Healthcare in the Native American Community


Mission Statement | Background | Contemporary Issues | Cultural Sensitivities | Bibliography | About Us


The intent of this web exhibit is to help health care practitioners working at Indian Health Service clinics. Designed by Dr. Timothy Powell and his students at the University of Pennsylvania, the information provided here results from consultation with Indian Health Services administrators and caregivers, traditional healers, and faculty at the Penn School of Nursing.

Miigwech, we’eh.  We want to thank Larry Aitken for his inspiration and guidance with this this project.  Larry has many roles: traditional healer, tribal historian for Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, Endowed Chair and Director of American Indian Studies program at Itasca Community College, and Dr. Powell’s mentor for the past 15 years.


This video is of Larry Aitken speaking about the connection between traditional Ojibwe conceptions of health and spirituality.  We felt it was proper to begin with Larry’s voice by way of acknowledging his guidance and the important work he has done throughout Indian Country to promote greater cultural sensitivity between health care providers and their Native patients.

Given the cultural barriers inherent in the modern US healthcare system, our mission is to promote the understanding and appreciation of Native American culture, particularly within the healthcare setting. We aim to raise awareness of Native American beliefs, values, and traditional practices as they relate to health. In this vein, we hope that the providers will not only become adequately informed of such cultural tenets, but also learn to respect them to enable healing.  Lastly, we offer an attempt to harmonize the Western and Native American cultures, finding innovative ways to merge them into effective treatment plans, and to establish one voice that ultimately resounds with a clear sense of agreement and progress.

At the same time, we strive to revitalize appreciation for the Native American culture. We hope to broaden understanding of indigenous health care practices as they have been preserved in the Ojibwe oral tradition by much of what was lost. We aim to behave in concert with the Native American and form lasting partnerships, in order to eventually restore trust between the Native and non-Native. We also hope to bridge the physical with the spiritual, in an effort to demonstrate that both are indispensable factors for health and well-being.