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Native Americans are believed to have come from Siberia during the ice age and settled to the place now referred to as Alaska. They gradually migrated across the land all the way to Mexico and beyond. They have been referred to as Indians, American Indians and have been recently referred to as Native Americans. Before the arrival of Europeans, they had migrated to many regions and formed many different tribes or nations. Indians got adapted to their specific regions and made use of available natural resources in such a way that they could survive no matter what conditions faced them.
Native Americans believed in respecting the land they were living in and all it offered. They became talented hunters, farmers and fishermen. Corn was the major crop that they farmed and they built their homes with the materials available in their territories. Some of the materials that they used included lumber, animal skins and sun-dried bricks. They lived in good relationship and every member of a tribe was a respected and important part of the society. They respected all other people including their religions and customs. Everyone in the society had a social role to play. Men were taken as the spokespersons of the family while women were treated as the givers of life and the backbone of the family (Hukill, 2006).
When Europeans invaded America, they took control over the Native Americans and made them indentured servants. Tribes were forced out of their native lands and confined to reservations and military forts (Hukill, 2006). The dominant European culture banned native languages, infected the Native Americans with diseases, and abused their elders as well as destroyed their homes. Some of the diseases, which they were infected with include yellow fever, smallpox, measles and cholera.
Traditionally, Native Americans perceived health in a holistic manner. This means that they believed good health was a result of good balance of the body and mind. When the one or both of them were out of balance, this meant poor health for them. This does not mean that they thought of the health in a purely spiritually manner, they understood the importance of healthy eating and physical exercise (Hukill, 2006). They also believed in a medicine wheel, which consisted of four quadrants with the soul/person/creator in the center. Number four was also considered to be sacred in most of the traditions.
The four quadrants are represented a number of things, which include four seasons, four directions, four elements (fire, earth, water and wind), four laws of creation (unity, equality, life and eternity) and many other relationships that could be expressed in sets of four (Conti, 2006). They believed that these things should be in balance and if they were not they needed to do something to get them back into balance. Physical illness was also believed to be caused by one of the four things being unbalanced.
They had varied beliefs depending on different tribes and region, but a common belief was that healing should be focused on the spirit of an individual rather than the physical illness. Reason behind this was that they believed that the illnesses came from the spirit, but not the body. Therefore, prayer was considered to be the most important thing to stay healthy. Medicine men or women were used to pray for the sick (Conti, 2006). Native Americans also believed in natural medicines such as herbs. The most important herb, which was common to all tribes, was tobacco. It was used as a cleansing agent for the persons’ spirit in a combination with other rituals. Medicine in their culture existed a long time ago. In fact some scientists believe that they may be the original founder of medicine although there is no written evidence due to the fact they never used to learn how to read and write. All in all, they valued the essence of living healthy lifestyle and healing an ailing body or soul. They used different methods and available materials to accomplish these.
Different tribes used wide range of healing methods, but all had the same key ideas in common. Their healing methods were influenced by things like rituals, spiritual beliefs, religion, supplies readily available and environmental influences. Their healing had a holistic approach, meaning they were treating the whole body, soul and mind. Treating spiritual health was considered as equally important as treating physical health. Most traditional Native Americans believed that illnesses occurred as a result of spiritual problems (Tom-Orme, 2006). Therefore, the healing process was normally based on rectifying the spiritual issues although there were some emphases to treat symptoms of what they saw to be the spiritual problem (e.g. pain). Native American community harbored a number of healers such as herbalists, medicine men, spiritual healers and shamans. Shamans were the individuals believed to have connection with the spiritual world.
Different objects were used in the traditional healing methods. Teas, salves herbal remedies were used for cleansing the soul by being passed through the body. They were also used to solve gastric and intestinal problems. Sweat lodges, which were small enclosed places with fire or hot coals inside, were used to cleanse the soul as well by raising the body internal temperature causing a man to sweat (Tom-Orme, 2006). They believed sweating removed demons that may be causing your ailment. To purify someone or make him/her be open to a healer they used to do something they were calling smudging. Smudging is applying ash on oneself gotten from sacred plants. This ash was believed to cause someone to go into sedative or calm state making him/her more open to the healer or get purified.
Healing was also accompanied with various chants, dances and ceremonies. There is no empirical evidence to support the successful application of these traditional healing methods. Some of them are still in use, but in most cases they are used together with the modern medicine. It is acceptable to use modern medicine alongside Native American traditional methods provided these methods are being respected (Palacios and Portillo, 2009).
