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, asks the pivotal question: What does it take to heal a people?
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 10 chapters of Medicine Woman create a narrative spanning generations. Rivers, hills, buttes and desert skies frame intimate stories. Interviews with Joe Starita, author of the companion biography, A Warrior of the People, and Margaret Jacobs, author of White Mother to a Dark Race, provide historical context. Evocative reenactments and animation, along with rare archival images, bring the past to life. Actress Irene Bedard (Inupiat/Metis) reads Doctor Susan’s words from her letters, speeches and journals. Poet and musician Joy Harjo (Mvskoke) narrates the documentary.
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?