgar, with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter, after the ruling. "He is not only my father, he is my friend. I will miss him."

The two men were arrested following the death of Jane Maiangowi, 71, a beloved elder in the native community of Wikwemikong (population 3,000) on the eastern shore of Manitoulin Island overlooking Georgian Bay.

The Uyunkars pleaded guilty to one charge each of administering a noxious substance and trafficking in an illegal drug.

A diabetic, Ms. Maiangowi went off her medication as instructed by the Uyunkars before and during a three-day ceremony in October, 2001. She, along with about 50 other participants, drank copious amounts of a mixture of ayahuasca and nicotine, designed to induce vomiting. Some participants agreed to receive enemas.

According to the agreed statement of facts, the ceremonies were not medically supervised.

On the third night of the ceremony in October, 2001, Mrs. Maiangowi died of nicotine poisoning.

When asked to address the court before sentencing, Juan Uyunkar said he came to Canada at the invitation of the local health authority in the fall of 2001 to heal members of the community. "I came to give you all my work and my sacrifice," he said, turning to face the spectators in the makeshift courtroom set up at the band office. "As a member of a native people, I am very pained. I feel a lot of grief for sister Jane. I have a lot of pain in my heart."

He declined to comment further outside court, but hugged the judge before he left.

He and his son Edgar are members of the Shuar Nation in Ecuador, where ayahuasca is legal and used in religious and medicinal ceremonies.

They have not been permitted to return to their country since their arrest. Although it has been reported that Juan has 12 children, he in fact has 16, and 12 still live at home, according to Edgar. The family has slipped into poverty in Juan's absence and one of his grandchildren has died.

Edgar has a child he has not seen since infancy. Judge Michel considered their 18 months on bail as time already served.

Deborah Trudeau, one of Mrs. Maiangowi's granddaughters, said the sentence was not long enough. "It's too little. They should have had five years," she said.

Mrs. Maiangowi's husband, Victor, has been unable to continue living alone since her death. He has left Wikwemikong to live with a daughter in North Bay, Ont., and is in failing health.

"We were inseparable," he wrote in a victim-impact statement. "I not only lost a wife, but I also lost my dearest friend and companion."

Joseph Chapman, the federal Crown in the case, said the verdict sends an important message.

"One of the most important things to come out is the courts have legitimized traditional medicine. However, the other important thing that has come out is that there are limits on traditional medicine and the limit is that you cannot use prohibited drugs in the traditional medicine process."


© Copyright 2003 National Post

Ecuadorian Healers Given Light Sentences, Traditional Medicine Spared

Marty Logan Copyright © 2003 IPS-Inter Press Service.

An indigenous healer from Ecuador will serve a one-year sentence in Canada for leading a ceremony where an elder died, but it appears the case did not turn into the attack on the practice of traditional healing that many aboriginal people and their supporters feared.

WIKWEMIKONG, Canada, Apr 26 (IPS) - An indigenous healer from Ecuador will serve a one-year sentence in Canada for leading a ceremony where an elder died, but it appears the case did not turn into the attack on the practice of traditional healing that many aboriginal people and their supporters feared.

Juan Uyankar, from the Shuar nation, one of Ecuador's numerous indigenous groups, was handed a 12-month conditional sentence Friday, which he will serve by living under curfew in Ontario province and performing 150 hours of community service. His son Edgar was placed on six months probation and ordered to leave the country within two weeks.

Both men could have been jailed for two years for the charge of ''administering a noxious substance''. A more serious charge, criminal intent causing death, was withdrawn after the Uyankars pled guilty prior to a scheduled preliminary hearing, avoiding a full trial.

Neither man spoke after the verdict, but Juan Uyankar's lawyer said he was ''thrilled'' by the decision in the Ontario Court of Justice on this First Nations reserve on Manitoulin Island, six hours north of Toronto.

"Juan wanted the medicine to be recognised, and the justice (judge) did that,'' said Bill Trudell. "It's absolutely the right decision."

