Meet the first Native American doctor and the courageous women following in her footsteps.
About the Show
She was America’s first Native doctor, breaking barriers of race and gender to heal her traumatized people. A century later, Native women from many tribes follow in the footsteps of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte. How can they hope to mend wounds of body and spirit that history has created? And what have they learned about new ways of healing that can help us all? Medicine Woman documents their stories.
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On a windy fall day on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Wehnona Stabler goes home to burn some sage.
“I say a little prayer [to] get me through the day, because I don’t know what I’m going to face when I go through those hospital doors.”
As the director of this Indian hospital, Stabler battles diabetes, meth addiction, STDs and teenage suicide. Often, she dreams of floating down the Missouri River to her home on the Omaha reservation where one of her heroes, Dr. Picotte, was born.
Picotte (1865-1915) was America’s first Native doctor. As a child, Picotte watched an Indian woman die because the white doctor never showed up: “It was only an Indian and it did not matter.”
So Picotte became a doctor herself, graduating first in her class from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She returned home to a tribe ravaged by disease and alcohol and devoted the rest of her life to healing wounds of body and spirit. A century later, Native women from many tribes, like Dr. Stabler, followed in her footsteps.
In modern-day South Dakota, Dr. Lucy Reifel walks through the doors of her mobile clinic on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. She gives shots, weighs infants and talks to mothers about the virtues of breastfeeding. Then she goes home to her oldest child, a young man who needs constant care.
Reifel’s son, Casey, was born with fetal alcohol syndrome to a mother who had been drinking throughout her pregnancy. Thirty years ago, Reifel adopted him. “He’s a lot smarter than what people give him credit for,” Reifel said. “And you know he’s enriched our family and changed the family dynamics of our children because he is the oldest. He is the oldest and yet he’s the youngest.”