Medical Research on American Indians


American Indians are referred to as the indigenous population living in the United States. They had lived in the states for a long time way before it was dominated. The American Indians are peaceful and find fulfillment in creativity and activities involving prayers and the family unit (Hagan, 2012). Among other things, nature conservation is of significant importance to them. They perceive nature as God’s gift that requires their utmost protection. They are said to have originated from Siberia, and their solitary life was interrupted by the arrival of Europeans in America which resulted in forceful relocation from their land (Hagan, 2012). The American Indians are active and have a rich heritage.

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Health Beliefs and Practices

The American Indians believe that illness occurs as a consequence of the spiritual and emotional imbalance of a person (Spector, 2002). For instance, their beliefs on dementia patients are that their spirits have departed them and crossed over to the next world, and the body remains behind in preparation for subsequent departure. They do not trust the American health care system due to past indifferences and abuses inflicted on them by Westerners. They also perceive the basis of the health system as materialistic as opposed to the individual’s care. They agree that medicine heals a patient but it is not a cure for the disease. They also deem it improper to talk about death or any adverse outcomes. The healing process is viewed as sacred, and the individual’s spiritual aspect must be taken into consideration (Helsel, 2004). According to their beliefs, the whole community should participate in healing ceremonies and maintenance of the Indian medicine power.

Family Pattern

The American Indian family setting is open and adopts the village-type features. The structure is quite extended and incorporates all relatives. The family patterns contribute to the behavior of every individual since they determine what is considered right and wrong. It also influences conservative cultural practices (Lum, 2010). Grandparents possess the leadership authority of the family unit. Elders are regarded in high authority irrespective of the lack of blood relations with the family. Their ideas on children upbringing and mannerisms are highly esteemed. The different American Indian family patterns are traditional groups which adhere to lifestyles defined by culture, bicultural groups that exhibit non-American Indians lifestyle features and a current pan group that strives to redefine lost cultural practices. The various family patterns possess different behavioral variables.

Communication Style

The American Indians communication style entails instances where individuals talk to relate with each other as opposed to other forms where people confide in persons they know extensively. The younger groups such as children are not allowed to represent themselves verbally among adults. Verbal discipline on poor child mannerisms is viewed as inappropriate and should be done in private settings (Lum, 2010). Speaking on behalf of other people is unheard off irrespective of whether the subject is a child since they believe every person is entitled to their individual representation. 

American Indians also deem it inappropriate to openly and directly state that the other party is wrong due to the quest to ensure maintenance of personal autonomy. They also perceive interruption of conversations as improper and exhibit excessive politeness in their conversations.

Space Orientation

Space orientations have to do with personal comfortable distance between private and public territories. American Indian culture discourages touching outdoors or holding intimately in open air. Space also points to attributions related to eye contact or avoiding eye contact (LeBaron, 2003). In American Indian setting, looking down is normally seen as a sign of respect. 

Time Orientation

American Indians view time to have a present orientation as opposes to the western culture that sees time as future oriented. They use natural events to indicate timing and often find it difficult to align themselves with facility schedules (Kaskutas, 2000). The spatial orientation of American Indians relies on various natural phenomena and is less rigid and exact.

Nutrition Patterns

 The American Indians have inadequate nutritional patterns. Their diets are deficient, and eating habits are quite poor which often results in obesity and chronic illnesses. Most families are low-income earners with poor nutrition levels and rely on food programs to acquire commodity goods (Kaskutas, 2000). The intergenerational models of commodity food utilization have an effect on individual food preferences and choices. They face economic vulnerability and nutritional risks. They also have high unemployment rates and low levels of food security. Continued consumption of poor diets causes fatal chronic illnesses. 

Pain Responses

American Indians do not talk much and have the ability to persevere pain without using any medication. This culture values silence and as a result, some patients may remain

quiet when in pain so as not to cause dishonor to their family and themselves. Their tolerance levels are high and may even result in physical disability (Spector, 2002).

Childbirth and Prenatal care

Lack of essential prenatal health care puts American Indians at adverse health risks. American Indians often have preterm births which cause disabilities like cerebral palsy and hearing impairments. High infant mortality rates among American Indians are as a result of prenatal care insufficiencies (Kaskutas, 2000). They seek early and subsequent prenatal care minimally. 

Death and Dying

American Indians believe that one dies when their time on earth given by God comes to an end (Spector, 2002). They consider it inappropriate to mention death or any issues that have adverse outcomes. Talking about death is termed as a bad omen.

Spirituality, Religion and Faith

The spirituality of American Indians is quite different from other religions. They did not participate in organized religious meetings and spirituality was a daily life practice. It involved several ceremonies and hunting rituals. During the ceremonies spirits entered the bodies of leaders known as Shaman to influence the success of the rituals through chanting and beating drums (Hagan, 2012). They believed that Shaman could tell why the tribe members experience failures and tribulations in life. Based on their spirituality they had the belief that spirit creatures had total control over different weather conditions. The American Indians also believed that animals were initially human and shared similar ancestry. Female and males underwent various spiritual activities whereby upon reaching puberty age young males received a vision of American Indian spirituality in the wilderness. They described rituals and ceremonies as religion. Their religious practices and faith were based on nature and natural occurrences. 

Holy days among this community involved festival activities such as the Powamu festival which took place at the end of the month of January (Garroutte et al, 2003). It is also known as the bean planting festival. They also have a holiday to mark the sun dance festival that involves healing practices. Only individuals with a reason to pra’’’y with the heart participate in this ceremony. Makar Sankranti is a holy day marked on the 14th of January with great devotion by the American Indian community (Garroutte et al, 2003). 

Prayer and Meditation

Maha Sivaratri is a festival marked by fasting, intense praying and meditation in honor of Shiva a very important deity. The American Indians firmly believe in prayer and meditation. Meditation allows them time to reflect on their behavior and way of life. Through prayer, they can communicate with supernatural beings.  They conduct different prayers ceremonies for varying issues such as death and healing. The prayers are accompanied by certain types of rituals based on the occasion. 


I have gained vast knowledge about the American Indians and their cultural practices. Their spirituality and perception of death is part of the information I acquired. Their health beliefs and practices are also very different from other communities. This has broadened my understanding on the barriers of effective interpersonal communication and diversity (Blais, 2015). The insights I have gathered about their spirituality and holy days will help me greatly in dealing with members of this community and adapting to their cultural practices. For instance, knowledge of their practices during festivals and holy days will significantly improve my relations with members of the American Indian community.


Blais, K. (2015). Professional nursing practice: Concepts and perspectives. Prentice Hall.

Garroutte, E. M., Goldberg, J., Beals, J., Herrell, R., Manson, S. M., & AI-SUPER PFP Team. (2003). Spirituality and attempted suicide among American Indians. Social Science & Medicine56(7), 1571-1579.

Hagan, W. T. (2012). American Indians. University of Chicago Press.

 Helsel, D. G., Mochel, M., & Bauer, R. (2004). Shamans in a Hmong American community. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 10(6), 933-938.

Kaskutas, L. A. (2000). Understanding drinking during pregnancy among urban American Indians and African Americans: health messages, risk beliefs, and how we measure consumption. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research24(8), 1241-1250.

LeBaron, M. (2003). Culture-based negotiation styles. Guy & Heidi Burgess (eds.). Beyond Intractability. Conflict Research Consortium. U. of Colorado.

 Lum, D. (2010). Culturally Competent Practice: A Framework for Understanding. Nelson Education.     

Spector, R. E. (2002). Cultural diversity in health and illness. Journal of Transcultural Nursing13(3), 197-199.    

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