Monica Mayer, Medicine Woman

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Medicine Woman

My name is Monica Mayer, and I'm a family practitioner. Right now we're in Hazen, North Dakota, at the Sakakawea Medical Center, which is just 10 miles east of the Knife River Villages. This medical center here is named after Sakakawea. She was raised and lived among the Hidatsa, and was very instrumental in the successful journey with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific.

I'm a Three Affiliated Tribes enrolled member. My Indian name is Good Medicine, which is Xobadi-zigish in Hidatsa. I'm doing mentorship here at the Sakakawea Medical Center. The program I came out of is the "Indians into Medicine" program.

I've got a very personal interest, not only from the Lewis and Clark medical aspects, from the non-Indian's view of medicine in the past and present, because I am western trained, but I do have a personal interest in the herbs and plants that were used in the Upper Missouri River area for medicinal purposes. And there are several plants that are still used today that were used back in Lewis and Clark's time.

I graduated from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine with a medical doctorate degree in 1995. I always knew I wanted to be a family practitioner, as opposed to being a specialist where I'd have to go to practice in a big urban, metropolitan area.

I've been very interested in herbs and plants that have been used for medicinal purposes, particularly the Upper Missouri River area, our native lands to the Mandans, Hidatsa and Arikara. I hope that by the end of 1999 we will have a full exhibit of the plants, and what their names are, and what their medicinal uses were. The purple coneflower is an herb that is still used today, that was used back in Lewis and Clark's time . . . that we shipped in a box to President Thomas Jefferson for his collection of plants, herbs and specimens.

As a physician, I have found the Lewis and Clark Expedition to be extremely fascinating, from a medical standpoint. When they approached the ancestral villages of the Mandan and Hidatsa, we had an equal ground of practicing medicine with herbs. But I think the advantage that we had was that we approached medicine from a psychological aspect by doing rituals, besides using plants and herbs. We did rituals that were very strong customs, such as sweats, and things that were purifying. And prayer was also used for the psychological well-being of our patients.

One of the first things the people did, upon their arrival, October 26, 1804, was to give them corn, beans and squash. And that was one of the most important things they could do, because diet is a very integral part in our immunity, or your ability to fight off infection. And so, in doing this they contributed quite a bit to the health status which was very important for the expedition to be successful.