Online Program

How Western Regulation Impede the Grieving Process of Alaska Natives

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sharon Susook, Department of Community Health Services, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, AK

Background: The Koyukon Athabascans are an indigenous group from interior Alaska and they have a deep respect for their dead and prefer to care for the deceased in a traditional manner. Their firmly held beliefs are often tested when the process is interrupted by other agencies that have no understanding of the Koyukon culture. Delays from urban funeral homes and the State Medical Examiner hinder the grieving process as well as rigid mortuary policies that obstruct the Koyukon from practicing their cultural burial rites. Methods: Qualitative research was conducted using Kaltag as a case study. There were two focus groups and five individual interviews with participants, who were Koyukon Athabascan, age 40+, had good knowledge of Koyukon culture, and participated in a funeral. Results: Western regulations impede the grieving process of Alaska Natives by denying them quick access to the deceased which is vital to their culture. Conclusions: Delays interfere with the grieving process and cultural practices which compounds grief and keeps the bereaved from returning to a reordered role in life. Recommendations for improvement include hiring a second medical examiner in Fairbanks, not delaying remains due to a holiday or mortuary hours, refrain from removing deceased Koyukon from the village unless necessary, creating a cultural guide for funeral homes and a guide to help Alaska Natives navigate through the process of bringing their deceased loved ones home, and improve communication from the State Medical Examiner and Alaska State Troopers.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Diversity and culture
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Differentiate between Western and Alaska Native/American Indian beliefs surrounding death and dying, explain the reason for Alaska Native/American Indian discontent with urban funeral homes and the State Medical Examiner, and identify methods for improving the mortuary process for Alaska Natives/American Indians.

Keyword(s): Native Americans, Research

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am Koyukon Athabascan and I have studied my culture surrounding death and dying and compared them to Western beliefs; my findings determine that Western regulation impede the grieving process of Alaska Natives. I have dealt with a culturally insensitive mortuary regarding a deceased loved one and would like to see some changes to the system that would require greater cultural knowledge of Alaska Native burial rites. I believe respect and understanding are key.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.