Good Medicine exhibit is a look into Indigenous healers and medicine

Telling Alaska’s Story
Telling Alaska's Story: Good Medicine exhibit is a look at the Indigenous healers and medicine that have helped the residents of the north survive for millennia.
Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 6:40 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 10, 2023 at 6:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Museum is a place where art comes to life and information becomes exhibits, reflecting Alaska’s history, events, people and culture.

Located on the museum’s third floor in the Art of the North Galleries is the newest exhibit titled Good Medicine.

Meda Dewitt is a museum curator and also a traditional healer. In taking a cursory glance at the exhibit, what may look simple in design is in fact filled with years of history.

“It’s really to hold space for a conversation about traditional healing in Alaska Native people and that relationship that goes back since time immemorial,” Dewitt explained.

Each corner of the exhibit is stamped with an ochre painting. The markings are meant to bless the space and create protection. There are handmade items displayed in a case by traditional healers that Dewitt said are meant to share their journey and connection to culture.

“It’s literally creating a safe space for healers to express themselves and their healing journey, and what healing means to them through art in itself,” she said.

On one wall is an Alaskan medicine wheel painted to represent the seasons. Good Medicine is informational, but it’s also interactive — visitors are invited to fill out a card and drop it in the sealed cedar box that will never get opened, and one year from now, Dewitt said the box will be intentionally burned as part of a burning ceremony.

She explained that fire is a transformative process in Indigenous cultures and helps people to let go of things and send prayers up.

“Everybody’s invited to fill out a card, either something that they’re requesting — a prayer that they’re requesting — or something that they want to let go,” Dewitt said.

Another part of the exhibit showcases a miniature version of the woman’s house that served as a menstruation hut where a woman would be sequestered during part of her menstrual cycle.

“Traditionally, women would actually have, in Southeast Alaska, their own space to be,“ Dewitt said. “They’d have food brought to them, and they would see them and talk and they have their own herbs available and really get to go through that spiritual process of working through emotions and just being present with the other ladies in the community.”

Across the way, the men’s house was a gathering space for Southeast communities. Dewitt said women were allowed in, but men predominately spent their time together in that house.

In the middle of the exhibit is a gathering space for the community to come together.

“This really represents this community connection, also, where the stories are told, where you would listen to our elders or leaders, speaking about the stories, who helped to solidify the identity in that cultural group, and that’s so important to note,” Dewitt explained.

Whether the intent is to sit and reflect, take in the art, or listen to stories, Good Medicine serves as an anchor in traditional cultural customs.

“This is really for the community, by the community, and everybody’s welcome,” Dewitt said.