Cultural Practices among the Native Americans


In an effort to offer effective and efficient healthcare to patients, healthcare providers need to take into an account the cultural practices and beliefs of the patients. Culture is described as the beliefs, values, and attitudes that are commonly held and perpetuated by members of a social group. Culture is a complex phenomenon that includes shared traditions, customs, language, and norms acquired from families and social communities. The medical interaction with patients offers a chance for the different cultures to associate such as the culture of the patient, culture of the physician, and culture of medicine. The association has a huge impact on factors such as adherence to medical regimens, patient satisfaction, healthcare utilization, and health outcomes (Bussey-Jones, &Genao, 2003). Among the main cultural factors that affect the healthcare provision, include language, alternative medicine, and different cultural thresholds. People of different orientation have different attribution on diseases, health, symptoms, and treatments (Vaughn, Jacquez, & Bakar, 2009).Consistently, we carry out an analysis onthe different cultural practices among the Native Americans to gain an understanding of how that affects nursing care offered.

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Health beliefs and practices

The Native American’s beliefs about health originated from the Indian religion. According to the culture of the Native Americans, health is not just the absence of disease but alsothe lack of harmony with oneself, including body, mind, and spirit, harmony with other, and the environment. The American Indian culture promotes the spiritual side of wellness and healing. Traditional Indians hold the belief that there exist three types of diseases; natural which includes cuts and broken bones, supernatural which includes curses and non-Indian illness associated with the connection to the European culture (Duran, 2002).

The Native American traditional healing is identified as part of the complementary and alternative medicine and comprises of holistic treatment that the indigenous healers use to promote health and wellbeing. Traditional indigenous medicine has long been used to promote the health and well-being of millions of indigenous people. Among the health practices by the Native Americans include the use of herbs, manipulative therapies, ceremonies, and use of prayer as a means of preventing and treating diseases (Koithan& Farrell,2010).

Family Patterns

In the Native American culture, family is important and held in high regard. It is considered as a repository for value orientations that offers guidance for human behavior. A family is regarded as a transactional milieu for lifespan socialization as well as a basic catalyst for cultural revitalization (Duran, 2002). The Native American Societies are based on the ideologies of interdependence where all things are considered dependent on one another. Before contact with the other societies, the Native Americans existed in kinship societies and extended family groups formed the communities. The kinship systems ensured orderliness and survival of the tribe. This took into account the nuclear families, extended families, and clans. Some communities embraced the culture of polygamy while others were monogamy. It is within the family that the Native American children learned about cultural and societal values. The extended family network forms the basis of tribal societies.

Communication Style

The communication stylethat is common with the Native Americans is the non-verbal communication. The Native Americans avoid direct eye contact as a means of respect or concern. In their communication, the NativeAmericans have been taught to resist any expression depicting pain. This implies that in offering care, the patient may not directly indicate pain. The Native Americans use silence to maintain harmony and avoid confrontationsor to imply that the individual is listening and being attentive. Native Americans use storytelling and circular conversation as a means of expressing themselves. Another important element in communication among the NativeAmericans is touch, which is highly regarded to be very personal. When communicating with the Native American patients, it is important to explain to them before touching any part of their body.

Space Orientation

Most Native Americans prefer to maintain their distance from strangers. They express their dissatisfaction with an invasion into one’s personal space as this is regarded as disrespectful. The Native American highly values theirpersonal space.

Time Orientation

Native Americans have a present time orientation and hold a strong belief on the flexible nature of time and the way it operates without boundaries. They place limited value on the future and the common belief that circumstances are beyond one’s control. The Native Americans also consider time as cyclical, present-oriented, and at the moment. The Native Americans mostly orient themselves to the present and dealing with the tasks. It is this approach that the Native American puts emphasize on the being rather than becoming.

Nutritional Patterns

Among the Native Americans, lactose intolerance is a prevalent phenomenon. Among the Native Indian,some food restrictions are adhered to in certain ceremonies. The food restrictions may limit intake of certain proteins and products. Some products that may be restricted include liver, rabbit, and cabbage among others. Among some Native American tribes, women cannot eat salt for a period of one year after delivering. Food regarded as staple among the traditional Native Americans include prairie, turnips, fruits, potatoes, squash, dried meat, prairies chicken, corn, tea, and wild rice. These plants are mostly perennial and are grown and harvested in summer for consumption over the winter. Food among the Native Americans is considered as having medicinal value. Tea was considered as being effective in treating cold, fever, and stomach upset (Colby, McDonald, &Adkison, 2012).

