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Born in 1936, Rita Pitka Blumenstein was Yup'ik and grew up in the village of Tununak on Nelson Island, Alaska. She became a traditional healer and spiritual leader. Rita’s early education came from studying with her mother, aunts, and village elders, which allowed her to intimately understand the traditional ways and beliefs of her culture. Her grandmother and mother recognized Rita's gift for healing and she began healing at the age of four. Rita went on to work at hospitals in Bethel and Nome, Alaska delivering babies as a doctor's aide, and in 1997 became the first certified tribal doctor in Alaska, where she worked for the Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage, Alaska until her retirement in 2019. Her philosophy was that the person must be treated as a whole since the various parts (physical, mental, and spiritual) are dependent upon each other.
Rita spent over forty years investigating, producing, and passing on many aspects of Alaska Native culture, such as song, drumming, skin sewing, basketry, storytelling, and use of plants for dyes and medicinal purposes. She used "talking circles" as her main teaching method, and published curriculum, such as "Earth Dyes: Nuunam Qaralirkai" (The Institute of Alaska Native Arts, 1983). She traveled around the world educating and healing others through sharing cultural and traditional ways to promote self awareness and understanding, and empowering individuals to move from illness to wellness.
Rita was married for 43 years and had six children. In 2004, she became a member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, a group of spiritual elders, medicine women and wisdom keepers active in protecting indigenous rights and medicines, and traditional teachings on wisdom. In 2006, her Yup'ik community honored Rita by designating February 18th as Rita Pitka Blumenstein Day. In 2009, she was inducted into the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame. Rita Blumenstein passed away in 2021 at age 88.
For more about Rita Blumenstein, see an October 15, 2000 article in the Anchorage Daily News newspaper by Ann Potempa.