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Native American Veterans - Storytelling for Healing

Published: October 3, 2012
Native Veterans

The Role of Ceremony in Service and Healing

Collection of medicine objects: goard, tobacco, sage, and medicine bag.Traditionally, indigenous cultures understood the importance of spiritual balance for individual and community well-being. These cultures understood ceremonies were part of the ongoing fabric of the community and existed to prepare, protect, and heal the individual as he or she journeyed through life’s stages. Naming, puberty and warrior ceremonies all had similar themes: the individual for whom the ceremony was being held was entering a new phase in which they would give up the ‘old’ roles and responsibilities and embrace a set of new roles and responsibilities.

Warrior ceremonies were intended to protect the individual in battle and to instill within them characteristics and values associated with his or her tribe’s warrior tradition. The tribe knew the experiences the warrior would encounter would threaten his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, and that cleansing, healing and letting go ceremonies were needed to counterbalance these experiences. Tribal members understood that ceremonies had to take place in order to help warriors manage the transition from warrior roles back to those they had previously held in their communities: the roles of parents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, and community leaders. They felt that failing to perform these ceremonies was detrimental not only for the warrior, but also for his family and tribe. Today, many native people believe their communities continue to experience the effects associated with participation in past conflicts, and failure to provide ceremonies for cleansing, healing, and letting go.

While many tribes today are not practicing these ceremonies, there are still some tribes that do. Two examples of tribes that continue such traditions are the Zuni Pueblo and the Navajo (through the Enemy Way Ceremony). Other tribes are attempting to revive these ceremonies, trying to overcome the challenges that come with not having done them for so long. One recent Iraqi Veteran stated, “People are afraid of doing the ceremonies wrong, because they don’t know exactly how it was done in the past; but what’s important is the intentions the people have when they do the ceremony.”


Last Reviewed: October 4, 2016