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Statue of first Native doctor in US to find home on Lincoln's Centennial Mall

Statue of first Native doctor in US to find home on Lincoln's Centennial Mall

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This rendering shows the planned installation on Centennial Mall honoring Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American to receive a medical degree. The privately funded sculpture will be dedicated on Indigenous Peoples Day.

A bronze statue honoring Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first credentialed Native doctor in the U.S., will find a permanent home on Lincoln’s outdoor Centennial Mall this fall.

The Nebraska Capitol Environs Commission has approved placement of the statue a couple of blocks north of the State Capitol near the Scottish Rite Masonic Center.

Picotte, who was born on the Omaha Reservation in northeast Nebraska in 1865 and died in 1915, famously became the first Native person to earn a medical degree in 1889 and credited her career spark to the unequal care provided to the Omaha people by White doctors, according to a biography by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

After receiving her degree, she returned to the reservation to care for Native and non-Native residents, and two years before her death, Picotte opened a hospital in Walthill.

Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs Executive Director Judi gaiashkibos said she has wanted to find a way to honor Picotte since the installation of a Chief Standing Bear statue on the mall in 2017.

Personally, gaiashkibos views Picotte as a role model for her own two daughters and a symbol of resiliency, Native equality and women’s equality, she said.

Artist Benjamin Victor, who sculpted Standing Bear, will create the statue, which will show the doctor in a traditional Omaha shawl toting her medical bag, and plans call for her likeness to be placed on a limestone platform.

“I like it that people look up to her because they should,” gaiashkibos said.

Centennial Mall’s newest statue will be dedicated on Oct. 11 as Nebraska celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day. In addition to a ceremony and program honoring Picotte, a documentary about her life also will be released, gaiashkibos said.

Pine trees will screen off an alley and present a backdrop for Picotte with the doctor’s beloved lilacs envisioned for the alcove along with native grasses, Lincoln Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Johnson said.

Picotte’s perch will be opposite the Nebraska State Office Building, where health care providers are licensed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

And she also will be across from the limestone walls recognizing the four current Nebraska tribes, which include Picotte’s Omaha Nation.

Donor Larry Small has funded the sculpture, and leftover donations from the Centennial Mall renovation campaign will pay for the alcove improvements surrounding Picotte’s likeness, gaiashkibos and Johnson said.

“It’s really fortuitous that it’s come together this way,” Johnson said.

Our best Omaha staff photos of March 2021


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