Indian Country Today
Traditional healer and Yup’ik elder Rita Blumenstein died Friday, Aug. 6. As a mentor and speaker, she brought Yup’ik values to the international arena.
Blumenstein was one of the first members of the International Council of Indigenous Thirteen Grandmothers, a “global alliance of prayer, education and healing for Mother Earth.” As Alaska’s first certified traditional healer, she mentored other healers.
Blumenstein was the 7th generation of healers in her family. She grew up in Tununuk, on Nelson Island, in western Alaska, listening to stories that had been handed down through the centuries.
Marie Meade, Yup’ik, is related to Blumenstein and from the same region of Alaska. They met in 1989, became close, and Meade became Rita’s traveling companion. Meade said Blumenstein shared wisdom from the ancient stories, which describe the interconnectedness of nature, the spirit world, community, and people.
“It's a powerful message. And she shared that message with many, many, many, many people all over the world. To me, it's everybody, all humans, we all go through problems and everybody relates to that.... she always tells people, ‘just be yourself, accept who you are. With healing, you also heal not just yourself, you heal your family, ancestors, your community,’” Meade said.
“I feel like when I was healing myself, I was also healing the spirit of my name, namesake, the name I was given, the spirit I was given,” Meade said. “I carry my grandmother, her pains and what I've learned from her suffering and her pain that she went through. I felt like I was healing that also. And, that way I'm healing myself and also my children. I can see that my children are (healed) also, and my grandchildren also.”
Meade said her name from her grandmother is “from generations behind her that she was carrying that name spirit... that's why our names are important to carry,” Meade said.
She said “(Rita) she's left us. The shell, the body is gone, but her teachings, we have them, we're going to continue. We're going to continue on and continue sharing and teaching the same message with each other and our foundation, our communities, our grandchildren. Our hope and dream is that they will keep it going. It will keep going.”
Blumenstein said when she was a 9-year-old child, her grandmother gave her 13 sacred stones to protect and care for. She told Blumenstein she would be asked to sit on a council of 13 grandmothers. Decades later Blumenstein gave the stones, along with eagle feathers, to the 13 Indigenous grandmothers on the council.
According to its website, the council had been formed in 2004 out of a deep concern for “the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of Indigenous ways of life... The council, which includes spiritual leaders from across the world, assembles to pray, share ancestral wisdom and counsel the world from multiple perspectives of distinctive cultures.”
As one of the 13 grandmothers, Blumenstein spoke before audiences of hundreds of people in countries around the world. She traveled with the grandmothers as they prayed and held ceremonies in Nepal, India, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and several Lower 48 states.
Earlier, Blumenstein had worked as a midwife in western and northwest Alaska. She was a traditional healer for Southcentral Foundation, and for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s behavioral health department. She retired in 2019.
As word spread that Blumenstein had died, dozens of people posted quotes from talks she’d given.
“God said there is only abundance, and the only way through is to forgive. Holding on to negative emotions becomes cancer or other illness. Our healing is not just for ourselves, it is for the universe. We forget who we are and that is the cause of our illness,” quoted Make No Bones About It.
“The past is not a burden. It is a scaffold which brought us to this day. We are free to be who we are, to create our own life out of our past and out of our present. We are our ancestors. When we can heal ourselves, we also heal our ancestors, our grandmothers, our grandfathers, and our children. When we heal ourselves, we heal mother earth,” Blumenstein said in one quote.
“To heal is to become ourselves, to become the light within. It is to accept ourselves and what we feel, and in doing so accept others. It is to be a real person,” read another.
Dozens of individuals and organizations also shared their grief over her death.
The First Alaskans Institute posted, “(Our) Board of Trustees and staff are saddened over the loss of Dr. Blumenstein Pitka Blumenstein (Yup’ik). Our beloved Grandma Blumenstein brought light and healing for peoples all over the world through her healing hands and by teaching others. She inspired us by her gentle words, storytelling, songs and her ability to see into peoples’ souls in a loving way. While we are saddened to see her reaching the other shore, we are heartened that her work will continue through those she touched. We thank her family and Ancestors for sharing Grandma Blumenstein with us,” the statewide nonprofit organization stated.
Dr. Gary Ferguson, Unangan/Aleut, had worked with Blumenstein at the tribal health consortium. Via social media, he said, “Reflecting on such wonder-filled times with Dr. Blumenstein. Feeling blessed to have created such a beautiful friendship, family connection. Thankful for all of the wonder-filled memories with Grandmother Blumenstein...your spirit is now free to continue your powerful work in the ancestral realm. Your legacy lives on.”
Cindy Allred, Inupiaq, posted, “I was sad to hear about Dr. Blumenstein Blumenstine's death. I met her at a First Alaskans Institute event in Fairbanks. She crossed the room and talked to me. She said I had a healing energy, and she asked me to sit by her....she told me stories of her life, including her earliest memories, and how she beat cancer,” wrote Allred.
“‘Grandma Blumenstein,’ as she was affectionately called, was a healer,” Allred continued. “And she had the gift of giving each person she met the knowledge that they were valued and loved.”
“I was honored to get to spend time with her. That day meant a lot to me, and I took our conversation to heart...Grandma Blumenstein was such a treasure, and she gave so much peace to others. I hope she rests well,” Allred said.
Blumenstein’s Yup’ik name, Amaurluq Bamiovan, meant Tail End Clearing of the Pathway to the Light. She said it suited her because she was being born during "the tail end of the old ways." Her other Yup’ik names are Pamyuran, Tanqiar and Can’irraq.
Shown here in this video taken in July 2019 by Rhonda McBride, Blumenstein hugs Crystalyn Lemieux, Tlingit and Quinault, a special project coordinator for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The two were at the Rural Providers’ Conference, an annual gathering of substance abuse service providers, youth, elders and family members interested in celebrating and encouraging the continual growth of the Alaska Native Sobriety Movement.
Blumenstein hosted a gathering of the council of 13 grandmothers in Anchorage in 2011.
As the organization’s website explains, the theme, “‘Healing the Spirit from the Light Within,’ manifested through three and a half days of prayer ceremonies, healings and cultural exchanges.” Themes included the role of women and motherhood, restoring one’s foundation and peace (mental, physical, spiritual health), healing Mother Earth, and balancing life with laughter, tears and healing.”
Rita Blumenstein also practiced several Alaska Native traditions such as singing, drumming, basket-making, skin sewing and use of plants for medicinal purposes.
Blumenstein was born July 11, 1933 and died on Aug. 6, 2021.
Corrected to show year of birth was 1933.