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 8 Language

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 language is a key cultural component of Native life. Language guides the way that community members view the world and recognize their place in it. It carries generations of wisdom and cultural values that help shape self-awareness and interpersonal relationships. Language strengthens identity and self esteem, and it provides a means to pass on traditional stories and legends. These stories lay out personal and community responsibilities within Native communities. These stories teach people how to behave, heal, and survive in the world. Native languages and stories unify community members. Because of this, you must draw on local cultural knowledge to effectively communicate with your community members. (You can read more about stories in Module 4.)

Your community’s Native languages can be a powerful tool in your HIV/AIDS prevention program.

  • Identify the languages spoken in your community. If there is a Native language, is it unique to your community?
  • Study the widespread stories and legends of your community. What lessons do they teach? What symbols, characters, and names do they use? (For practice, try reading and evaluating answering questions about this Seminole story from Module 4.)
  • Identify how community members pass along information and stories to each other. Are stories written or spoken? Do all community members speak the Native language? Do all community members engage in storytelling?
Discussing Sex

Each Native community has a form of language that is appropriate and respectful for talking about sex. Because sex is a sensitive topic, community-based organizations and community members are most qualified to create HIV prevention materials. You should take extra care to make sure that educational materials are translated and interpreted accurately. Choose the words used in your prevention materials carefully. Make sure the language is appropriate for all ages, genders, and behaviors (including drug users, gang members, etc.). If it is ineffective to create prevention messages that address everyone, you can develop separate materials for these specific focus groups, using words and symbols appropriate for each group.

  • Consider your community’s attitude toward sex. Is it acceptable to discuss sex openly?

  • Study your community’s language surrounding sex and sexuality. What Native words and stories are used to respectfully discuss sexual behavior? Are these words and stories appropriate for all members of your community or only some?