Module 1: Native Cultures

Goal of Module 1: To provide a cultural background for your HIV/AIDS prevention and intervention program.

There are many layers of diversity within any culture. When learning about Native cultures, it is important to acknowledge the differences between various tribes, nations, villages, and islands. These differences can occur among groups within a single geographical region or across various regions. Although it is impossible to learn the unique characteristics of each Native entity, it is possible to recognize and better understand a specific group’s customs, norms, beliefs, and values in order to gain a distinct cultural perspective.

Contents 2 Traditionalism

This module discusses the role of culture in HIV/AIDS prevention, intervention, and care.

It includes information on:

  1. Native Cultural Diversity

  2. Traditionalism

  3. Spiritual and Religious Beliefs

  4. Healing/Healthcare

  5. Worldview

  6. Social Structure

  7. Homelands

  8. Language

  9. Nutrition


Native Americans have a long history on this land. Many aspects of Native culture endure and continue to pass from generation to generation. All Native cultures have changed over time, and some communities are more traditional than others. To some extent, every Native community has been influenced by outsiders. In the Southwestern United States, Native people were colonized by Spain and Mexico. Today, these cultures reflect Spanish and Mexican architecture, food, spirituality, and attitudes about particular concepts, such as sex and alternative genders. In Alaska, certain Native cultures reflect their Russian Orthodox influences. For example, some Aleut, Alutiiq, and Yup’ik peoples observe the Russian Orthodox winter tradition of Starring, during which people travel from house to house carrying a decorated star and singing “koyatkee” or carols.6 In Hawaii, where the Native language originally did not have a written form, Protestant missionaries devised one based on English characters. This Hawaiian alphabet influenced pronunciation and changed the language forever.

  • Consider the level of traditionalism in your community. How much of your community’s culture is traditional and how much is adopted? What are some cultural components that your community has adopted from outside influences?
  • Click here for an interactive diagram.)

  • Identify the outside influences that have shaped your community’s current culture. (The strongest influences are often the closest in location. In general, the more isolated a Native community is from colonizing forces, the more traditional it is.)

6 Alaska Native Heritage Center. Alaskan Russian Orthodox Christmas Starring to be celebrated at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Alaska Native Heritage Center; January 2003. Available at: Accessed February 14, 2007.