The medicine way: Native American women's understanding and "doing" of medicine

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Marjorie DeVault


Native American, Women, Medicine, Rituals

Subject Categories

Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Race and Ethnicity | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Welfare | Sociology


This research is an ethnographic study of Native American women's understanding and doing of medicine. It entails a combination of unstructured in-depth interviews with eleven women from seven different nations and long-term participant observation from 1992 through 2002. From this research, a study of the everyday emerged, where the familiar and the commonsensical categories of health, healing and medicine were challenged and questioned.

The interviews reveal principles of Native American medicine that are intertwined with the beliefs and philosophy of community and nature (all our relations); past, present and future (continuity of past to present); and the mind, body and spirit of an individual (balance, harmony and being awake). The women reveal an ancient cultural consciousness of health, healing and medicine through a social relations paradigm that continues today. Healing and medicine do not occur from the outside in a didactic form but are vehicles that transverse an array of relationships and responsibilities with spirituality, the earth/nature and community. "Doing medicine" includes thanks, prayers, gifts, kindness, and generosity. Medicine and the medicine ways are a complex belief system that demands a balanced, harmonious and awake existence for all and with all our relations.

As a Native American researcher, I provide critical perspectives and add to the current methodological and epistemological practices that interrogate cultural power relations. This research demonstrates the invaluable contributions that are made through an insider relationship that reflects the values of Native Scholarship: being humble, respectful and ethical.

The analysis contributes to the Sociology of Health literature. This research builds upon U.S. third-world feminist theoretical understandings and practices of differential consciousness by discussing and incorporating an indigenous consciousness (worldview) that has existed prior to dominant ideologies. By uncovering, discovering and recovering the Native American women's situated and subjugated knowledges, there is a (re)visioning of health, healing and medicine. Overall, this research demonstrates the importance in (re)writing Native American women's lives.


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