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Cross Cultural Perspectives: The Navajo View on Death and Burial Contrary to public belief, the White Men were not the first settlers of this great land. Before the White Men became the dominating race, the Native American Indians were spread across the landscape…
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Download file to see previous pages The Navajo Indians in particular, have some very specific beliefs and rituals which now pose a problem for their healthcare providers but, thanks to some highly imaginative people and creative execution skills, their religious beliefs and medical science have successfully found a middle ground within which to exist practically side by side. However, in order to understand why the Navajo Indians follow a certain protocol with regards to death and burial, we must first understand the religious belief that their actions are based upon. (North American [Indian] Religions: An Overview) Navajo Indians try to pretend that death does not exist. They do this because they believe that the mere discussion of life threatening illnesses or the slightest negative thought pertaining to death can actually cause any of the two tragic events to happen to them. They have a belief that such acts could actually speed up the dying process for them. These Navajo Indians also have a strong belief in ghosts. Together with that belief is an understanding that the ghosts, because they are now dead and unable to join their friends and family on the physical plain, are now believed to be resentful of the living. Therefore, they believe that there is a strong possibility of some misfortune befalling those acquainted with the dead. The Navajo tribe members who found themselves in direct contact with the deceased faced the most problems which is why they were expected to undergo a tribe specific purification treatment. Some tribesmen, in an effort to avoid such a costly activity tried to bury their dead as quickly and unceremoniously as possible. (“Encyclopedia of Death and Dying”). In January of this year, Dr. Ben Daitz met up with 76 year old Mitzi Begay. Ms. Begay in her old age is a far more evolved and much more open minded member of the Navajo nation. She has a modern understanding of healthcare, hospice care, and dying in relation to their traditional beliefs. By coordinating the efforts of the Fort Defiance Arizona Hospital under her capacity as cross-cultural coordinator for home based programs with the local Navajo communities, the traditional Navajo beliefs about death and dying have managed to find a way to remain relevant in the modern healthcare scenario. Their healthcare professionals have learned how to read the coded words that the elderly Navajo tribesmen use in order to deliver their advanced healthcare directives and do not resuscitate instructions to their care givers (Daitz). Our modern medical ways are seen as strange and funny by the Navajos. Yet, once the likes of Ms. Begay take over the situation and explains to them that the healthcare professionals only want to help make them comfortable and arrange their physical lives before their death, all inhibitions get thrown out the door. The key to unlocking their trust is discuss the complicated matter of death with them using language that they understood or basically, taking what they know and making it fit the modern medical ways. Which is why the service vehicle of Ms. Begay entices those in the community to listen to her. On the side of her vehicle is the following phrase: “When that time comes, when my last breath leaves me, I choose to die in peace to meet Shi’ dy’ in” — the creator. Written in both Navajo and English, it serves to open a discussion about living wills and advance directives. This is a belief further supported by an explanation from bio ethicist James S. Taylor in an ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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