Manataka American Indian Council
Native American Spirituality Brochure
Hospitals & Nursing Homes
Within the hospital setting, the rights and obligations regarding patients should be seen as most acute in avoiding running afoul of denial of religious freedom, as defined by First Amendment rights and federal laws and regulations against discrimination.
Most offenses against those practicing American Indian spirituality are perpetuated not out of malice but ignorance or inadvertent discrimination. It may be that hospitals are simply ignorant of Native populations in their midst or the numbers are so statistically few that they are “lost in the shuffle.”
This does not prevent legal action or serve as an excuse for discrimination. The goal of hospitals and clinics that provide residential care for patients should be to provide access and allow free exercise of religious activities.
Religious diversity should be acknowledged, not only among believers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but among followers of Native beliefs.
It should be noted that most American Indians are affiliated with mainstream churches in addition to holding Native American spiritual beliefs. For example, it’s not uncommon or considered unusual on reservations for Native Americans to participate in Catholic or other denominations’ services and require the services of a priest or pastor in addition to a “medicine man” or woman.
As Bette Keltner, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the Georgetown University School of Nursing in Washington, D.C., told minoritynurse.com, “Prayers are emphasized as a part of daily life.” A room for this purpose should be set aside. Also, some older patients don’t ask to see “medicine men,” or women so nurses should offer to contact one for them. Since the prayer ceremonies could entail burning sage, rattling or drumming, the area set aside should be insulated and not pose a hazard for oxygen lines or other combustible materials. For smaller clinics, this can be a covered, outdoor “smoking” area or other multi-use space.
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