Medicines for Life: Native American Culture, Spirituality, and Healing Practices

December 1, 2015
Maureen Fitzgerald
Communications Coordinator, ATTC Network Coordinating Office

National Native American Indian Heritage month, November, celebrates Native American communities and the countless ways they've enriched our country and the world. But this month is also a time to think about attitudes and perceptions. The November webinar, "Native American Culture, Spirituality, and Healing Practices," presented by the American Indian and Alaska Native National Focus Area ATTC in honor of National American Indian Heritage month sure gave me a lot tot think about.

The webinar featured presentations from Dr. Clyde McCoy, PhD, Eastern Cherokee, Raymond Slick, MSW, Meskwaki Tribal Nation, and Sean A. Bear 1st, BA Meskwaki Tribal Nation. Sean Bear is also the Senior Behavioral Health and Training Coordinator for the AI/AN ATTC. The webinar was recorded so you can view it anytime if you missed the live session.

One theme that all three presenters touched on was that Native American healing traditions, based in nature, help to connect people with their spiritual selves. In Native American healing traditions, spirituality is an essential component in preventing and treating behavioral health disorders. 

I wanted to find out more about traditional healing practices the presenters discussed and found great information on the Native Peoples' Concepts of Health and Wellness website, which gives more detail on some of the topics covered in the webinar.

For example:

Native American healing practices have always aimed to treat the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Doesn't that sound a lot like integrated care?  Check out this page for more information on the Medicine Wheel.

Slide from the Native American Culture, Spirituality, and Healing Practices webinar.
Bio-piracy: Many of the plants found in Native American medicine were later used to develop effective medications—without crediting Native Americans for the discovery.

Split-feather Syndrome: November also just happens to be National Adoption Month. Before the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, many Native American children were adopted into non-native families, often with traumatic, long-term consequences. Find out more about Split Feathers in American Indian Adoptees, a fascinating blog by journalist-adoptee Trace A. DeMeyer. And this recent blog post from SAMHSA talks more about historical and intergenerational trauma.

Evidence-based practices or practice-based evidence? Evidence-based practices built on western tradition may not make sense in Native American cultures because the evidence has not been "translated." But, EBPs can be effective if they're supported by Native practices.

From Talking Leaves, by Kay WalkingStick
The webinar piqued my curiosity about other Native American gifts to world culture, so I visited the National Museum of the American Indian website. That's where I found this incredible flip-book from artist Kay WalkingStick. (You do have to flip through some blank pages—but keep going—it's worth it.) Be sure to listen to her artist's statement.

If you'd like to find out more about Native American healing practices, check out these resources from the National American Indian and Alaska Native ATTC:
The YMSM + LGBT Center of Excellence also honored Native American Heritage Month with a webinar on Native American Two Spirit individuals. The webinar aired on November 20 and a recording will be available on the YMSM + LGBT CoE website.

As Lena Thompson pointed out in a recent post on this blog, for too long American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been invisible to the dominant culture. National American Indian Heritage month is a good start to increasing their visibility year-round.

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