Federal Government Taps Ancient Healing Methods to Treat Native American Soldiers

September 13, 2007

Author: Jennifer Miller

Source: The Christian Science Monitor


In a dusty lot on the Navajo reservation, a cleansing ceremony is about to take place. Women sit on rickety chairs outside a hogan, (a circular, squat Navajo home with a dirt floor). A line of parked cars sizzle in the Southwestern sun. Suddenly, a pack of horses rushes into view. They stop just short of the hogan, their hooves beating up a cloud of dust.

A man appears in the doorway – an unassuming figure, dressed in a work shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. He is a medicine man who has spent decades learning ancient Navajo healing techniques. He waits for the lead rider – the patient – to dismount and then ushers him inside.

For the next hour, the spiritual leader, Alfred Gibson, conducts an "enemy way" ceremony, a form of Navajo therapy that cleanses physically and mentally ill individuals by forcing them to confront their pain.

The technique is increasingly being used across the American West to help native American soldiers deal with the traumas of war.

While healers on Indian reservations have always employed such methods, the government offers most returning native American soldiers standard Western psychological counseling and medical help. Now, however, native American leaders and the Department of Veterans Affairs are teaming up to use both approaches in hopes of better serving the needs of Indian soldiers.