In his verdict, Justice Gerald Michel said that ''central to the ceremony is spirit. The substance, or natem, is considered sacred medicine. The purpose of the ceremony is healing'' and has been "successfully practised since time immemorial''. He concluded that the treatment was effective after referring to testimonies submitted by Trudell on Juan's behalf from Ecuadorian officials and former ceremony participants in Canada and the United States.

The government's lawyer had suggested a two-year jail term, arguing, among other things, that the father and son healers, ages 49 and 22, had abused the trust of participants and did not administer a healing potion responsibly.

Jean Maiangowi, 71, died during the third session of a healing ceremony where participants were urged to repeatedly drink a brew made primarily from a South American vine - known as ''ayahuasca'' in the Quechua language and ''natem'' in the Uyankars' native Shuar - tobacco and water. The drink was designed to induce vomiting, purging the body of contamination, including bile, phlegm, salts, fats and excess sugar in the blood, according to the healers.

Three or four hours later, after vomiting, Maiangowi, a diabetic, slumped in her chair and did not respond. She was carried outside of the community centre, where she soon fell unconscious. When the woman could not be revived she was taken to a bathroom in the building where ambulance workers who arrived 30 minutes later found her without vital signs.

An autopsy concluded she died of acute nicotine poisoning.

It was the third consecutive night that Maiangowi and about 50 other participants drank the solution. The healers had told them to spend their days resting, to eat as little as possible and to drink only water.

Her family said afterwards that some community members pressed the woman and her husband to return for the second and third nights of the ceremony although she had felt ill after the first two segments.

Elders from Manitoulin initially travelled to the United States where they met Juan Uyankar and invited him to the community. The elders received the backing of the local health centre, run by the First Nations government, which paid the healers' expenses.

After Friday's decision a community member, Jean Trudeau, said her brother had warned local authorities against permitting the ceremony because little was known of the Uyankars and because Wikwemikong has its own traditional healers.

"To me everyone screwed up here - the Canadian government (who allowed the healers to enter the country), the local health centre, the people who were at the ceremony," said Trudeau. Participants were not even asked about their medical histories and current treatments, she added.

"The only good thing that's come out of this is that they won't be able to enter Canada again."

Both men also pled guilty to a related charge of trafficking in a substance banned in Canada - the hallucinogen harmaline, which was found in the ayahuasca - and it is possible that if they try to re-enter the country in the future that conviction would block them.

A traditional healer from Wikwemikong agreed with Trudeau that South American healing practices do not mesh with those of the North. "They have their ways of doing things and we have ours,'' says Ron Wakegijig, former chief of the First Nation.

For example, no Canadian healers he has met use hallucinogenic substances in their ceremonies, while ayahuasca is well known for those properties, said Wakegijig.

"I never do mass healings," he added, while the Uyankars treated dozens of people at one time.

"If you walk in that door now with a headache, I want to know why you got that headache. I can give you a Tylenol; it will trick your brain into thinking it's OK, but I want to know why you got it," Wakegijig said. "I will ask you when you last visited your doctor and if I can look at your medical chart.''

The Uyankars' supporters, who include people from Manitoulin and others from as far away as New York state, founded a support group following the healers' arrests in 2001.

"My husband and I pick medicine," Marie Eshikbok-Trudeau, an organiser of the Association in Support of Indigenous Medicine International (ASIMI) on Manitoulin, told IPS last year. "We're kind of taking a stand for our plants because they're being attacked."

She said the police who charged the Uyankars do not understand aboriginal healing. "Our medicines are not a drug. They are sacred medicines that have been used for thousands of years."

Trudell had argued that Juan performed the healing successfully thousands of times in the United States and South America and in an earlier three-day ceremony here, and that the death was a single unfortunate incident. "Many members of the community were helped," he added.

So many, in fact, that when the healers ran out of herbs to make their medicine, the health centre asked Juan to fly back to his home village in Ecuador to get more supplies, and paid his trip.

The lawyer also suggested that the 18 months the healers spent in Canada when their passports were seized after their arrest should be considered a pre-trial sentence. The judge agreed with both points. (END)

See Also

CCLE Entheogen and Drug Policy Project

CCLE Drug Law Library