Navajo Nation in the 1970s

In the mid-1970s, I worked as an RN on the Eastern Navajo Agency (as it was known "in those days") in New Mexico. The nursing staff, medical staff and Haataali (Medicine Man) would work together with what I felt to be, mutual respect. We had ceremonies and blessings many times in the hospital. Staff members included people ofAnglo, Navajo and Pueblo ethnicity along with those of various religious beliefs, including a woman who had been a Nun in Africa. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

Navajo Nation in the 1970s

I remember being on one evening when the EMTs brought me a man on a gurney who was known to us. He was being Sung over for his illness. I mid-1970s that the Medicine Man had said to bring him to the hospital because "He needs some IV fluids".

We "tanked him up" and the family was able to return him to his ceremony.

Another time a man suddenly collapsed in his room and died, despite our efforts. His 2 roommates were horrified and packing to leave. We were able to contact a Medicine Man through the hospital/reservation "grapevine" and pooled our dollars to pay for the ceremony needed. It seemed in no time, the Haataali arrived and the ceremony was held in the patient room with a fire in the stainless steel wash basin and patients and staff participation.

An enlightening moment occurred when I was talking with a patient about his illness and providing emotional support. Without hesitation, I asked him if he had consulted a Medicine Man. He looked at me with astonishment and said: "Do you know how much that costs?".

I learned about the number of days for certain ceremonies and that he would have to provide food and shelter for all the attendees, as well as pay the Haataali, usually with sheep.

The University of New Mexico provided an extension course in the Navajo language, which was able to take for credit at our local boarding school. I eventually was able to understand quite a bit and speak enough to get by with the help of my Navajo colleagues.

At first, I had to write down all the words phonetically as I kept a little "cheat book" for various medical situations. I learned the words for certain foods and what was important to eat when one was ill, such as blue cornmeal mush. Most importantly, I learned the proper way to address people of various ages in a manner showing respect. In other words, I would call an elderly woman Shimasunni, My Grandmother, rather than using her name.

I loved my time there, the friends I made and all my varied experiences. I had only planned to stay a year or two, but it became four years. Then I transferred to a reservation in the Northwest and finally left IHS to work in a larger community after two more years.

Immersing oneself in another culture with a mind open to learning rather than imposing one's own beliefs on others is an incredibly enriching experience. I have often thought if life provides another opportunity, I hope I won't be too old to take it.

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wow, that would be such an amazing place to work - thanks for sharing!

Specializes in pure and simple psych.

What a lovely experience. Thanks so much for sharing it.:typing

You embraced the experience and learned a lot. Thanks for sharing with us. Great contribution to this series of essays!