Nebraska Honors First Native Doctor With Bronze Sculpture

April 1, 2021, 8:23 a.m. ·

The bronze statue will be unveiled on Oct. 10, Indigenous People's Day (Photo Courtesy Benjamin Victor and Karen Nalow).

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An Idaho-based artist is creating a public sculpture of the first Native American doctor in the U.S. Last week, the Nebraska Capitol Environs Commission approved the sculpture by Benjamin Victor to be placed at Centennial Mall and M Street in Lincoln this fall. Lincoln local Larry Small donated the funding for the sculpture.

As a child in the 1870’s, Susan La Flesche Picotte saw a sick, elderly Native American woman die because the local doctor refused to visit her. That moment led Picotte to become a doctor. At 24, she received her medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and returned to the Omaha tribe. Benjamin Victor said he’s honored to complete Dr. Susan’s sculpture.

"For my depiction of the Dr. Susan sculpture, she's shown getting her horses ready, coming out of the barn, to go help people at 5:30 a.m. in the freezing cold, 20 below zero, with her doctor bag in one hand, and pulling that shawl around her shoulders in the other," he said. "Just to show that steadfast work ethic that she had and the will to help others."

Dr. Susan treated hundreds of patients over 1,000 square miles of open prairie until she died in 1915.

Executive Director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs Judi gaiashkibos wanted to dedicate a sculpture to Dr. Susan since the Standing Bear sculpture was placed at the mall in 2017. The Ponca Tribe and Santee Sioux member said native women should be celebrated since they’re often invisible in America.

"Dr. Susan was a human being and a citizen of the Omaha nation," she said. "But, even after she built her hospital in 1913, she died in 1915 and wasn't a citizen of the United States of America... Native people didn't become citizens until 1924."

gaiashkibos said Dr. Susan was a cultural mediator, healer, and one of America’s unsung heroes. She’s also working on restoring the native doctor’s hospital in Walthill. gaiashkibos hopes the sculpture will encourage people to learn more about the healer’s story.

"I especially like the quote that we are having on the bronze piece," she said. "And the quote is, ‘I shall always fight good and hard, even if I have to fight alone.’ And I think many women can relate to that and I certainly can."

The sculpture will be unveiled on Oct. 10, Indigenous People’s Day, but there will be an open house from June 10 to 17 at the Jayne Snyder Trails Center in Lincoln for people to see the clay sculpture on Dr. Susan’s birthday.