Childbirth and Perinatal care

The Native Americans possess rich cultural traditions for unique pregnancy and labor experiences. Such practices include herbal remedies for slow labor, intricate naming ceremonies, and celebrations held in after the baby’s first laugh. Another important element in the motherhood traditions of the Native Americans is the creation of hand-woven cradleboards use to carry the baby through the first few months.

Spirituality and religion

Among the Native Americans, religious thoughts and actions are present in almost every socio-cultural fabric of their traditional lifestyle. Spirituality is thereby considered as a natural component in everything. Among the spirituality rituals and practices used by the Native Americans is the use of symbolic healing ritual. These ceremonies include activities such as chanting, singing, painting of bodies and exorcisms (Struthers &Eschiti, 2005).

Death and Dying

There exist some common beliefs on death and burial process among different tribes that make up the Native Americans. Although the Native Americans do not organize time into structured calendars, they base their bereavement practices on natural occurrences and seasons. Theyalso believe that death does not mean the end of life but rather a commencement of a new journey in the form of the spirit. Rituals carried out after the death of a person are highly valued and considered as a way of guiding the spirit in its journey to the next world (Irish, Lundquist, & Nelsen, 2014).

Prayer and meditation

Prayer is an important part of Native American healing practices. Prayer and meditations are considered as a means of looking inward and useful in reducing stress(Struthers &Eschiti, 2005). The Native Americans hold the belief that something is awakened by the act of an elder praying. They believe that prayer and meditation widen the spiritual path and assist in overcoming obstacles in life.

Knowledge from the Analysis of Cultural Practices

The analysis of the cultural practices of the Native Americans has helped me gain knowledge about this group that I was not aware of. Among the knowledge that I learnt about the Native Americans is on their communication style, specifically on their practice of resisting any signs indicating pain. This knowledge will help me a lot in offering care to the patients from this cultural group. In providing care, I will have to carry out thorough tests to ascertain the level of pain experienced by the patient rather than just rely on the patient’s information.

Another new knowledge that I learnt about the Native Americans is on space orientation. This knowledge will help me when offering care plan to patients from this cultural group as I will understand the patients’ needs for personal space. When placing the patient on admission, it will be important to consider this information in the selection of the position to place the patient in the ward.

Additionally, the analysis helped me understand their belief on prayer and meditation. I learnt that the Native Americans highly value prayers especially when conducted by an elder. This implies that when dealing with patients from this cultural group, it will be important to be accommodative and allow the patient and the family to hold prayer session.


Culture includes the beliefs, values, and attitudes commonly held and perpetuated by members of a social group and it includes shared traditions, customs, language, and norm that are acquired from families and social communities. The discussion above is on the cultural practices of the Native Americans. TheNative Americans believe that health is not just the absence of disease but also the harmony with oneself, including body, mind, and spirit, harmony with other, and the environment.In the Native American culture, family is highly regarded. The Native Americans highly value personal space and have a present time orientation while having a strong belief on the flexible nature of time and the way it operates without boundaries.Native Americans use circular conversation as a means of expressing themselves.


Bussey-Jones, J., &Genao, I. (2003). Impact of culture on health care. Journal of the National Medical Association95(8), 732 – 735.

Colby, S. E., McDonald, L. R., &Adkison, G. (2012). Traditional native American foods: Stories from northern plains elders. Journal of Ecological Anthropology15(1), 65-73.

Duran, B. E. (2002). American Indian belief systems and traditional practices.Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts. Retrieved from:

Irish, D. P., Lundquist, K. F., & Nelsen, V. J. (2014). Ethnic variations in dying, death and grief: Diversity in universality. Taylor & Francis.

Koithan, M., & Farrell, C. (2010). Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners : JNP6(6), 477–478.

Struthers, R., &Eschiti, V. S. (2005). Being healed by an indigenous traditional healer: sacred healing stories of Native Americans. Part II. Complementary therapies in clinical practice11(2), 78-86.

Vaughn, L. M., Jacquez, F., & Bakar, R. C. (2009). Cultural health attributions, beliefs, and practices: Effects on healthcare and medical education. The Open Medical Education Journal2(1), 64-74.

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