Spiritual belief is a pervasive aspect of Indian culture, although belief systems vary widely between tribes/nations and geographic areas. Most Indian traditions teach that the “interconnectedness” of all things leads to a relationship between man, Creator/God, fellow man, and nature. In many Indian traditions, healing, spiritual belief or power, and community were not separated, and often the entire community was involved in a healing ceremony and in maintaining the power of Indian “medicine”. (The term “medicine” is often used to denote actions, traditions, ceremony, remedies, or other forms of prayer or honoring the sacred. The concept of healing power that is maintained by the collective consciousness and belief of people of an Indian community is referred to here.) (Mails, 1991.) In some tribes/nations, causes of illness were considered to be an “imbalance” between the spiritual, mental, physical, and social interactions of the individual and his family or clan (Bennahum, 1998).
Healing is considered sacred work and in many Indian traditions cannot be effective without considering the spiritual aspect of the individual. Many contemporary Indians use “white man’s medicine” to treat “white man’s diseases” (for example, diabetes, cancer, and gallbladder disease), and use Indian medicine to treat Indian problems (pain, disturbed family relationships resulting in physical symptoms, or sicknesses of the spirit, which may include mental illness and alcoholism). (Alvord, 1997; Hendrix, 1999) In addition, many western pharmaceuticals were actually based on Indian herbal medicines (for example, aspirin is derived from willow bark).