CCLE Drug Law Library
Shaman Bared From Using
Ayahuasca Following Woman's Death
© 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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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,"
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.
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