Navajo    (NAV-a-hoe)

Lori Arviso Alvard


Lori Alviso Alvord [1958-]
is the first Navajo woman surgeon. Currently she is the associate dean for student and minority affairs and an assistant professor of surgery at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire. Alvord, who grew up on the Navajo reservation near Crownpoint, New Mexico, attended Dartmouth College on a full scholarship. After graduating, she went to Stanford University Medical School and then became a general surgeon at Gallup Indian Medical Center in New Mexico, near her home community. In treating her Navajo patients, she combined high-tech surgical skills with the traditional Navajo worldview called Hózhóni, or ‘walking in beauty.” This belief system, which emphasizes connectedness, sees sickness as the body being out of balance with the mind and spirit. While at Gallup, Alvord brought Navajo philosophy into the operating room. She encouraged the hospital to hire a Navajo medicine man to conduct healing ceremonies.  Alvord feels that physicians and patients can benefit by applying Hózhóni to their lives and to their communities.

Let’s explore holistic healing    In Native American healing, wellness is achieved by balancing mind, body, and spirit. Many non-Indian people are also beginning to see a connection between health and environment, diet, attitude, and happiness. Discuss with the students the Native American philosophy of healing and wellness. Put the categories “mind,” “body,” and “spirit” on a blackboard or poster. Ask the students to list items under each that contribute to health. For example: “mind: finishing your homework or learning something new”; ”body: eating more vegetables’; “spirit: helping a younger sibling get ready for school.” Make two boxes for each category, labeling them “healthy’ and “unhealthy,” and position the boxes below each of the three categories. Have students be “mindful” for a few days by noting their behaviors in relation to the categories, writing them down, and adding them to the appropriate boxes. After a week, open the boxes and discuss the contents with the students.

Let’s investigate different healing modalities    Explain the differences between allopathic medicine (treatments that usually include surgery, drugs, and conventional techniques administered by doctors who usually exclude the patient from decision making) and holistic medicine (treatments that address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of illness, often combining alternative and allopathic treatments and encouraging patient involvement). Divide the class into groups. Have each group prepare a presentation for the class about one of the following topics: various traditional America Indian healing practices, herbology, homeopathy, massage therapy, acupuncture, naturopathy, la’au lapa’au, and lomilomi. In addition, have each group compare the way its research area would treat a specific disease with the way allopathic medicine would treat it. Some examples could be asthma, cancer, depression, ADD, and diabetes. If possible, invite an herbalist to class or go on an herb-identifying walk.  Draw pictures of herbs and list their uses.

Making connections    There are numerous American Indian physicians and healers practicing a variety of different medicines. Have the students research a few and write mini biographies. Some people to consider are: Dr. Joy Dorscher, Ojibway; J. T. Garrett, Cherokee; Dr. Joseph Jacobs, Mohawk; Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, Lakota; Dr. Ted Mala, Iñupiaq; Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Cherokee/Sioux; Dr. John Mokina, Yaqui; Dr. Zinaida Pelkey, Abenaki; Dr. Everett Rhodes, Kiowa; Alice Snow, Seminole; and Maka‘ala Yates, Hawaiian.

Suggested Resources 
American Indian Medicine. Virgil J. Vogel. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

American Indian Healing Arts. E. Barrie Kavasch and Karen Baar. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

Coyote Medicine. Lewis Mehl-Madrona. New York: Scribner, 1997.

The Scalpel and the Silver Bear. Lori Arviso Alvord and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

“Association of American Indian Physicians"
“The Scalpel and the Silver Bear" Book Review, Canku Ota (December 16, 2000).

For an alternate Review of the book, "The Scapel and the Silver Bear"
More about Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord
Navajo physician, Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson
More Navajo information

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Children of Native America Today: An Activity and Resource Guide copyright 2003 Shakti for Children, Inc.
Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.