Lessons From Native American Culture

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity”. – Hippocrates

There are wonderful opportunities to learn from other cultures how to manage our emotional  turmoil and stop the self-blame and the wild goose-chase.  When we look at other cultures through a wide lens, it empowers us with new insights and strategies that have enabled others to remain resilient and satisfied.

Native Americans, for example, have lived in synchrony with the human and natural world. Their experiences help teach how to find strength, peace and emotional wellness.

 “Everything on earth has a purpose every disease an herb to cure it and every person a mission” (anonymous 1845)

Well Being and Collective Harmony

Native Americans have encountered vast and devastating experiential upheavals in the confrontation with Western values and practices. Yet, many have sustainable belief systems and cultural traditions that have been passed down through generations and serve as models that we can consider in order to improve our own well being.

The overarching descriptive word for the American Indian world view is holistic. They view the natural world, the spirit world and human beings as an integrated whole and they cherish  balance and harmony in the collective universe.

American Indians understand the world in its natural order’s rhythms and cycles of life and include animals and plants as well as other natural features in their conceptions of spirituality,

A Native Americans worldview is deep and intense and infused with spiritual meaning. Everything in their culture ties into their belief system and their love for their land and people.  With the collective support of family and community comes the sense of satisfaction and belonging that defines “happiness.”

The Importance of Roles in an Integrated Culture

Having a defined place within a family, a community and a culture enhances a sense of purpose, stability and resilience over time. In AI culture, roles are clearly defined and egalitarian.

Men and women exist in a cooperative partnership, elders are respected for their wisdom, children are raised to honor adults and to be part of the community as well as the family.

Wives share honors and responsibilities of men in prominent statuses.  Bickering between mates is uncommon although the presence of stress in the form of changes imposed by the dominant culture and also alcohol and drugs does upset this usually quiet and satisfactory situation.

Native American women have a significant role in most First Nations social systems.  Specifically, the literature has emphasized the importance of elder Native American women in the transmission of culture and values and as leaders in their clans, tribes, and nations (Barrios & Egan 2002).

Native women’s’ power is manifested in their roles as sacred life givers, teachers, healers, doctors and seers.  In many instances, the health of their communities depends upon them.

There is a special role that deserves attention. The LGBT community exists within the Native American culture and these individuals are referred to as “Two Spirit.” They have a special place, defined roles and traditions that are positive and fulfilling for them and for the community.

In most tribes, Two Spirit individuals are called upon to be caretakers of children, the elderly and the infirm members of the community. They are believed to possess unique healing abilities and an abundance of compassion. The Mohave tribe believes that they can see with the eyes of a woman and a man which endows them with unique powers and strengths.

There are several rituals that serve to engage the Two Spirit individual into the heart of the community;

The Papago ritual is representative of this early integration: If parents noticed that a son was disinterested in boyish play or manly work, they would set up a ceremony to determine which way the boy would be brought up.

They would make an enclosure of brush and place in the center both a man’s bow and a woman’s basket. The boy was told to go inside the circle of brush and to bring something out, and as he entered, the brush would be set on fire. They watched what he took with him as he ran out and if it was the basketry materials they agreed that he was a Two Spirit.


Lessons From Native American Culture

Margaret Altman, LCSW, MSW

Margaret Altman is a crisis intervention specialist and has intervened in many explosive situations within jails, emergency rooms, suicide prevention centers and psychiatric units. She is a featured writer on the Mad in America website and has more more than 35 years of experience as an LCSW in psychiatry, corrections and private practice. Her book, "Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence" is on Amazon. Margaret currently focuses on issues of minority and marginalized populations in order to give them a voice in the mental health domain.


APA Reference
Altman, M. (2015). Lessons From Native American Culture. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Aug 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Aug 2015
Published on All rights reserved.