On a windy fall day on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Wehnona Stabler goes home to burn some sage. As the director of an 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 was America’s first Native doctor. As a child, Picotte watched an Indian woman die because the white doctor never showed up. 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 the body and spirit. A century later, Native women from many tribes followed in her footsteps.
In 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.
Meanwhile, in Page, AZ, near Monument Valley, Dr. Lori Arviso Alford scrubs her hands in preparation for surgery. Soon, she’ll walk through the double-doors to operate on her first patient of the day. As a graduate of the prestigious Stanford University Medical School, Alvord is the first member of the Navajo tribe to become a surgeon.
When a way of life is shattered, it’s often the women who become the healers. Today’s medicine women struggle, as Picotte did, to serve their people, to raise their families, and to hold on to their tribal identities.