Plains Indian Health
Traditional Healing and Western Medicine

University of Pennsylvania Museum exhibition
at the Jonathan Rhoads Pavilion in the
Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
through November 1998

Medicine, "I-tana-ti-pa-zi-hu-ta"
Menstrual Root

Fort Peck, Montana
Yankton Sioux
collected in 1900

Most likely used to ease menstrual pain.

Medicine, "Psa-pi-pa-zi-hu-ta"
Sneeze Root

Fort Peck, Montana
Yankton Sioux
collected in 1900

According to Plains tradition, sneezing is sometimes believed to cleanse the body of certain ailments and specific medicines have occasionally been inhaled to induce sneezing.

Smoking Mixture or Medicine
Canadian River, Oklahoma
early 20th century

Herbs and plants are commonly used to help heal the sick and to protect against harm among the cultures of the Great Plains. These mixtures can be taken orally, applied topically, or smoked. They are also burned in purification ceremonies.

Red River, Manitoba
late 19th century

Drums, music, song, and dance remain widespread among Plains cultures. Drums are played during religious ceremonies, celebrations, and healing rituals and are seen as an important presence in the treatment of the sick.

Great Plains
early 20th century

The percussive sound of the rattle provides a musical context for traditional Plains Indian religious and healing ceremonies.

Tobacco Bags
late 19th century
NA 9228 [left]
45-15-898 [right]

Tobacco bags such as these are used to store mixtures of herbs and tobacco. Using a ceremonial pipe, these mixtures are often smoked to maintain health and to aid in traditional healing ceremonies. The pipe is considered by most native Plains peoples to be the central symbol of Plains Indian religion. Because the pipe is considered sacred, many Plains Indians believe that it does not belong in a public exhibition, and for this reason it is absent from this display.

Fertility Charm
South Dakota
late 19th century

This charm, in lizard form, is made from buckskin, beads, and horsehair. Charms such as this are often used to encourage fertility and to help ensure safety in childbirth. This particular charm is thought to have been made for a male infant. According to the Sioux people, the lizard is fast and elusive, good traits for a male warrior and protector to have.

Plains Indian Health