Manataka American Indian Council



Native American Spirituality Brochure





Complementary and Alternative Medicine as employed in Native American spirituality is no longer "esoteric." Medical Schools with CAM courses include Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine and Yale School of Medicine, among others.

Most now offer programs in Integrative Medicine which include Native American practices.

Mainstream hospitals are offering such services. For example, the Veterans Administration has begun employing the services of “medicine men” or women to provide ceremonies that complement care for the 181,000 American Indian veterans in the United States. According to the VA, most Indian veterans who participate in the traditional practices do so in combination with Western medical treatment at VA facilities.

Standard Western medical treatments, including psychotherapy, are less effective on their own for some Indians because of their unique traditions and cultural values, VA officials say. 

As Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., states, “when Indians talk about medicine men and medicine women, their use of the word ‘medicine’ means more than our use of it,” incorporating the whole being, within the framework of heritage and experience. Good doctoring, he says, requires all the wisdom of religion, faith and knowledge, along with the technical expertise of conventional allopathic medicine. 

In actual practice, physicians find little conflict with traditional healers on or off a reservation. There is little peer-reviewed published information, but C. Kim and Y.S. Kwok looking at the Navajo population in the early 1990s concluded that 62% of Navajo Native Americans used Native healers in their lifetime, and that 39% used one the past year. They found that the concerns that were brought to Native healers were mostly arthritis, pain, depression and anxiety and chest pain. Very few differences were found between the users and non-users. 

Employing Native healers should be seen as an adjunct to treatment, not a barrier, and most Native “medicine” people do not   regard treatment as exclusive. They should be welcomed if for  nothing else but for the patient’s peace of mind and religious, spiritual and psychological support. 




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