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Culturally Relevant Best Practices


12 Wisdom Steps Program Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving 

Description: The Medicine Wheel and 12 Step interpretations were developed by White Bison, based on the Teachings of the Medicine Wheel, the Cycle of Life and the Four Laws of Change. The basic premises are:

  • All native cultures believe in a Supreme Being.
  • We believe in the Elders as a guiding force.
  • We believe all tribal nations are different from each other.
  • We believe that alcohol is destroying us and we want to recover.
  • We believe there is a natural order running the Universe.
  • We believe our traditional ways were knowledgeable about the natural order.
  • A spiritual person is one who screws up every day and keeps coming back to the Creator.
  • Those who walk this road will find that our thoughts must change to the way Warriors think.

Tribes Using Practice: Toiyabe Indian Health Project MSPI


Annual Powwows (many name and emphasis variations across the projects: including Honoring Our Sisters, Osage Nation)

Description: Powwows are celebrations, social gatherings and friendly dance competitions which include the sacred traditions found in the coming together of people. The circle in most dances represents the circle of unity, the cycle of life, with dancers often following the clockwise pattern of the sun. Some of the regalia and/or ornaments signify special events or honors in a person's life, special religious traditions or symbols rooted in legend. Several Tribes hold powwows in conjunction with Tribal health fairs and projects use these venues to outreach, educate and engage community members about their respective initiatives (MSPI, DVPI, SACDM, etc.).

Tribes Using Practice: Fort Thompson Health Center DVPI


Ceremonial Tepee Construction (with ceremonial leader)

Description: Prevention and esteem-building practice for MSPI participants

Tribes Using Practice: Absentee Shawnee MSPI


Cultural, traditional healing activities (see Traditional activities, below, for expanded list of recovery, healing and prevention activities used across many projects)

Description: Such practices are used to help individuals bolster self-resiliency, cope with domestic violence, and deal with unresolved grief and trauma through culture-based healing practices. The array of practices and activities in use vary by Tribal affiliation(s) and also manifest regional differences.

Tribes Using Practice: Narragansett Indian Health Center DVPI


Doorway to a Sacred Place guide and training curriculum

Description: Doorway to a Sacred Place is a culturally responsive guide for Alaska Native peoples. It was developed focusing on the use of traditional practices, and may be used to address critical incidents in rural communities. The guide and corresponding training deliver information related to four traditional healing strategies. Each tribe may adapt or modify the information in a way that best fits their local culture or community:

  • The Talking Circle: a technique that allows people to learn about themselves and their connection to all living things
  • Teaching Circles: a technique that allows a facilitator and a group of individuals to share information on various topics, including substance abuse
  • Body Energy Work and Korean Hand Therapy: techniques that help individuals "listen to the body" and facilitate the "releasing of blockages" within the body
  • Song, Dance, Drumming, and Storytelling: essential and common components of the learning and healing process within Alaska Native tribal communities

Tribes Using Practice: MSPI Alaska Native Tribal Health [ANTHC] Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC)


Drum Circle (see article about drum circles and drug/alcohol/suicide intervention and prevention) Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving 

Description: A drumming circle or a drum circle is a group of individuals who are creating and sharing a rhythmical, melodious and a harmonious experience. No experience is necessary. The primary instruments used in a drum circle are hand held drums, but other instruments may also be used as well. … Participants form a circle to play their instruments–they may stand, sit in a chair on sit on the ground. Drumming circles may be held indoors, such as at holistic fairs or outdoors such as at pow-wows. …

Tribes Using Practice: Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium MSPI


Gathering of Native Americans (GONA)

Description: GONA is a three-day youth substance abuse prevention curriculum that is based on four core principles of Belonging, Interdependence, Mastery, and Generosity. The GONA provides workshops focused on understanding historical trauma and facilitates open discussions among youth about the current state of substance abuse in the community. The GONA curriculum provides the framework for sensitive discussions and activities and is integrated with local rituals, customs, and practices to provide healing support. The GONA has been implemented widely throughout Indian Country and is often uniquely adapted to address other health related topics including suicide, bullying, and violence. Further, adult GONAs have been increasing in frequency as the curriculum promotes healing and sharing among community members. Although no center exists to support training trainers in facilitating the GONA, the founder of the curriculum provides training to interested communities.

Tribes Using Practice: N/A


Healing Shawl Project (Local PP)

Description: Project team members wanted victimized women to feel comfort when testifying in court, so the shawls symbolize strength and empowerment. Shawl colors, purple, silver, yellow, and navy, represent child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. The shawls will be presented to the District Attorney's office and the victim witness coordinator, and will be hung next to a framed story.

Tribes Using Practice: Cherokee Nation SANE/SAFE/SART DVPI


Indigenous Wellness Research Institute curriculum (PP) Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving 

Description: Curriculum of healing and wellness using experiential elements (e.g., walk part of the Trail of Tears), tribal history, and original knowledge of health.

Tribes Using Practice: Project Holitopa Choctaw Nation of OK DVPI


Meditations with Native American Elders: The Four Seasons

Description: From progress report: Use of the Elders' daily mediations augment the other PBEs in use (e.g., Sources of Strength, 12 Step, White Bison curricula)

Tribes Using Practice: Prairie Band of Potawatomi

Késhjéé (Shoe Game) Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving 

Description: The Shoe Game, Késhjéé', is centuries old and not a "game." The sacred Navajo ceremony tells and shows the story of how the cycle of day and night came to be… Késhjéé', as a lattice of choices, represents life and the fact that the natural order of things cannot be changed. Not every choice can be correct, but the lessons are learned and experience is gained. Neither lying nor cheating can change the outcome.


Space Cleansing Rituals Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  (often coincides with Area Clearing/House Blessing).

Description: Cleansing is often achieved through smudging ceremonies, where herbs are burned and participants take the smoke in their hands and rub or brush it over the body. The three plants most frequently used in smudging are sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. Space Clearing rituals infuse new spaces with positive energy or cleanse an environment of negative energies that can cause subconscious day-to-day discomfort. Almost every culture has some form of tradition regarding space clearing. Some call it a "house blessing" or house warming. Tribal projects sometimes host a grand opening/space clearing/house blessing to welcome in new energies as they implement their behavioral health interventions and activities.

Tribes Using Practice: Choctaw DVPI/SACDM