Fighting Invisible Enemies
Health and Medical Transitions among Southern California Indians
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
Native Americans long resisted Western medicine—but had less power to resist the threat posed by Western diseases. And so, as the Office of Indian Affairs reluctantly entered the business of health and medicine, Native peoples reluctantly began to allow Western medicine into their communities. Fighting Invisible Enemies traces this transition among inhabitants of the Mission Indian Agency of Southern California from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century.
What historian Clifford E. Trafzer describes is not so much a transition from one practice to another as a gradual incorporation of Western medicine into Indian medical practices. Melding indigenous and medical history specific to Southern California, his book combines statistical information and documents from the federal government with the oral narratives of several tribes. Many of these oral histories—detailing traditional beliefs about disease causation, medical practices, and treatment—are unique to this work, the product of the author’s close and trusted relationships with tribal elders.
Trafzer examines the years of interaction that transpired before Native people allowed elements of Western medicine and health care into their lives, homes, and communities. Among the factors he cites as impelling the change were settler-borne diseases, the negative effects of federal Indian policies, and the sincere desire of both Indians and agency doctors and nurses to combat the spread of disease. Here we see how, unlike many encounters between Indians and non-Indians in Southern California, this cooperative effort proved positive and constructive, resulting in fewer deaths from infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis.
The first study of its kind, Trafzer’s work fills gaps in Native American, medical, and Southern California history. It informs our understanding of the working relationship between indigenous and Western medical traditions and practices as it continues to develop today.
“Unique in its approach, thorough in its research, and clear in its presentation, Fighting Invisible Enemies elevates the subject of Indian health to its rightful place in the historiography of California Indians.”—George Harwood Phillips, author of Chiefs and Challengers: Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California, 1769–1906
“This remarkable and insightful story of survival provides a deep understanding of indigenous belief systems. Fighting Invisible Enemies will be a leading book in the field of Indian health.”—Donald L. Fixico, author of Call for Change: The Medicine Way of American Indian History, Ethos, and Reality
“A fascinating picture of how Southern California Indians have skillfully incorporated Western medicine while maintaining traditional spiritual and holistic practices and beliefs. Highly recommended for all students of Native history, cultural studies, and the history of medicine.”—Donna Akers, author of Culture and Customs of the Choctaw People
“True of Trafzer’s work more generally, the evidence of his longstanding ties to the communities about whom he writes is considerable and unmistakable. He consulted with numerous tribal elders, attended many tribal nation meetings and sings, and conducted the oral histories that center the monograph. And, overall, it is Trafzer’s unparalleled ability to illustrate change from within Indigenous California that makes Fighting Invisible Enemies so profound.”---Western Historical Quarterly
“Based on oral histories, agency and boarding school records, vital statistics, and government documents, Trafzer delineates the interplay between policy, politics, and different medical systems in the fight against tuberculosis from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. Trafzer’s book nicely illustrates how MIA (Mission Indian Agency) peoples adopted Western medicine without abandoning their Indigenous beliefs and practices.”—American Indian Culture and Research Journal
“Fighting Invisible Enemies reveals Trafzer’s prodigious ability to build contacts and trust with Indigenous people in southern California. He listens closely to the insights of sixteen oral history interviews and shares experiences attending ceremonies, such as a Bear Dance on the Chemehuevi Reservation in 2008…Fighting Invisible Enemies is, perhaps unfortunately, quite timely. As Indian Country begins to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic, Trafzer reminds us that Indigenous people in southern California already did this work—many, many times.”—New Mexico Historical Review