Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Project Jukebox Survey

Help us redesign the Project Jukebox website by taking a very short survey!

Rita Blumenstein
Rita Blumenstein

Rita Pitka Blumenstein was interviewed on March 11, 1986 or 1987 by William Schneider and Jan Steinbright (Jackson) possibly in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this short interview, Rita talks about feeling and hearing things from inside her mother's womb, how she came to have a gift for healing, and beginning to heal at an early age. She also talks about using her gift carefully, why she stopped practicing healing for a time, and how she came to see it as a positive gift and began to use her healing hands again.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 87-33

Project: Ethnobotany, Ethnomedicine and Traditional Healing
Date of Interview: Mar 11, 1986
Narrator(s): Rita Blumenstein
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Jan Steinbright Jackson
Transcriber: Karen Brewster
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Ethnobotany Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.



Feeling and hearing things while in her mother's womb

Earliest childhood memories starting at six months old

Having steady footsteps as a three year-old

The influence of praise upon her life

Coming to understand that she had a gift for healing, and healing her mother's wounds

Using her healing gift carefully

Being misunderstood and not practicing her healing gift

Seeing her gift as a positive and using her hands for healing

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


BILL SCHNEIDER: Today is March 11th, and we have the pleasure today of talking with Rita Blumenstein. And Rita is from Tununak (on Nelson Island, Alaska) and she's been here all week working with Jan Steinbright. And this recording, at least at this point, is going to be made just for Rita and the people she wants to share it with and for Jan and her work.

So Rita, thanks for coming down here and I've enjoyed chatting with you and getting to know you a little bit. And today we're going to talk about a part of -- a part of your life that you remember. Is that correct?


BILL SCHNEIDER: So whenever you're ready to start, go ahead.

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: In 1935, I was planted into my mother's womb, and you have nine months in your mother's womb. On the six month of my life in my mother's womb, I start to feel or hear my mother's feelings. And I could even feel my mother's food, what she eat and -- and however she feels.

But she start talking to me on my sixth month in her womb. And whenever she's going to go somewhere, she's going to do hard work, she talks to me about that.

And then if she did something wrong, and we go to somebody's house and somebody talk about something bad, about ills about other people, and she'd -- we'd come home and she'd say, "I'm sorry you had to be there and you heard that."

And I could feel those, but -- then when she eat something and she has heartburn or something and she's not good for me or something, she would say, "I'm sorry I ate that because it was so good." And things like that. And then I forget.

In 1936, July 26, I was born and -- and went along and one day I heard -- I was in this room, I woke up or something, and there was -- in the room, there was bed over there and the stove over there. Bed over here. My mother sitting next to me laying down or something.

My grandfather over there on that bed and he said -- I'll say it in English: "Daughter, give me needle." And I forgot about that.

And then I grow up. When I grow up, doing that -- I don't know when, I mention to my mother when I became adult, she almost -- she -- she couldn't say anything for a long time, and she said, "You were only six months old when that happened." And along that time.

And I say," I don't know how old I was, but I was still a baby. I didn't walk yet." I saw my aunt come home from somewhere. She had a fur coat on, and there was an old lady sitting over there on the floor, and her back -- her elbows were on her knees and she was talking and she was very old. To me she was very old. But that was my great grandmother.

My mother said I was -- Well, she lived to be, I don't know how old, but she -- I was six years old when she died.

Anyway, when I was a year old, I would remember some things, but I don't remember very much of those. Maybe because I wasn't interested in the -- first year, second year.

Three years old, I began to -- I know very well my uncle and my aunt, which is -- My uncle was ten years older than me and my aunt -- my aunt was twelve years older than me.

And they would take me outside and I have new mukluks and first day of the snow when I was a year old, two years old or something, I don't know, they would let me walk on the snow and laugh.

And when they were -- letting me walk -- they -- they hold me in my hand and I walk. And my -- they talk about my footprints. Still my aunt still talks about my footprints that -- And then I --

BILL SCHNEIDER: What did she say about your footprints?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: That -- that they weren't like little kids' footprints. They were like -- they were very -- they weren't like baby's footprints. They were like, whatever you call it. They were steady like -- They weren't falling all over, when my first steps. And they would brag about that.

And I think my life for today -- I mean today, my life comes from those praises. That everything I did was praised, either from my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts and uncles.

All those praises, I have never forget. And from those praises, I learned. From praises. Bad things, I never forget. Same thing.

And I used to tell that to my mother. I was three years old, and I tell her about those things. And first thing, they tell you stories at night.

