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.

The easiest way to prevent overt discrimination is to be proactive from the outset, including on the admission form a blank for “Native American” or “American Indian” under religious affiliation, as a stated policy allowing access to patients by Native spiritual leaders as any other clergy, and instructing staff on contingencies for exercise of     religious rites with the warning that these ceremonies are protected by law and a right, not secondary to established routine.

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, “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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