Kelly Marie Jones
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology: ANT 101
September 2, 2013
As a society, Americans generally use conventional western medicine for most of our health care needs, but is it the best option? When we look at other cultures and their healthcare practices, it is easy to see that there are many different ideas about what constitutes “health care.” Our healthcare system is impersonal, aloof, and is in the habit of finding a ‘quick fix’ for our health issues, instead of looking at the root or cause of the problem. With the growing number of deadly diseases that continue to make their way through our society, it is time to look at how others view and implement their healthcare into their societies. There are a number of different cultures who continue to use alternative and natural approaches to healthcare, including the Native Americans, the Indians, and the Chinese; and this paper will compare their healthcare practices of those cultures with each other, as well as with our own.
Native Americans have a long history of taking a very spiritual and holistic approach to their health and wellness. As a whole, they believe that everything is connected, therefore a physical health problem must be addressed with a mental and spiritual approach. To understand their approach, we must first understand their beliefs in what health is, because it is very different from our cultural approach to healthcare. “While the western medical view typically equates healing with curing, from a Native American perspective, healing is more akin to recovering one’s wholeness or to reestablish harmony with nature,” (as cited in Rybak, 2009, p. 334, para. 5). Native Americans believe that everything around them in their environment has a spirit, including the trees, rocks, rivers, and the animals. In order to reach their full potential for health, there has to be a spiritual balance between the individual and the spirits that surround them. So when someone has some type of health issue (whether it be physical or emotional), they believe that they are out of balance with nature and spirits, therefore they need to address what is out of balance. They take everything into account, not just the particular health concern.
Native Americans seek the Red Path and use the Medicine Wheel to get there. “The Red Path is characterized by traditional Native American cultural values such as establishing a feeling of belonging, a sense of mastery, respect for independence, and promotion of generosity and unselfishness (as cited in Rybak, 2009, p. 335, para. 2). In order to seek wholeness, individuals within the community associate the Red Path with being the way to emulate wholeness, which is the optimum and healthiest way to live. Whenever someone has a health concern, it is because they have lost their way on the Red Path, or have fallen out of balance with the spiritual world. In order to get their balance back and to heal, the use of the Medicine Wheel aids them. “The Medicine
Wheel serves to orient one according to the cardinal directions as well as within the many aspects of life associated with the different directions,” (Rybak, 2009, p. 335, para. 3). The Medicine Wheel is a circle, which symbolizes that everything is connected and endless. There are 4 spokes within the Medicine Wheel, each pointing towards different directions that symbolize different aspects of life (Rybak, 2009). The spoke that points east symbolizes the rising sun, and represents spirituality. The spoke that points south symbolizes daylight and their connection to nature. The spoke that points west symbolizes the setting sun, and represents the physical aspects of life. Last, the spoke that points north symbolizes cold winter winds and snow, and represents the cognitive aspects of their lives (Rybak, 2009). The