My grandmother -- I'd go to my grandmother, same thing, she tells me stories at night. What happened long ago, and what's going on or something like that. They would tell stories like that.

And my mother would do the same thing. If I did something or if I get something for her, she praises me. Everything. I never done anything bad. Even if I did bad, it's alright but I can do it a little better next time. That's my life.

JAN STEINBRIGHT: Rita, you mentioned from -- from very early on you had certain gifts. And at one point in your life, you realized those gifts could be used for healing.

Did these gifts result in praise also? The healing gifts?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: Could be. All those praises, I look at them as cleansing. I mean, the gifts, how you use them.

Everybody -- my mother used to tell me, "Everybody got a gift. But they got to know how to use it." I mean you've got to use 'em nicely. Don't use them in anger. Never use them in anger.

But I didn't know what my gifts were.

JAN STEINBRIGHT: How did you find out what your gifts were?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: Okay, I was four years old and I was born in July, this was in October. My aunt and I went to my first Halloween party I know -- I really saw. You know, Halloween party. They had all kinds of streamers in the schoolhouse.

I was four years old. And I observed everything. I tried, you know, the little kid's stuff and I -- along with them.

And my mother went fishing, and she also gathered in October, she -- that's the time she used to gather greens that was in the pond that was frozen over, and they’re poking out the tops. They're poking out the -- that's the ones she used to gather in winter -- falltime for soups. Fish soups or whatever. Soups.

And she also went tom cod fishing up the river or trout fishing. I don't know what fishing she went to.

But, after the Halloween party, we came down to my house, our house, walked in there and my mother was moaning and groaning. The dogs had mauled her.

And she had -- The dogs used to be in string, in the chains, and each dog had their own thing. And the anchor, one of the anchors, came off and then they mauled my mom and tangled her with the chains. And then she got bitten by a couple of dogs or something.

And she -- The fangs go on her legs like this in. And especially right here in the tummy and down the legs. Right here.

And there was few fangs and she was moaning and groaning. And she had a nightgown on and it was ripped all the way down.

And I was -- I went up to the bed, and my mom was there and I went over to look at her and she was moaning and crying. And my mother was, I think, twenty-four years old at that time. And she was groaning and moaning, and "Ahhh." You know like that.

And all of a sudden, I felt my hands. I looked at my hands, they were glowing. Like they were glowing. They were red and glowing or something.

And they want to go to my mom. So I said, "What my hands want to do, anything." Touch my mom. Went over her like that. And when I did that I felt real heavy thing coming up, real quick, just like rushing in. And something come out of me like that, and something come back to me, but it was heavy.

So, four year old girl got onto the bed -- on the floor. I got up and I shake my hand 'til that feeling -- funny feeling came out. I got up there, I do the same thing. It came up lower.

Everytime I do that, I go down there. When it stops, do the same thing 'til it comes to my finger tips. My mom was sleeping the time that icky feeling was into my wrist. She was sleeping, but I keep doing that.

And -- and finally Dr. Lanson from Bethel came five days later, and they took my mom to somewhere. Took her away to Bethel, I guess. And the only place.

Plane comes once a month, but that was a special time that plane came to get my mom. And I didn't miss her. I don't know, maybe I just blacked out and I'm just a little girl again? But I don't remember.

But when she came back, I heard this talk. It was the doctor said, "The two dogs had rabies, but we can't figure out why your -- why her wounds are not -- why her wounds are clean." That's how I remember that part.

JAN STEINBRIGHT: So, Rita after you realized that you had a part in -- in healing your mother, did this become a common thing for you to do? Did you do this often?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: No, but my mother always used to -- actually she never told me exactly what, but she used to tell me that I was a -- I was her gift. And "I have to take good care of you. You ask as many questions you want, and I will give them to you as much as I could."

But I always asked a question 'til it didn't have any more answer. And I couldn't figure out why I have frustrations. When somebody asks me, I get mad. And my mother never get mad. I mean maybe she gets mad, but she never show it.

She just answer everything with loving, instead of like I do. I don't know. She never say that.

But, when I -- she used to say that I shouldn't dwell on 'em. That's one thing she told me. "Whatever you do, you do it when it comes, but don't dwell on 'em. Don't practice it. Don't dwell on it. Don't dwell on it. Don't learn it."

Okay, then I don't do anything about it, because people -- When I was -- the young -- my age, and I do a little ahead of them all the time. I learned in school a little bit faster than them, and they get jealous of me, they beat me up or something.

But my mother used to say, "Don't beat back. Don't fight 'em back." But I could have used whatever I have, but I never use it because she -- she keep saying, "Don't use them back." But I could have done that to them, but I didn't.

