According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Native American Indians are one of the most represented ethnic groups serving in the United States military. When the department released this data, I asked the following questions How many of the patients whom we see at our facility are Native American? What did we need to know about their culture to provide them with culturally competent care?
To find out the answers, I volunteered to be a member of our hospitals Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Native American Program, a VA-wide national initiative that reaches out to Native American veterans. I was subsequently appointed to be the Native American program manager at the VA New Jersey Health Care System.
The travel begins
To learn more about the Native American culture, we established a relationship with the New Jersey Sandhill Indian chief and tribe, located in Passaic and Monmouth counties.
Through a series of meetings and programs, we identified the healthcare needs of these veterans and gained knowledge of their culture; each individual veteran has different practices, and we wanted to know how we could incorporate these practices into nursing practice.
Based on what we learned, our committee developed military storyboards of each war and organized a historical presentation on the contributions of Native American Indians to the military.
We shared what we learned with staff and the other facilities in our Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), which includes all of the VA medical centers in New York and New Jersey.
Knowledge translates into action
Through well-attended local events held by The James J. Peters VA Medical Center in The Bronx, N.Y., and The VA New Jersey Health Care System, we were introduced
to Native American crafts, tribal arts, traditional songs, and ethnic food. At our event, we displayed our storyboards and pertinent healthcare information, and we discussed our commitment to deliver culturally appropriate care and what our committee had accomplished.
At our New Jersey event, the director of the American Indian Office of New Jersey, Caroll Medicine Crow Halloway, PhD, a member of the Sandhill Band of Indians, known for his Native American Indian healing practices, conducted a smudging ceremony.
During the ceremony, burning sage is used to cleanse the body, to change ones energy, and to be spiritually purified. It culminated with drumming and chanting in which words and sounds translate into vibrations, while drums amplify intent and elevate the persons vibrational energy.
In December 2007, the hospital celebrated Holidays Throughout the Cultures. Our committee invited Eagle Women of the Sandhill Band of Indians to be part of a cultural fashion show and Native American herbalist David Winston to lead a stomp dance a dance of healing. Traditionally performed late at night and through the dawn, ours was held during the day by a woman wearing turtleshell shakers and tribesmen wearing jeans and cowboy hats adorned with feathers.
This journey has taught me that the Native American Indian practice of healing through the body, mind, and spirit is not only consistent with our professional values, but also mirrors the basic principles that have always been an integral part of nursing.
The next step for the committee is to formally acknowledge those cultural practices that have meaning to our Native American veterans, identify specific practices and programs and then take action so that we can deliver culturally competent care.