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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mosher, M. J. (Anthropology)

Second Advisor

Vyvyan, James R.

Third Advisor

Young, Kathleen Z.

Fourth Advisor

Bruna, Sean


While Indigenous Peoples live in an incredibly diverse geographical array with significant differences in language, culture, and history, there is a shared experience of an increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance as compared to the dominant or colonizer populations. Indigenous patients with type 2 diabetes face multiple barriers to disease self-management: poverty, chronic stress, cultural oppression, limited access to healthy food or exercise, inadequate housing and limited resources to pay for medications. Epidemiological models of type 2 diabetes disregard the social determinants that play a prominent role in the disease’s predominance among the world’s Indigenous Peoples, creating a chasm between health care providers and the sick. This division can be reconciled through the recognition of cultural and spiritual connotations in disease management and the incorporation of sacred foods and medicinal plants in diabetes treatment care programs. For millennia, Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest have administered the inner bark of the stalk and roots of Oplopanax horridus (devil’s-club) to treat illness and disease; including difficult childbirth, skin infections, cancer, lung hemorrhages, tuberculosis, and diabetes. Devil’s-club is mentioned in written records of oral traditions and ethnographies, confirming the presence of this plant as a powerful symbol of medicine. These oral traditions, rooted in the culture for hundreds of years, serve as testimonies that speak to the sacred and medicinal value of this plant. The antidiabetic capability of this prickly shrub has been the object of Western pharmacological inquiry since 1938 when scientists recorded the extract to effect hypoglycemia in rabbits, validating the use of devil’s-club tea to remedy symptoms of diabetes. These findings propelled my independent research in which I gathered and prepared the root bark to be extracted and tested against hyperglycemia in vitro by conducting a series of tests, especially focusing on the extracts’ activity with the digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into the simple sugars used by the body for energy. By synthesizing a discussion of Indigenous Knowledge systems, ethnopharmacological inquiry, and biochemical analysis, I will demonstrate that the inner bark of Oplopanax horridus (devil’s-club) contains antidiabetic activity as affirmed by oral testimonies of Pacific Northwest Indigenous Peoples.




oplopanax horridus, devil's club, Indigenous Peoples, type 2 diabetes, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, decolonization, cultural continuity, a-glucosidase, postprandial hyperglycemia, revitalization, coast salish, pacific northwest


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Araliaceae--Northwest, Pacific; Medicinal plants--Northwest, Pacific; Ethnopharmacology--Northwest, Pacific; Indians of North America--Health and hygiene--Northwest, Pacific; Diabetes--Alternative treatment--Northwest, Pacific; Diabetes--Northwest, Pacific--Prevention

Geographic Coverage

Northwest, Pacific




masters theses




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Rights Statement

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