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News | Nov. 4, 2021

Commentary: Beauty, Balance and Harmony in Native American traditions

By Patricia Hampton Native American/Alaskan Native Special Emphasis Program Committee, DLA Land and Maritime

The 2021 theme for Native American/Alaskan Native Heritage Month emphasizes the rich traditions that form the foundations of social development combined with spirituality as the life blood of a life of resilience. This narrative represents one in a series of articles celebrating Native American culture. We begin with the Ndee term Gozho meaning beauty, balance and harmony. Ndee comes from an Apache word meaning “the people,” and is one of the names Apache people use to refer to themselves in their own language. In the 2009 article Theory and Practice Understanding Native American Healing Practices by Christopher Rybak and Amanda Decker-Fitts, they stated, “Native American healing practices exemplify key cultural perspectives and influence the identity development of Native American individuals.”

An example of healing practices is the use of yellow cattail pollen for protection. Although the use of cattail pollen is largely outside the mainstream of Western psychological tenets, they can have significant impact on the sense of well-being for Ndee communities. Native American cultural specialists have demonstrated that traditions and perspectives similar to those associated with cattail pollen are necessary for continued community well-being. Further these traditions reinforce and amplify the past as present, which immortalize the cyclical and reciprocal nature of the ways Ndee communities have related to Nígosdzán – Mother Earth. 

This tenet is both practiced and passed down in tradition as evidenced in archaeological research on Ndee lands affirming that healing and promoting health is crucial to overall individual and community well-being. The sacred pollen of the cattail has been used by the Apaches for many ceremonies including the Puberty Ceremonial, Blessing and Cradleboard ceremonies, and during special church services or weddings.  Cattail pollen is also eaten, as are many of the other parts of this unusual, but edible plant.

Editor’s Note: The National American Indian Heritage Month observance has its roots in Public Law 99-471. Over several years the observance was moved to different months but in 1990 Public Law 101-343 set the monthlong observance in November. Please note that the title of this observance varies between agencies. The Department of Defense’s Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute uses the title set forth in the Public Laws, and that title is used at the beginning of this article to signify the DOD-wide observance. By Presidential Proclamation, the month is also observed as National Native American Heritage Month. In 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act extending citizenship to all U.S.-born American Indians not already covered by treaty or other federal agreements that granted such status. The act was later amended to include Alaska Natives, and as such, the month is also recognized as Native American/Alaskan Native Heritage Month.