But my mother used to say, "Whatever, use them when they are needed." I think I use them a couple of times, but I got called -- which I don't like: "shaman," "aŋakłuq" or "medicine man."

I don't like those words, because it -- I'll tell you why. I never told you, but I told you a little bit about -- I want to be -- I want this on this tape.

You -- If I tell you about -- I told you a little about molecules, dust, and maybe -- I have no word for it. If you feel the -- you can feel the heat from people or something.


RITA BLUMENSTEIN: The energy. Sometimes they have bad vibes, you know. Sometimes they have good feelings. Okay.

Sometimes in the air, there's molecules and there's some other things, the dust. You could -- if you could feel that, look at all the things that you breathe, the dust and you can't see it.

Look at all the people, the vibes that's it's like dust. You don't -- It's come out from that person.

If it's anger, it's molecules. Hurts. You can -- If it's dust, you can't feel it. But bad things that come out from that person is the dust. You don't feel it, but you breathe it. You -- you got -- You understand what I say?


RITA BLUMENSTEIN: Okay, the heat. When it comes from the sun, you feel good. Then when it comes from the person, the feelings, makes you feel good. That's the sun. That's the healing. Feel that? JAN STEINBRIGHT: Hm-mm.

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: Okay, I didn’t do that because people call me that -- that when people say "aŋakłuq," "shaman," "shaman," whatever. "Medicine man," it sounded like dust. JAN STEINBRIGHT: The bad kind?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: They didn't mean it, but you could feel it. Because they didn't see it. They didn't --

Okay? And I didn’t see the -- I didn't do any healing. I didn't do -- even when my hands want to do it, I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to offend somebody. And I didn't want to be called that, because I don’t want them to laugh at me, make fun of me.

'Cause they did that because they didn't understand it. And if I did it, they think it's -- it made them happy making fun of me, but it didn't make me feel good.

And if I did it at that time, with that feeling, then I'd give out bad vibes. Okay. That's the reason my mother told me, "Don't do it when you don't feel good about it."

At that time, that -- that cycle from my three years old to -- my four years to 1976, I didn't do it because of that. But my hands suffer because I want to do it.

JAN STEINBRIGHT: And when your hands were hurting so much in 1976?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: No, 19 -- all those times from 1960's. 1960's start hurting.

JAN STEINBRIGHT: 1960s. But when you started to feel good about these gifts again, in 1976?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: '76, yeah. July 1976. JAN STEINBRIGHT: What -- RITA BLUMENSTEIN: July 26, 1976.

JAN STEINBRIGHT: What precipitated that? Why did you start to feel that these were positive gifts?

RITA BLUMENSTEIN: Well, I have to tell you, I -- to me I didn't -- Old ways is the religion for my culture. Old ways. We believe in goodness. Goodness, honesty, purity. That's what we -- Cleanliness, too. That's what the ceremonies and the -- and the steambaths are. Those.

Okay, water, we clean. The spirit, we clean. Goodness, we clean. Okay, happiness, clean. Okay.

We rotate like ocean. We give, take, give, take, and the world goes round. Your head is round, your heart is round, your hat is round, your house is round. Okay.

But you go -- you take from ocean, you take -- take it, then you give back the bones. That's spirit. Okay.

The seal, you take it -- the seal from the ocean. You take the bladder back, hoping that it comes back. Okay, the more you give, the more you have friends. That's the same spirit.

Okay, when I was -- in 1976, 1976. 1960's -- 1959, I became a Bahá'í and that's when I stopped that. I wasn't going to use my hands if it's from devil, because I was told that whatever I do is from devil.

1976, I went to pilgrimage, because I became a Bahá'í. And I went to pilgrimage and I asked them, "If it's from devil whatever I do, I'm going to ask."

But all the things I wrote down to ask question about that, it was asked by a pilgrim or told by whoever's speaking. And I didn't ask one question.

And they mentioned in there one of my questions was, "How about what is -- what do I have? Where does it come from? What do I do with it? Is it from devil?"

They said, "Love is healing." They said, "Power is healing." The gifts -- what, you know -- your -- the gifts is -- the gift -- the born -- the one you're born with is a gift.

And they didn't say "shaman." They didn't say "medicine men." They dldn't say "aŋakłuq" or anything.

Afterwards, I talked to the person that talked about it, and he -- he told me he's a doctor. He's a medical doctor. And he give me a big hug and he says -- took my hands and he says, "If I didn't have to go to school for mine. You are a very special person. Use it."

That's when I start using my healing hands.