Alaska Natives have healing practices that go back over 10,000 years and today these practices are beginning to reemerge. Historical events (see Decade Value Development Charts) diminished these practices due to weakening trust in their effectiveness and fear related to missionary teachings. However, presently there is resurgence in the use of traditional healing practices. Programs have been developed in which these practices are used by tribal doctors and Western trained allopathic physicians to incorporate Alaska Native values and beliefs for promoting health, preventing disease, reducing pain, and enhancing emotional wellness. A blending of elements of Alaska Native cultural practice along with Native American tribal practices is used by tribal doctors and traditional healers. Great diversity exists among various Alaska Native cultures with regards to beliefs and practices.
Tribal doctors are generally employed by tribal health organizations in Alaska and are sometimes certified by a credentialing body. They may have completed a formalized training with an apprenticeship with a more experienced tribal doctor. Most may have restrictions with regards to practices that break the skin or use medicinal plants without concurrence from the referring allopathic physician.
Traditional healers are customarily identified by their community, work informally, and are considered to possess an inborn “gift” of healing. They sometimes continue to uncover their unique “gift” through apprenticeship and by observing more experienced healers. Many do not charge for their services but are given gifts as an expression of gratitude.
Typical traditional healing practices include but are not limited:
- Healing Hands (therapeutic massage)
- Prayer (group or individual)
- Cleansing (burning of sage)
- Song and Dance (drumming circles)
- Traditional Plant Medicine (for treatment of various ailments)
- Culturally sensitive and supportive counseling (talking circles)
When appropriate, Tribal Doctors refer patients to regional or statewide hospitals or health care clinics for additional treatment.