Most Native American tribes have traditions about health and illness. The term “Native American” is meant to include Native Americans and Alaska Natives. These traditions are not based on western science. Instead, they come from the tribe’s beliefs about how individuals fit in the web of life. This web includes the tribe, all humanity, the earth, and the universe.
Many healing traditions focus on harmony. Healing occurs when someone is restored to harmony and connected to universal powers.
Traditional healing is “holistic”. It does not focus on symptoms or diseases. Instead, it deals with the total individual. Different people with HIV disease may get different treatments.
Healing focuses on the person and their environment, not only the illness. Certain people in each tribe are recognized as healers. They receive special teachings. Healing traditions are passed from one generation to the next through visions, stories, and dreams.
Healers may be used for certain conditions. They might refer people to other healers, if appropriate. Healing might involve sweat lodges, talking circles, drumming, ceremonial smoking of tobacco, potlatch ceremonies, herbalism, animal spirits, or “vision quests,” to name a few practices. Each tribe uses its own techniques. They are only steps towards becoming whole, balanced and connected.
Healers have different views about combining their methods with western medicine. Some do not see any value in medical science or treatments. Others believe that the systems deal with different aspects of an individual so there is no problem using both. Most western physicians do not understand the value or importance of traditional healing to their Native American patients. A few, especially in areas with large Native American populations, are more open to traditional healing.
Native American traditional healing is a holistic approach to health. Each tribe has its own healing traditions.
Traditional healers do not follow a standard procedure. Instead, they apply their skills to each person individually. By themselves, techniques such as sweat lodges or vision quests are not “traditional healing.” They have the most meaning as part of an overall healing tradition.
It is best if your care providers all know about everything you are doing for your health. There may be interactions among different techniques that you want to avoid. Inform the healers working with you, both western and traditional, what medications, treatments and dietary patterns you follow on a daily basis, whether they are prescribed or not.