Navajo and Western Medicine

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Navajo and Western Medicine

How to Think About Them 

Utah Navajo Health Systems (UNHS) is dedicated to bringing the best health care practices to its diverse customer base. The people who visit our clinics come from many different backgrounds and so hold a wide variety of beliefs about how to prevent illness, what causes it, who has the most effective procedures, and how to cure it.

Because UNHS serves both on-and-off the reservation, a series of short articles on this website will compare Navajo healing practices to those found in western medicine to show the compatibility between the two and how a patient can choose which type of procedure works best for a particular illness. In future postings, Navajo stories and teachings will be shared about specific illnesses as well as general counsel provided by medicine man Perry Robinson. While ceremonies and medical practices will be discussed, there is no intent to suggest what follows is an exact prescription. Rather, these teachings are given to provide credibility and bring harmony between two systems of healing.

By way of introduction, one must first understand the differences between traditional Navajo beliefs and western medicine. While there are some basic opposing principles between the two that may seem like complete opposites, there are also some wonderful ties that support combining both ways of thinking.

Western Medicine

Imagine two boxes that hold different approaches to healing. One box is marked “Western Medicine” and is filled with the type of practices found in clinics and hospitals. Almost everything in this box is based on science which studies the physical world.

The ultimate goal of science is to examine physical laws that, once understood, can be used to make or fix things in the physical world. By applying these laws that do not change unless the circumstances change, western medicine tries to achieve reproducible, predictable outcomes. Whether it is a heart transplant, diabetes, or appendicitis, a skilled doctor applies his knowledge and tries to obtain positive results. We say “tries,” because there are individual variables found in each person that may not guarantee the desired outcome or cure. The sickness may be too advanced, the underlying laws of its cause may not have yet suggested a cure, or the patient does not follow proper procedures.

Navajo Medicine

In our second box marked “Navajo Medicine,” there are also physical cures as well as spiritual ways of healing, but both are usually based on religious thought and teachings.

Basic to this is the concept that everything in the world was first created spiritually before it was created physically; it holds a power that can either help or hurt an individual, depending upon how it is used; and that a person can form a relationship (k4) with that healing power.

The stories prescribe how to use this power and explain why it is effective.Unlike western medicine, the cure comes through spiritual means—forces that are unseen and whose power can be withheld if a ceremony is not performed correctly, just as with a doctor who does not follow his physical rules and guidelines.One has to accept, that although spiritual forces cannot be seen, they are as real as physical things based in biology, chemistry, and other Anglo subject areas.

There is healing potential in both systems of belief, but neither Western nor Navajo medicine should be evaluated by the other discipline’s rules. The two come together to reach the ultimate goal of healing a person who needs help—and that is why there is medicine.


I am Perry Robinson my clans is Edge Water born for Nakaii’dine. I am from Pinon Arizona born and raised there. I finished high school at Intermountain H.S. in Brigham City Utah in 1974 went to school in Utah State University for a year. I got inducted into military. I was in Marines for 4 years. Worked in construction, as a Boilermaker and iron worker for some years. I slowly worked my way back into schools to get licensed in counselling grandfathered in and a license to do traditional counseling- ceremony. I worked for Navajo Nation behavioral health for 25 years as a traditional practitioner. Retired last year. Started working with UNHS. Now as traditional consultant- practitioner.



Many articles in this section were adapted from, a website for Native Youth by Native Youth