Native Americans experience high prevalence in a number of diseases as compared to other ethnic groups. A good example is that they are faced by the highest percentage of type 2 diabetes globally. To make matters worse, they also suffer from lack of physicians to treat their problems. Their life expectancy is usually 6 years lesser than rest of the groups. Current health issues, which are faced by Native Americans include alcoholism, tuberculosis, type 2 diabetes, HIV, cardiovascular disease, violence and substance dependence (alcohol and drugs) (Conti, 2006). Some of the factors, which contribute a lot to the disparities in health, include poverty related lifestyles, cultural factors, socio-economics and access to healthcare (Warne, 2006). Other factors, which contribute to health disparities, include lower socioeconomic status among American Indians and underfunding of health programs.
Type 2 diabetes and obesity within Native Americans have been believed to be caused by disruption of the traditional food systems (Warne, 2006). Damming of rivers also contributed to unhealthy lifestyle because Native Americans could not continue with their farming activities, which necessitated increased activity. Farming contributed to healthy life as these people were exercising it in combination with other activities such as gathering and hunting. Farming was replaced with unhealthy food programs and lower activity level, which has contributed to higher percentage of type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle intervention can prevent this type of diabetes as it has been caused by their current lifestyle.
Native Americans experience high prevalence of obesity in both sexes and all age groups. Its adverse effects can be confirmed by the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes as well as increasing rates of heart disease (Conti, 2006). It is believed to have been caused by the current lifestyles and the relative abundance of high-fat food. Increased rate of obesity has contributed to the increased rate of type 2 diabetes. Obesity needs an immediate intervention since it is very hard to treat obesity in adults. Good health patterns such as physical activity and dietary should be established at an early age because it can be carried into adulthood. All the intervention to be effective must be culturally sensitive, that is, founded in cultural values and traditions that enhance health and well-being. Full participation of the Native Americans should be encouraged since they are the ones, who are mostly affected by this problem.
Native American women are affected by violence twice as likely to experience violent victimization compared to all other US American women. They also experience more sexual assaults or compared with other groups. At least 65% of women experience violence in their lifetime (Hukill, 2006). Physical violence among women have been used a tool to force them to stay in unwanted relationship. Victims are forced to stay in that relationship due to the fear that they may experience another beating or being murdered if they attempt to leave. Sexual violence is also used as a form of control. Victims are forced to stay in their relationship for fear of another sexual assault or rape. They also fear that their children may be sexually abused (Hukill, 2006).
Alcohol was introduced to Native American culture by the European settlers. Since it was introduced, they have experienced a lot of problems with it. Mortality and morbidity caused by alcohol among Native Americans have elevated and remains at epidemic levels. Some researchers connect the rampant use of alcohol by this group to genetic components predisposition. However, some other factors such as historical oppression, socioeconomics and a resultant culture of poverty contribute a lot to alcohol abuse (Warne, 2006). Health education intervention should be introduced to help reduce the adverse effects associated with alcoholism.The medical community is handling these problems by initiating a number of services. Some of the services, which have helped to reduce these problems, include routing testing through IHS (Indian Health Services), supporting behavior changes, spreading primary prevention messages, and monitoring through the annual IHS diabetes care and outcomes audit. Native Americans are complying with the advice of health care providers although sometimes they prefer to follow medicine men or native healers over physicians. What the physicians should understand is that Native Americans have a lower degree of adaptability and acculturation to them is a challenging and stressful situation. For a psychological acculturation to take place it must undergo eight antecedent conditions. These conditions include:
“Continuous contact of at least two autonomous cultures, knowledge and education about the host culture, expectation for the future, the nature of voluntary/involuntary contact, appearance, host culture’s national policies, degree of welcome by the host culture and personal adaptability characteristic (Al-Omari and Pallikkathayil, 2008 p.131)”
Native Americans have not fulfilled some of the above conditions. Therefore, it is very hard for them to adapt to the modern lifestyle. For instance, they do not have enough knowledge and education about Europeans, who are the host culture (Al-Omari and Pallikkathayil, 2008). This creates difficulties for them to intermingle with them.
In conclusion, Native Americans are faced by many health problems some of which can be resolved easily. Since this is well known, physicians should devise ways of delivering concise solutions to these problems. For instance, they should help them acquire psychological acculturation, which is a contributing factor to all what they are going through. If Native Americans can acquire psychological acculturations, they can easily adapt and intermingle with other ethnicity groups.