Colleges of medicine host traditional blessing ceremonies

Aug. 30, 2023
An older man in a traditional Native American designed shirt touches the forehead of a young Native American woman with an eagle feather.

Carlos Gonzales, MD, FAAFP, blesses second-year medical student, Angela Monetathchi of the Comanche Tribe, with the smoke from sacred herbs and an eagle feather wand during the annual College of Medicine – Tucson Tree Blessing Ceremony.

Both University of Arizona colleges of medicine hosted traditional Native American blessing ceremonies in August to welcome students, faculty and staff to the new academic year and to show support and promote community among Indigenous and non-Indigenous attendees.

The ceremony at the College of Medicine – Tucson is a traditional Native American blessing ceremony and a tree planting to honor those who after passing away donated their bodies to science. Medical students from both colleges of medicine learn the basics of human anatomy through the College of Medicine – Tucson Willed Body Program.

The Tucson ceremony, which was started 12 years ago, is led by Carlos Gonzales, MD, FAAFP, assistant vice president of Indigenous affairs at the UArizona Global MD Program and a descendent of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

“I started doing the ceremony at the request of two Native American students who wished to be blessed before working on the willed body they were assigned,” Gonzales said. “Other students heard about this blessing and asked for similar blessings. Through the ceremony students learn to respect and thank the willed body donors. It is also a way to clear the students of negative energy and replace it with positive energy as they start their second year of medical school.”

The annual event, known as the Tree Blessing Ceremony, took place in the Dr. Norman Koelling Willed Body Memorial Garden. The garden was created to “honor and esteem those who have supported science, medicine and education through the ultimate contribution of their body.” After the Tree Blessing Ceremony, second-year medical students planted a tree, each taking a turn shoveling dirt into the hole. Ashes from the herbs burned during the ceremony were mixed with the dirt.

The ceremony hosted by the College of Medicine – Phoenix was organized by the college’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The ceremony was led by Miguel Flores, Jr., a Native American traditional healer and spiritual leader for more than 30 years. He is a member of the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham tribes.

“It sets the tone to the students that they are not alone in their academics, and there are people that are here willing to support them,” Flores, Jr. said. “The ceremony helps ground us and set up the space with a good mind, heart and spirit.”

Read more about the College of Medicine – Phoenix ceremony on their website.