Blend Western, Traditional Treatment for Cancer, Hataali Urges

Courtesy photo
Left to right, Doris Tsinnijinnie, Emery Ashley, Lorraine Yazzie and Geri Henry during the patient and caregiver cancer testimonials at the 3rd annual Cancer Survivorship Conference June 22 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock.

Published July 3, 2017

WINDOW ROCK – Steven Begay, a hataali (a traditional Navajo healer), who is also a Navajo Nation Council delegate, is urging Navajos diagnosed with cancer not to limit their care to either Western or traditional treatment.

Begay would like to see more people utilize both, to create a more holistic approach.

Begay gave a presentation that focused on the many barriers to Navajo people utilizing traditional Diné healing with Western health care in cancer treatment. One of the things Begay promoted during his time at the Indian Health Service was integrating traditional Diné healing with Western care. “When I got to Gallup Indian Medical Center, there was kind of a stigma,” he said.
“It was a very government facility. It was a very scientific facility. Just to speak Navajo to one another was really guarded.”

Compare that with today: There is the Office of Native Medicine at GIMC and the Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility that employs traditional healers to help with treatment, translation and cultural sensitivity.

Still, barriers persist. One of the first barriers Begay said he encountered was a traditional Navajo teaching that says, “Always watch how you speak because what you speak happens,” Begay said. He learned that many Navajo people didn’t go to the hospital because they believed that Western care providers were making them sick. “They say, still, ‘(Western providers) are the ones witching me. They are the ones wishing me ill because they spoke it,’” Begay explained.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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