Medicine Woman, interweaves the lives of Native American women healers of today with the story of America’s first Native doctor, Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915). The one-hour PBS documentary produced by and about women, features historic and contemporary profiles of female healers, starting with Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915) of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska.
Doctor Picotte studied medicine at a time when few women dared. She graduated first in her class and returned home to serve as doctor to her Omaha tribe. It was a heartbreaking, violent time but she never gave up hope. The reverberations from her shattered world continue today as Native Americans suffer from alarming rates of disease, suicide and mental illness. Like Susan, these modern day medicine women from the Omaha, Lakota and Navajo tribes are fighting a war, sharing a confident, even joyful approach to the work of healing.
The 11 chapters of Medicine Woman create a narrative spanning generations. Rivers, hills, buttes and desert skies frame intimate stories. Interviews with writers like Joe Starita, soon to publish a biography of Doctor Susan, and Margaret Jacobs, author of White Mother to a Dark Race, provide historical context. Simple reenactments and animation, along with rare archival images, take us into Susan’s frontier world. Her voice, read by a Native actress from Susan’s letters, speeches and journals, brings her story to life.
Susan’s fight for self-determination echoes down the years into the lives of today’s medicine women. They struggle, as she did, to serve their people, to raise their families, and to hold onto their tribal identities. How can they hope to mend the wounds of body and spirit that history has created? And what have they learned about new ways of healing that can help us all?