The Role of Traditional Knowledge in American Indian Culture

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The American Indians are recognized as the indigenous people of the united stated. However, their styles and way of life changed after their interaction with the Europeans. According to them, a family comprises of members that are fictive or non-fictive, extended family, tribal community and the entire American Indian nation. Therefore, there is no way of exempting any American Indian from being related by blood or through clan-binding ties. In their culture, the women handle the house choirs while the men take part in the leadership roles outside family like medicine and spiritual healing.

Traditional knowledge and medicine

Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge system or know-how by a society that is embedded in the cultural traditions of a community. Such experience may be in the fields of religion, agriculture, medicine, art, hunting or other social skills. It is often passed from one generation to the next orally. The understanding of some of these areas relies on the awareness that man is part of nature. The Native Americans considered their knowledge of medicine and various life skills to be the precious and sacred asset that they always refrained from sharing with strangers due to the fear of its exploitation. The Native American medicine, unlike the modern medicine which addressed physical pathology, it treats all aspects of man, ranging from, the physical, mental, spiritual, health and social welfare or lifestyle of an individual (Center for Health and Healing at Mount Sinai, 2014; Gonzales, 2017).

The transferring knowledge from one generation to the other is a critical determinant of a culture’s existence, growth, and development. Interestingly, communication is a crucial aspect of this process. Therefore, cutting off the ability to participate in a language may limit the transfer of traditional knowledge. It is due to such relationships that information of cultural heritage knowledge is often handed over to the individuals with higher language proficiency (Schomaker, 2014). In some instances, the professionalism of translators is often incorporated to help create an understanding of some terms that the receiving generations may not be conversant with the usage. Similarly, the concept of health and wellness also possesses a relationship to traditional knowledge and medicine (Stoewen, 2015). Traditional knowledge enables individuals to be aware of themselves actively and makes appropriate choices while traditional medicine enhances the attainment of states of complete physical, mental and social well-being.

Different tribes and cultures put effort so that their language never goes into extinction. For example, the Native American developed varying language maintenance and revival programs which had an overall goal of maintaining and perpetuating their language by teaching it to their younger generations. One important method is the recording of words in written and multimedia devices where they will exist for posterity (Parks, 1999). Unfortunately, the tribes still face challenges with language proficiency. Some of the barriers result due to the increasing popularity of the English language and the diverse nature of words primarily spoken in society. Besides, the increased flexibility of interactions and networking across cultural communities is also limiting content mastery. There is also inadequacies in the education of the tribes’ languages in conjunction with the English language due to the lack of a proven formula for successful reforms in the modern education system (Carjuzaa, 2016).

Family Systems and Health Children

The nurturing system comprises of laid out tribal systems that ensure continuity and harmony within the tribe. The system also aids in the raising of children, and it included the extended family and kin system, traditional healing system and the existing tribal and customary support. Redhorse, 2001, suggests that the existence of the nurturing family system is the principal contributor to the continued existence of the American Indian tribal community even in the midst of all federal pressure. Three great systems maintain the nurturing family system, they include the institutional domain, sustaining, and nurturing networks. All these systems function in ensuring tribe existence, organization, and cooperation. The institutional domain system entails all the tribal political structure, on the other hand, the sustaining system comprises of primary programs like health schools and elderly services though it varies with each tribe.

Lastly, the nurturing system is the one that is always tied geographically to the ancestral origin of the clan /tribe. It consists of the family systems, clan, laws, and customs plus all the political and cultural characteristics like language. Such a system is useful since it serves in addressing some of the issues that face children and their families like lack of identity. It is because the system helps children to know who they are and feel a sense of belonging to a given society in the world. Again, studies also indicate that children who understand their role in the system are more resilient than those who do not have a clue about their social responsibility in their cultural community. Additionally, interacting with family, tribes’ people and by taking part in spiritual practices ensure they have a purposeful life. Children are also said to live a life in the right path if they engage in meaningful interactions with the extended families in balance with the community, and spiritual relationships (Day, 2016).

Children are held to be sacred in many tribal nations including North America. A good example is the Dakota tribal tradition which considers a child to be a form of divine new life. Hence, they refer to them as “wakanyeza” in their tribal language. Additionally, they are accorded respect, never hit or insulted. Again, they are seen as the future tribal society members. It is due to such reason that the concept of raising healthy American Indian children arises. Raising healthy American Indian children refers to the process of safeguarding the medical welfare of the Indian children in the society so that they can live in the standards set by the federal government and compete favorably with other children. The concept is also set to facilitate the restorative practices that are being put in place for the minority groups in America. The idea also enables the American Indian tribes to grow and become stable despite being a minority group. The increased survival rate of the children automatically assures such progress.

The restorative practices are significant since they enhance the existence of the native tribes, especially the American Indians communities. The American Indian communities being one of the smallest groups in the country, they are referred to as the invisible minority. Fortunately, with the progress to restore their population, they may once again rise to reasonable numbers. Additionally, the corrective process serves are an honor and observation of the agreement treaties and trust relationships between the United States government and the tribal nations. Furthermore, studies also indicate that the Native American communities have a dire need for social, economic resource support. They dwell in poverty whereas the other individuals in the country are economically progressing hence, the process of providing additional healthcare services to the tribal nations saves them and the state the direct and indirect loses which may arise (WasteWin, 2016).


Carjuzaa, J. R. (2016). American Indian English Language Learners: Misunderstood and under-served. Journal of Cogent Education, 1-3.

Center for Health and Healing at Mount Sinai. (2014, November 24). Native American. Retrieved from Health andHealing:

Day, P. A. (2016). Raising Healthy American Indian Children: An Indigenous Perspective. In H. N. Weaver, Social Issues in Contemporary Native America: Reflections from Turtle Island (pp. 93-99). New York: Routledge.

Gonzales, P. (2017, January 24). New Book Addresses Traditional, Indigenous Healing Practices. Retrieved from UANews:

Parks, R. K. (1999). Documenting and Maintaining Native American Languages for the 21st Century: The Indiana University Model. In J. C. Reyhner, Revitalizing Indigenous Languages (pp. 59-83). Tucson: Northern Arizona University.

Schomaker, M. S. (2014). The Role of Language in Knowledge Transfer to Geographically Dispersed Manufacturing Operations. Journal of International Management, 55-57.

Stoewen, D. L. (2015). Health and wellness. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 983-984.

WasteWin, W. A. (2016). American Indian Children & U.S. Policy. Tribal Law Journal, 1-16.

November 13, 2023


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